Med School Secondary Essays 101: What Are They, Why Are They Important

Med School Secondary Essays 101: What Are They, Why Are They Important

Why are secondary essays important and what should you be doing to make sure you have the best chance of getting into your school of choice?

The medical school application process starts with your primary application, whether that’s thought AMCAS, AACOMAS, or TMDSAS. Secondary essays come after you submit your primary application. It is a way for schools to learn more about you. It helps the medical schools determine your fit to their mission and it helps you do some research to see if you truly want to go there.

“Secondary Applications for medical school are a very important part of the med school application process for both you and the med schools.”Click To Tweet

All the normal essay writing stuff is important here: grammar, typos, etc. Turning them around quickly is also important so you don’t miss any deadlines and to show your interest in the school.

[00:50] Is There Screening Involved?

Some schools will screen based on stats and what they’re looking for to determine if they want to send you a secondary essay.

Most schools do not screen and they will just send you a secondary essay whether or not you’re a qualified candidate or not. 

Therefore as an applicant, it’s important for you to figure out and determine where you have a shot among the schools you’re applying to because the secondary essays cost a lot of money.

[01:20] Things to Prepare For


The average is probably around $75 and if you multiply that with, say, 20 schools you applied to then that’s a lot of money for secondary essays. To get an estimate of the cost, check out our Medical School Applications Cost Estimator.

Time & Effort

Depending on the school, you may get very simple questions, or maybe just one question. Prepare for questions like what you did during the gap year if you’re not in schoo or how you’re going to add diversity to their class.

Some schools also have very in depth questions. They do that to determine if you’re going to be a good fit for their school and to see if you’re really motivated to go there because it’s going to take a lot of time to fill out those secondary essays.

“Make sure that when you're applying to a school, you're committed to number one paying for the secondary essay, and number two, completing that secondary essay.”Click To Tweet

[02:32] When Do Schools Send Out Secondary Essays?

If you’re submitting your primary application early on in this process, you’re not going to get secondary essays for a little bit of time. And that’s because the application services will hold the applications until they send that first wave out either mid to late June, depending on the application service. So you have some time between when you submit and when secondary essays come. Hopefully, you submit early because of the rolling admissions.

[03:06] Pre-writing Your Secondary Essays

To take a look at all of the essays for the schools you apply to and so you can start pre-writing, check out You also get to have access to videos on how to answer the most common types of secondary essay questions.

Most schools typically don’t change their questions. And even if they do change their questions, you have now gotten into a mindset of trying to think about how they’re thinking, and trying to figure out the best way to answer that. So you have a headstart in terms of thinking through your story, your background, and how to best answer whatever new questions are there once you get the secondary.

[03:44] Secondary Essay Timelines

'Pay very close attention to timelines that each school will set.'Click To Tweet

There are some schools that want secondary essays back in five days. There are some schools that say two weeks or 10 days.

To help you get your head around this, first, prioritize the schools you want to go to the worst or the most. Then prioritize schools that have deadlines on secondaries. 

As soon as you submit that primary, be prepared to write for several months to come, assuming you’re applying to a lot of schools.

[04:22] How Important Are Secondaries to This Whole Process?

When I was writing The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement, I reached out to a dean of admissions, and he commented that personal statements are terrible. Nobody knows how to write them properly. So they look at secondary essays to determine a large chunk of who they’re going to invite for an interview.

“Secondary essays are important…They're really easy to write, assuming you've done some reflection on your journey.”Click To Tweet

Secondary essays are important. Schools are using them to determine fit for their mission. They’ll ask you questions that are about fit for their mission. Now, even though they’re important, they’re not really hard. They may take a lot of time depending on the school, but they are asking you a very specific question. And as long as you answer that question, and hopefully, work in a little bit of your life story with an anecdote, they’re really easy to write, assuming you’ve done some reflection on your journey.


MedEd Media

Medical School Applications Cost Estimator

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement