The Dos and Don’ts of Med School Secondary Essays

As you go through writing your medical school secondary essays, there are some simple best practices that will help you get the best results possible. There are also some common mistakes that students fall into. Let’s go through some of these dos and don’ts when it comes to secondary essays.

[00:42] The Do’s in Writing Secondary Essays

1. Be authentic.

That’s the only way that you are going to stand out in this process. Don’t sell yourself through this process with your hard work, your motivation, and determination because every other student is trying to say the same thing. And you’re not more hard-working than the next person. You’re not more determined than the next person. You both are in this process together at the same point together. So you’re even.

'The whole process of applying to medical school, and showing who you are is the most important part of the whole application process, and especially the secondary essays.'Click To Tweet

Be true to who you are. Your journey is unique to you. Where you grew up, who your parents are, who your friends are, who your grandparents are, where you went to elementary school, middle school, and high school, that is all unique to you. That’s your journey. And that is how you stand out in your secondary essays and your personal statement.

2. Own your story.

If there are any questions that want you to highlight weaknesses, then own them. Be honest. After all, nobody is perfect. You have weaknesses, and medical schools want to see if you are humble enough to say yes, you do suck at something, and here’s what you suck at.

3. Show, Don’t Tell

Now, a lot of questions will ask you what you’re doing to work on weaknesses. And one common writing technique that you can apply to answer this question is to “show, don’t tell.” If there’s a question that you can answer with an anecdote from your life with a story of something that happened in your life, do that and show it with your writing. Showing your journey will help engage the reader and suck them into your story and who you are. And hopefully, they’ll be interested enough to invite you for an interview.

For more ideas and examples on how to use this technique, read The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement.

[03:28] The Don’ts in Writing Secondary Essays

1. Don’t sell.

You can say whatever you want. But actions speak louder than words. And they can see your activities, your GPA, your MCAT score, etc. If you’ve gotten to this point, you’ve already shown them that you are motivated, dedicated, determined, resilient, and all that stuff. So you don’t need to sell that any more than what everything else in your application is already showing them.

'Everything that you bring up in your application can come back to haunt you if you are lying or stretching the truth in your activities, your personal statement, and your secondaries.'Click To Tweet

If you are invited for an interview, and your story doesn’t match up with what you put in your secondaries that can come back to haunt you. A lot of schools will start verifying information in your application after an interview invite potentially after an acceptance at any point in this process. And if you start bringing up stuff that just doesn’t make sense, they’re going to call you on it.

They may even put out a big red flag not just for their school, but to every school in the application service. So be careful and just stay away from stretching the truth or lying or any sort of falsehoods in your application.

2. Don’t go through this process trying to figure out what they want.

The personal statement is personal to who you are. The same thing goes with secondary essays, you have to be authentic. And if you’re just trying to figure out what the school wants to see, you are no longer being authentic. You have to tell your story.

And if you can’t give them a story of your authenticity, you’re not going to “stand out” enough for them to want to invite you for an interview. Because you’re just going to come off like a lot of the other students going through this process trying to figure out what the school wants.

[05:50] The Optional Essay

The secondary essay has an optional essay: is there anything else you want to tell us? Now, here’s a do – fill it out. But there’s also a don’t – don’t fill it out.

If you truly have something to say, if there’s some part of your story that hasn’t really fit anywhere else, then write about it in that spot. But if you think that you’ve told your story in your primary application, the secondary prompts, and if you truly have nothing else to say, then don’t write anything. It’s okay to leave it blank.

'The worst thing that you can do is just fill it with fluff and you waste the reader's time.'Click To Tweet

The readers’ time is precious. They have a lot of applications to look at. So don’t feel bad leaving those optional essays blank.


MedEd Media

The Premed Years Podcast

Medical School Applications Cost Estimator

The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement