You’ve spent hours crafting your personal statement, collecting letters of recommendation, and perfecting your work and activities section. Finally, you’re able to submit your primary application through AMCAS. Congratulations! Now, it’s time to start thinking about secondaries. 

Secondaries are the next step in the medical school application process following submission of your primary application and preceding interview invitations. Some schools, including Harvard Medical School, will send out secondary invitations to every applicant with a completed primary application. Other programs, including UCSF, conduct some screening before extending secondary applications, which may include a GPA or MCAT cutoff or may consist of a more holistic review. Depending on your school list, note that it is not uncommon to receive a secondary from most or even all schools that you apply to. The amount of work required for secondaries will depend on the number of schools that you choose to apply to.  

So, what's the timeline for secondaries? 

If you submit your primary application in June, you will likely be receiving and submitting most of your secondary applications in July and August. When I applied in 2023, I received five secondary applications on June 30—the first day that processed applications were released to schools. I received another nine secondaries in the week that followed. The last secondary invitation that I received was on August 2. Keep in mind that these dates can vary depending on when you submit your primary application and when it is processed by AMCAS. Getting started early and staying organized will make all the difference as you navigate your secondary applications over the course of the summer. 

Here are my top five tips for making sure you're putting your best foot forward with your secondary applications:

pre-write your secondaries

Secondaries can pile up very quickly. The best way to prepare for the inevitable barrage of secondary applications is to brainstorm and pre-write as much as possible ahead of time. After submitting my primary application, I spent the month of June pre-writing my secondary essays. I started off by drafting responses to the most common secondary questions. Why X school? Describe a challenge/conflict that you overcame/resolved and what you learned from the experience. How will you contribute to our medical school? If you are taking a gap year, what have you been doing since you graduated? How do you imagine your career in the future? I drafted short, medium, and long versions of these most common essay questions. Then, I copied and pasted the secondary prompts from the previous year (available online) for every school that I applied to and tried to fill them out as much as possible, copying and pasting from my common essay questions and brainstorming additional details to add for more specific essay questions. Don’t worry about perfecting your essays during the prewriting stage; just try to brainstorm as much as possible. Some prompts will change from year to year, while other programs will reuse the exact same secondary questions as the year before. Either way, pre-writing your secondaries will be extremely helpful in getting you into the headspace to answer these questions and create material to work with when the secondaries start rolling in. 

Manage your time wisely

 The rule of thumb for secondaries is to submit them within two weeks of receiving the secondary application. Some schools will have a hard deadline. When I applied, there was only one school that had a hard deadline of two weeks, but I still aimed to submit every secondary application within two weeks of receiving it. That being said, make sure to prioritize the programs that are most important to you. Similar to your primary application, the goal should be to submit your secondaries as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality. 

Stay organized

I highly recommend creating an organizational system that works for you to keep track of your secondaries and make sure that you are turning them in on a timely basis. I created a spreadsheet tracker with all of the schools on my list with columns for “Secondary Date Received,” “Secondary Two-Week Deadline,” “Secondary Hard Deadline” (if applicable), and “Secondary Status.” As soon as I received a secondary application invitation, I added the school and the relevant deadlines to my spreadsheet. This allowed me to easily keep track of all upcoming deadlines in one place and make sure that nothing slipped through the cracks. I also recommend keeping all of your secondary essays for all schools in one document. This way, you can easily “Control + F” to navigate between different versions of common essay questions, all in one place. 

Recycle secondary essays between schools

Fortunately, there is a lot of repetition between secondary essay questions, so you will be able to reuse a lot of the same content for different schools. That being said, make sure to always read and respond to the prompt. Reusing an essay for a prompt that doesn’t perfectly match will be obvious to the reader. Keep in mind that you will also need to modify secondary essays to different length requirements. I wrote a short, medium, and long version for each of the most common secondary questions listed above, and I further modified those for each individual program. Some schools will use word count limits while others will use character limits. Be sure to double check these length requirements early to avoid a last-minute scramble. 

Proofread your essays

Secondary fatigue is real. When August rolls around and you are writing your sixteenth version of “What do I bring to this school?”, it’s easy to want to be lazy and just copy and paste a previous version of the essay. I would highly recommend always having at least one other trusted person proofread your secondary application before you turn it in. If you are reusing essays, make sure to triple check that you have used the correct school name! 

A note on the cost of secondary applications

Applying to medical school is expensive. In addition to the cost of submitting your primary application (2025 AMCAS fees: $175 for your first medical school application and $46 per additional school), most programs have an additional fee averaging around $100 to submit a secondary application. Some programs will offer fee waivers for secondary applications—it never hurts to ask! 

Secondaries are a critical piece of your application.

When it comes to secondaries, slow and steady wins the race. Secondaries require a lot of time and effort, but they are also an important opportunity to showcase other aspects of your candidacy in addition to what was included in your primary application. These essays will help medical school admissions committees learn more about you and whether or not you might be a good fit for their program, so be honest and be yourself. By planning ahead, managing your time, and creating an organizational structure that works for you, you’ll be able to tackle secondaries without burning out. 


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