Medical School Secondaries Timeline

Padya Paramita

Medical School Secondaries Timeline

Once you’ve sent in your medical school primary application, you’ll probably be very sleep-deprived and need a break ASAP. But, you’ll have to wait a few more months for that nap, because the medical school application grind is far from over. After hitting the submit button on the AMCAS, your secondaries will slowly start rolling in. So before you give into those yawns and plan a weekend getaway, take a minute to think about the medical school secondaries timeline

Based on how quickly you needed to complete your AMCAS submission, you might have guessed that the timing for submitting medical school secondaries is just as important. In fact, medical schools equate the speed with which you turn in your secondaries as an indication of your interest in their institution. The timeline is no joke! To help you get a better grasp on the medical school secondaries timeline, I’ve elaborated on how to navigate the turnaround from the primary to secondaries, how to prioritize between your secondary essays, the impact of the secondaries on the rest of your application, and how the CASPer assessment plays into your medical school secondaries timeline.

Turnaround from Primary to Secondaries

The medical school secondaries timeline is just as important as actually sitting down to answer the essay prompts themselves. If you submit the AMCAS immediately after it opens (as you should), you can expect secondaries around early July. Most medical schools don’t set deadlines for secondary essays. The ones who do usually set them for November. Some however, give you a deadline based on when you receive the secondaries, for example within two weeks or a month upon receipt.  

Depending on the medical school, your secondary essays will start rolling in either a few weeks after you’ve submitted the primary application, or once the school checks to ensure that you’ve met their cutoff scores (typically set low at a 3.0 GPA and 500 MCAT score). To be clear: most schools do not read your application until your secondaries have been submitted. The faster you submit the AMCAS, the quicker your verification will be completed, followed by the arrival of your secondaries. The sequence continues: the faster you finish your secondaries, the quicker and more likely you are to receive interview invitations. It is no exaggeration to say that your secondaries timing will shape your chances of being accepted into any medical school.

Obviously you want to increase your chances of getting admitted and should apply to around 25-30 schools. But what this also means is that you could have four or five secondary essays coming in from each program - some schools have no secondaries, while others have up to nine. When the secondaries from the schools on your list pour into your inbox one by one, it can naturally feel overwhelming. Finding the perfect balance between timeliness and high quality is not easy. But we’re here to help.

How Long Should You Take?

It’s important to remember that your every move counts. Medical school admissions committee members will indeed be paying attention to the time you’ve taken to turn in your secondaries, so approach them very carefully. If you take a month to turn in your responses, they will think they’re low priority and will hesitate to extend an interview invite to a student who is unlikely to attend the school if offered acceptance.

Remember that med schools admit students on a rolling basis. If you take your sweet time, adcoms will already have started reading applications and making decisions about which applicants they want to call for interviews. The longer you wait to turn in your secondaries, the further back you fall in the pile. And the less likely your chances.   

A helpful rule-of-thumb to follow to help you stay on top of the medical school secondaries timeline is to return your secondary essays within two weeks of the date you received them. The two week turnaround time is long enough to carefully write and edit your essay, but short enough to show your enthusiasm for the school.

While two weeks is ideal, if you’re drowning under a lot of secondary essays, you may have to pick and choose which schools you want to take more time with. So, how do you know which of your schools and secondary essays to prioritize?

How to Prioritize Secondaries

If you haven’t already, pick up a notebook or open a Word document and write down which of the schools on your list are extreme reach programs, which are target schools that seem in line with your academic profile and which of your schools are so-called “safety” options (because let’s face it, any MD program is a reach). You should also open up a spreadsheet to keep track of secondary essays for each school, submission deadlines, the two week turnaround mark, and set reminders as the two week deadline approaches. The last thing you want is to think that you’ve got a week left when in fact the two week mark is the next day. 

The natural response here of course, would be to work on the secondary prompts for the schools you most want to attend, which are likely highly selective programs. But remember to give yourself a reality check. Less than half of all students who apply to medical school get accepted at all. Anywhere. So don’t just prioritize the Ivy League or other top-tier highly competitive schools when considering your medical school secondaries timeline. Work on the secondary prompts for a few safety schools. If you wait too long and mess up the timeline for schools where you’re more likely to get in, you may have to say goodbye to that MD dream.

Another strategic way to prioritize your secondaries would be to think about which school’s prompts are straightforward and require less time. It would be wise for you to tackle these prompts first rather than take on a prompt which requires multiple hours of brainstorming and several outlines before you’re even ready to sit down and write. You want to reduce stress clouding over your head right now. Don’t stay stuck on one overly strenuous prompt and slow down your entire medical secondaries timeline when you can get other schools out of the way instead.

The Impact of Secondaries on Your Medical School Timeline

Since the medical school application process is rolling, spots at schools get filled up on a first-come first-serve basis. As time passes in the application cycle, your chances of acceptance grow even slimmer because more and more students are given precious interview slots on top of more students submitting their primary applications before the AMCAS closes. As overbearing as the burden of completing almost 70 essays can get, you must try hard not to lose focus and prioritize making each day count in the application process. One misstep or slowing down at any stage could leave you behind the rest of the applicant pool. The secondary turn-in timeline is no different. The longer you take to submit your secondary essays, the further you push back your own timeline, and other students’ chances will climb over yours. 

Instead, keep yourself strictly on track. As soon as you submit the primary application, start writing responses to the common prompts such as “why this program?” or “what will you contribute to our school?” That way, by the time a school sends you their prompts, you’ll be ready, and will only need to adjust or edit your responses slightly, according to the different ways the questions are phrased.

If you stick to the two-week submission schedule, as well as write essays that are strong, tell unique stories, and are edited with finesse, medical schools are more likely to appreciate your hard work. 


Your medical school secondaries timeline could also involve balancing the Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics, or CASPer alongside your secondary essays. In the last several years, the number of MD programs using CASPer has increased due to the massive demand for medical school spots and admissions committees wanting another set of assessments. CASPer is a 90-minute online test consisting of 12 video and word-based scenarios, followed by 3 follow up questions which must be answered in under five minutes, to assess whether you possess certain qualities people appreciate in doctors. 

The test asks you word-based scenario questions such as, “Describe a time when you faced a conflict and how you coped with it.” It could also ask you a video-based question, for instance showing an interaction between a retail worker and a customer who wants to go against a store policy due to a medical emergency. The questions that follow the video will ask you how you would respond. 

Through the CASPer, medical schools evaluate whether you display characteristics needed to be a doctor, such as:

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Equity
  • Ethics
  • Motivation
  • Problem solving
  • Professionalism
  • Resilience
  • Self awareness

Since CASPer questions are typically ethical dilemmas, you can’t really prepare for the content. Go through sample CASPer tests to get a sense of the format, but don’t waste too much time worrying about it when you’re writing your secondaries as not all schools use the tool. MD programs which use the CASPer are: 

  • Albany Medical College
  • Central Michigan University College of Medicine
  • College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University
  • Drexel University
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Florida Atlantic University College of Medicine
  • Hofstra University (Zucker School of Medicine)
  • Howard University College of Medicine
  • Indiana University School of Medicine
  • Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine
  • Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University
  • Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Mercer University
  • New York Medical College
  • New York University School of Medicine
  • Northeast Ohio Medical University
  • Quillen College of Medicine (East Tennessee State)
  • Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science
  • Ross University School of Medicine
  • Rutgers RWJ School of Medicine
  • State University of New York Medical University
  • Stony Brook University School of Medicine
  • Temple University (Lewis Katz)
  • Texas A&M College of Medicine
  • Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
  • Touro College (which campus not yet specified on CASPer website)
  • Tulane University School of Medicine
  • University of Colorado Denver
  • University of Illinois Chicago College of Medicine
  • University of Miami - Miller School of Medicine
  • University of Michigan School of Medicine
  • University of Mississippi School of Medicine
  • University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine
  • University of North Carolina School of Medicine
  • University of North Dakota School of Medicine
  • University of Rochester School of Medicine
  • University of Texas Health Science Center
  • University of Vermont College of Medicine
  • University of Washington
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Wake Forest School of Medicine
  • West Virginia University School of Medicine

If you’re applying to one of the above schools, remember that you can only take the test on certain dates (see below) - so you will have to find time in the midst of your secondary essay writing to study for the CASPer and actually take it. Because CASPer isn’t offered frequently, it’s important to take the test early. Just don’t let it mess up your writing flow! The test dates and times for this year are:

  • Jun 28, 2020 - 5:00 PM EDT
  • Jul 7, 2020 - 5:00 PM EDT
  • Jul 19, 2020 - 2:00 PM EDT
  • Jul 19, 2020 - 5:00 PM EDT
  • Jul 30, 2020 - 5:00 PM EDT
  • Jul 30, 2020 - 8:00 PM EDT
  • Aug 11, 2020 - 5:00 PM EDT
  • Aug 11, 2020 - 8:00 PM EDT
  • Aug 23, 2020 - 1:00 PM EDT
  • Aug 23, 2020 - 3:00 PM EDT
  • Sep 9, 2020 - 5:00 PM EDT
  • Sep 9, 2020 - 8:00 PM EDT
  • Sep 24, 2020 - 5:00 PM EDT
  • Oct 13, 2020 - 8:00 PM EDT
  • Oct 29, 2020 - 5:00 PM EDT
  • Nov 17, 2020 - 8:00 PM EST

Not all schools accept results from every test date, so you have to check on the CASPer website to make sure it’s available in the time you’re planning to take the test. Plan ahead!

The medical school secondaries timeline is one which should be calculated very carefully. What’s key in this stage of the grueling application process is to prepare as early in order to send all of your essays as quickly as you can. The more you keep up with your schedule, the more you stay on track to fulfill that lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, so don’t lose sight of it. Take advantage of common prompts, and start writing as soon as you’re able to, and who knows, you might even get a handful of interview invites, and move one step closer to putting on that white coat!

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