A huge part of the medical school admissions process is working diligently on your secondary essay prompts. While the AMCAS application is a piece of work on its own with your personal statement and Work and Activities, medical school secondary essay prompts are just as important. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, we’ve written all about primary and secondary applications. While you only have one primary application for all the medical schools you apply to, you’ll have a secondary application for each school.
Your secondary application is primarily comprised of essay prompts to help the admissions committee get to know you better. They don’t need much more because everything else they need to know is in your primary application.
We’re providing you with every secondary application essay for all the medical schools (both MD and DO) in the United States in this database. While this list is comprehensive and includes the most up-to-date information available, we cannot guarantee its accuracy. Because of this, we strongly recommend contacting the admissions department to ensure that the medical school secondary essays listed are current. Some schools keep the same essay prompts for multiple admissions cycles, but many change up the questions with each admissions cycle.
Here is our complete database of medical school secondary essay prompts.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do I have to complete my medical school secondary essays?
The answer to this question is entirely dependent on the school. There will be a deadline listed on the application, so look closely for it. Some schools only give you a couple of weeks, while others allow up to a month or longer to answer the prompts.
We highly recommend submitting your medical school secondary essay prompts within two weeks, even if a month is allowed. How quickly you respond tells the admissions committee how much you care. But it can take time to brainstorm how you want to respond to a medical school secondary essay, which is why many students look up secondary writing prompts long before writing the essays.
Why do I need to write secondary essays?
Your personal statement should feel like enough, right? After all, it’s long, and you spent weeks writing it and perfecting it. And paired with your complete AMCAS application, you’ve provided a lot of information.
But that information is all generalized. The purpose of your medical school secondary essays is to help the admissions committee get to know you beyond your application. Sure, you volunteered at your local children’s hospital, but why? What was your purpose? Why did you want to work with children? Did that experience influence your desire to become a pediatrician?
There’s so much more to you as a person than your AMCAS application shows. Writing personalized medical school secondary essay prompts will help you stand out from the crowd and show the admissions committee why they should admit you.
I applied to 20 schools. How do I write up to 100 essays in two weeks?!
The secret to submitting essays in that two-week time frame is to begin your essays long before receiving your secondary applications. You see, it takes AMCAS up to a month to process your application, and it can take a couple of weeks for individual medical schools to send you the secondary essay.
Instead of anxiously waiting for six weeks for your secondaries, you can get busy creating outlines and working on the first drafts of your essays. Start by reaching out to the schools you’ve applied to in order to ensure you have the correct secondary essays. You’ll impress them with your drive and set yourself up for success.
Then, write your essays. You can write the same essays for different schools. For example, if you talk about overcoming a difficult challenge, you can change a few details and tailor them to each school. Many schools have the classic adversity question. Don’t feel like you have to write an entirely new essay for each school! Medical schools don’t compare the essays you write for them to the essays you’ve written for the other schools to which you’ve applied.
By the time your medical school secondary essays arrive, you’ll be well on your way to submitting them within two weeks.
I applied to 20 schools. Will I receive 20 secondary applications?
This entirely depends on the schools to which you’ve applied. Some schools automatically send medical school secondary essay prompts to every applicant. Other schools use the secondary application as part of their vetting process. Not receiving an application could mean you weren’t selected for the current admissions cycle. You can apply again next year if you really want to attend that school.
If you’re unsure whether an application is late or isn’t coming, visit that school’s website. They should tell you whether they automatically send out secondaries in the section for prospective students / applicants.
Does not receiving a secondary essay mean I’ve been rejected?
Nope. You haven’t been officially rejected from a medical school until you’ve received a rejection letter. If you don’t receive the medical school secondary essays, this might seem confusing. But nothing is stopping them from pulling out your application and sending you your secondary application later on. They might choose other applicants over you but then have a few seats left for the next incoming class. They want to fill those spots, so you’re now being considered. Of course, it’s up to you if you want to be a school’s second choice, but that’s not the point. You haven’t been rejected until you’ve received a rejection letter
Are secondary applications free?
Unfortunately not. You’ll pay an application fee for each secondary application you submit. Most schools charge an application fee to cover the cost of processing your application. Most of the time, that fee ranges from $50 to $100.
The exception is if your AMCAS application fee is waived due to financial hardship. If you can prove to AMCAS that you can’t afford to pay for your application, most medical schools will honor that and waive their fees.
Should I write the “optional” secondary essays?
This depends on the question. Some schools will ask you to explain any gaps in your education. If you don’t have any gaps, you don’t need to answer the question. But if you read a question like, “If there is anything else you’d like to admissions committee to know, you may include it here,” you should write it.
Even though the essay is “optional,” your response (or lack thereof) will be used to evaluate you and determine whether to invite you to an interview. You can explain an issue on your application, a gap in your education (if there’s not a separate question for that), an experience that helped shape you, etc. Simply put, we recommend writing optional essays.
