Grad School

Secondary Essays: How to Stand Out from the Crowd

Applying for medical school comes in stages, and secondary essays are an important part of the application process. If you are beginning your essays, take a look at this advice from Clara, a first-year medical student at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, on what to expect and how to write engaging, interesting essays that will make you stand out from the crowd . . .

Hi, everyone. I’m Clara, a first-year medical student! After just going through the medical school application process, I wanted to share with you my tips for secondary essays. Personally, I thought secondaries were the hardest part of the application process because writing is not my strength, particularly given such a short amount of time. (It’s recommended that applicants submit their secondaries within 2 weeks.) However, there are many things I learned along the way that helped me become a better writer and receive 9 interviews to highly competitive MD schools!

What are secondary essays?

  • After your primary application has been verified and sent to the schools you selected, you will receive email invites from each school to create an application portal.
  • Within the portal, you will see the prompts for secondary essays. Each school has different questions that they want you to answer but some common themes are the following:
    • Diversity
    • Challenge/Failure
    • Why our school?
  • I recommend writing your essays in a Google Doc and then copying and pasting them into the portal’s text box once you have your final draft.
  • When you submit your secondary essays you also have to pay a secondary application fee. I submitted 24 secondaries, which cost me a total of $2,175!
  • The secondary fees vary depending on the school, but I’ve personally seen them cost between $10-$130. *There is a fee assistance program where you can waive the fee if you qualify.

How to write strong essays?

  • Be specific — Whether reflecting about overcoming a challenge or describing your career goals, capture your emotions in the moment and your takeaways. Don’t leave the admissions committee guessing about how you felt or what you accomplished during that experience.
  • Highlight — Discuss impactful experiences that the admissions committee cannot find elsewhere in your application.  This will create a moment of uniqueness in your application that can have a lasting effect and make you even more memorable.
  • Showcase your personality — You want admissions to think, Wow, I need to meet this applicant in person. Let’s give them an interview! after reading your application. Do this by providing a human aspect to your essays with insights into your history, passions, and goals.

How to approach the diversity prompt?

  • Keep in mind, this prompt isn’t limited to discussions only about your race, ethnicity, and/or sexuality.
  • What unique experiences have led you to your passions and personal values?
  • How will your qualities and interests contribute to the medical class?
  • For this prompt, I wrote about how my positive mindset and business interests will add value to the incoming class.
  • Med schools aren’t just looking at individual applicants, they are also focusing on how every student will fit into the new class that they’re creating.

Pro tips

  • Create a new email for med school applications with folders/labels for each school you’re applying to. This will help to organize secondary invites and future communications so you don’t accidentally email the wrong school!
  • PREWRITE your secondary essays before you receive the wave of secondaries! This will save you time and stress by allowing you to submit the essays in a timely manner once you receive access to the secondary portal.
  • Keep in mind that secondary prompts can change from year to year, but not significantly.
  • You can find past prompts for every school either on Prospective Doctor, Medical School HQ, or Student Doctor Network.

There is a lot more I can cover on secondaries and the medical school admissions process in general, but I hope these tips were helpful! If you have more questions or would like me to look over your essays, feel free to message me on Instagram: @the.medisun.blog or email me at [email protected] Best of luck!

About Clara Sun

Clara is a first-year medical student and is a recent graduate from the University of Miami. She started her Instagram @the.medisun.blog to offer pre-med, MCAT®, application, and medical school advice. Her dedication and focus helped her score in the 99th percentile on her MCAT exam. Every month she shares stories from colleagues in different aspects of healthcare and career stages, such as nursing, PA, resident, healthcare consultant, etc. She also hopes to engage with others who share her passion for the intersection of business, medicine, and technology. Follow her on Instagram @the.medisun.blog for more insights!

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