5 Things You Should Know About Secondary Applications

Unlike other graduate school admissions processes, where there is typically only one round of applications, medical schools often have a primary application and a secondary application. The secondary application generally involves one or more essay questions that are meant to help the admissions committee better understand your background, qualifications, and career aspirations. Below are five things you should know about medical school secondary applications.

1. They are an opportunity for you to further develop your overall story
Because many primary AMCAS applications look the same (i.e. high GPAs and MCAT scores, significant extracurricular and leadership involvement, some exposure to biomedical science or research, and some degree of clinical experience), medical schools often turn to secondary applications to uncover the nuances of various applicants. The essay questions that a school chooses to have its applicants answer are typically designed to help applicants expand upon their personal statements. Ultimately, they serve as a way for students to further explain their reasons for pursuing a career in medicine, as well as what they envision that career to look like. Admissions committees will use the information from secondary applications to determine which applicants are a great fit for their programs and should be invited for interviews. It is important that the answers you provide somehow relate to the rest of your application and your overall story. This adds consistency and genuineness to your application.
2. They are important, but likely will not make or break your application
Though secondary applications add depth to your portfolio and help admissions committees better understand you as a person, their impact is often minor. The majority of your competitiveness will still lie in the data from your primary application (i.e. academic achievement, letters of recommendation, research experience, etc.). It is important for students to keep this in mind when they are working on several secondary applications at the same time. Though it is crucial that you put a solid effort into each application, do not stress unnecessarily.
3. They should be completed in a timely manner
Perhaps the most important aspect of a secondary application is its submission timeline. By submitting the secondary application, your admissions portfolio will be considered complete, and you will be evaluated for an interview slot. Since interview slots are usually awarded on a rolling basis, the sooner you submit your secondary application, the more likely you are to receive an interview invitation because more interview slots are open. If you wait too long, you will have to have a truly outstanding application for admissions committees to justify giving you one of the few interview slots they have left.
4. Schools have varying policies on distributing secondary applications
Though receiving a secondary application may mean that you are one step closer to an interview and possible acceptance to medical school, note that institutions have differing policies on who they send secondary applications to. Some schools send secondary applications to every student who submits a primary application – in other words, receiving a secondary application does not indicate any increase in your chance of receiving an interview. Conversely, some schools send secondary applications only to those applicants who meet a certain bar. This typically means that the student fulfills the school’s criteria for MCAT score and GPA. However, some schools have a more involved primary screening process, and they will only send secondary applications to students whose entire primary application makes the cut.
5. Secondary applications may be discussed during your interview
Many faculty interviewers will use material from your secondary application to start a conversation during your interview. Since students complete so many secondary applications, it very important for them to review their responses to an individual school’s essay questions prior to their interview. By doing so, students can be prepared to best convey how they see themselves contributing to the culture at a particular school.

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Anubodh “Sunny” Varshney is a professional MCAT tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. He earned his Bachelor of Science from Washington University in St. Louis and attended medical school a... Anubodh “Sunny” Varshney is a professional MCAT tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instr...