But please don’t write an essay just to write it. There should be substance to your essay. Writing something weak and un-meaningful will hurt your application instead of helping you impress the admissions committee.
I have a lot to say. How do I stay within my word count?
This can be challenging! But we have a solution for you. Simply format your essay with the following format, and then write the least amount that you can for each section.
- Introduction: Start with a meaningful sentence that catches the reader’s attention.
- Body: Describe three experiences to respond to the prompt.
- Show what your experience was like. Don’t tell. Describe what the weather was like instead of saying it was hot. “Even though it was over 100 degrees outside and I couldn’t stop sweating, I thoroughly enjoyed…” is stronger than “It was hot outside, but I thoroughly enjoyed….”
- Conclusion: Tie your experiences back to the essay prompt. Include enough details to flesh out your essay, but leave room for the admissions committee to get to know you better.
Reach out to us if you’re having a hard time with one of your essays. Our medical school admissions consulting includes support for your medical school secondary essay prompts. We can help you nail down what’s important, so you can remove what can be left out. We promise it’s possible to stay within your word count!
How long does it take to write a secondary essay?
If you’ve been writing essays for years, it won’t take you very long. But if writing isn’t your strength, it could take you a while. But don’t panic. Many medical school secondary essay prompts are only 250 to 500 words long. If you have five to write for one school, that’s only 2,500 words. That might seem like a lot, but that’s better than five 2,500-word essays!
We recommend writing all your essays within two weeks. The latest you should start writing your essays is when you submit your AMCAS. This will give you enough time to submit all your essays on time.
Nothing is stopping you from writing multiple essays at once or writing essays for different schools simultaneously. You’ll find your flow and what works best for you as you write.
Can I use the same essay for different schools?
Yes. You don’t need to worry about plagiarizing yourself. But make sure you carefully read the essay prompt first. The essay might not be asking the same question. It’s essential to provide an answer on par with the question being asked.
If you use the same essay twice, tailor it to each school. Change a few details to make it original. Submitting the same essay word for word is never a good idea.
Can I re-use an experience from my AMCAS?
We know it’s tough to keep all your content fresh, but it’s imperative to try. Many secondary applications prohibit re-using an experience you’ve already listed. Ideally, you should have enough experiences to talk about something new each time. One way to accomplish this is only to discuss one experience per essay. You might have several experiences that work well in response to an essay prompt. But picking one will save the other experiences for other essays. If you genuinely can’t think of something to write about, reach out to us. We can help you brainstorm essay topics.
What are the most common secondary essay prompts?
The essays topics we most often see include diversity, adversity, future goals, educational gaps and program choice.
What if I have gaps in my education? How do I explain what happened?
We understand being nervous about answering this question, especially if you just had a bad semester. Maybe your mental health was suffering from COVID, and you just couldn’t handle online classes. That could make you feel inadequate for medical school, when in reality, it just means that you do better with classroom settings and interpersonal communication.
We recommend taking anything negative and sharing what you learned from it and how it will help you in the future with your education or career. Creating a positive spin on a negative experience will show your ability to work through challenging circumstances while keeping your head up. Just make sure you’re honest in your answers and that you’re taking responsibility for your actions.
Help! I don’t know what I want to specialize in!
That’s totally fine. Most medical school applicants don’t know what they want to study. And many who think they know change their course of study as they progress in their education. If you have an idea of what you want to study, you should include that interest in your essays. But if you don’t know, just focus on why medicine matters to you. Include what interests you. Share what you want to learn.
Maybe you want to work with underserved populations or in a rural area. Perhaps you want your MD / PhD, so you can split your time between medicine and research. You should include these things, even if you can’t include all the details. Admissions committees will understand that the details will evolve as you progress in your education.
I’ve never faced a significant challenge before. How do I write an adversity essay?
Some applicants will have faced far greater struggles than others. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can’t write about a minor challenge. What’s inconsequential to you could be significant to someone else, and vice versa. If the adversity you faced helped forge your path in medicine, you should absolutely write about it. Write about genuine experiences that have helped you pursue medicine. That’s what the admissions committee wants to see.
Are you overwhelmed with writing your medical school secondary essays? We understand. Applying to medical school involves a ton of writing. If you were an English undergrad, you might have things under control. But otherwise, it’s natural to need help. And while friends and family can be helpful, sometimes you need a professional set of eyes to review your application and help you improve your essays.
International Medical Aid offers medical school admissions consulting, including support for your medical school secondary essays. We can help you brainstorm topics for essay prompts. We can help you create an outline, revise your essay, and proofread it before submitting it. The only thing we can’t do is write it for you.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you need help with your essays! It’s what we’re here for you. Let International Medical Aid help you succeed.