Strategies for Writing Secondary Essays For Medical School

Grace Kennedy

Strategies for Writing Secondary Essays for Medical School

If you’re reading this blog, congrats! You most likely submitted your primary application and are now thinking about writing secondary essays for medical school. You’re probably well aware by now that applying to medical school is a long, grueling process. After spending sleepless night after sleepless night perfecting your personal statement and experiences section, reminding your professors for letters of rec, and scrutinizing your MCAT score from every possible angle, you still have a long way to go.

After pressing submit on your primary application, your medical school secondary essays will begin steamrolling back into your inbox. You definitely increase your chances of being admitted somewhere if you apply to more schools, but here’s the catch: you will correspondingly receive an overwhelming number of secondaries. Keeping in mind that you should apply to 25-30 schools to stay on the safer side and that each program has anything between one to nine secondary prompts, the question is: how can you optimize your success with 75+ essays dropping in your lap at the same time? To help guide you through the actual writing process, I have outlined some of the best strategies for writing secondary essays for medical school.

Overall Timeline Approach

Before you sit down and start writing secondary essays for medical school, you might be wondering what the timeline for this application phase looks like. After submitting your primary (hopefully on the first day the AMCAS opens!), your medical school secondary essays will start to trickle in throughout the summer, typically starting at the end of June. Since most med schools automatically send secondaries back to every completed primary, you will quickly become overwhelmed with the amount of writing that needs to be accomplished. There should be a lot of thought that goes into your secondary timeline. If you take too long to return your essays, then schools will think that you don’t care about them. If you submit them within a day but don’t spend enough time checking grammar and such, then you look like a sloppy candidate.

A general rule of thumb that you should follow is to return your medical school secondary essays within two weeks of receiving them. Planning your medical school secondaries timeline is unfortunately the easier part of this process. Actually sitting down and writing secondary essays for medical school is a lot more draining.

Here is some writing advice to help ensure that your secondaries are stellar:

Think Like an Admissions Committee

Many admissions committees are made up of professors and students. You must write to please that particular audience. If you suspect that one of your potential peers might read your application and say, “I would hate to be with this person in class,” you’re in trouble. No amount of qualifications can save you if your prospective peers and professors don’t want to interact with you.

Moreover, these people will read hundreds of medical school secondary essays. They will get insanely bored reading application after application, 75% of which sound identical. Their eyes will inevitably glaze over. You need to grab their attention, particularly with your opening sentences and introduction. The last thing you want is for your reader yawn right at the start! Throughout your responses, make your vocabulary direct and your grammatical structure simple. Try to keep sentences under 15 words or so, where possible. Don’t use big words if a smaller word will suffice. Be thoughtful about how your secondaries are crafted to make all admissions readers gravitate toward your application.

Do Not Repeat Yourself

The admissions committee already has your AMCAS application. Repetition when writing secondary essays for medical school will not do you any favors! If you basically reiterate what you said in the personal statement with your secondaries, admissions officers will be bored and unimpressed. Instead, you need to provide new information. That doesn’t mean that you cannot talk about the same activities or experiences—you certainly can. It means that you need to discuss another angle of each experience.

For example, if you previously talked about the ways shadowing at a hospital changed your engagement with patients, you could now discuss how shadowing influenced which type of medicine you would like to pursue, such as pediatrics or epidemiology. Your admissions officers should constantly learn new things about you.

Answer the Prompt Directly

Too many people get caught up in what they want to say and completely fail to answer the question in writing secondary essays for medical school. A lot of essays will have similar prompts, with slight differences. For example, one school might ask “What makes you diverse?” while another asks “What makes you diverse? How has this influenced your life?” Although they are basically asking the same thing, double check that you are answering all questions.

Highlight all keywords and phrases before you dive into writing. Understand what the school wants to know when writing your secondaries, and outline your essay accordingly. Make sure your answer directly responds to the question and doesn’t take any significant detours.

Be Consistent with Your AMCAS Application

Consistency is crucial for the overall theme of your application persona throughout both the primary and secondaries. Never write anything that contradicts or otherwise calls into question something you included on your AMCAS. Your entire application not only needs to be compelling; it needs to make sense. Don’t write about anything you can’t discuss in depth during your interviews. Everything on your application is fair game to discuss further, so be clear and honest.

Take a Break if Needed

Remember, this is a stressful time for any applicant. You’re going to be doing a lot of writing since most schools have multiple secondary prompts that you have to answer. If you ever get writer's block, take a step back from your work for 24 hours and do something fun! Come back with a fresh mind and you will probably see your own writing from a different perspective.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Editing

After going through tons of prompts for each of your schools, you’ll be tired of writing. But don’t give in to the temptation to submit the first draft. The quality of your secondary essays could make or break your chances of getting an interview. So, if you need a break, take it. Then come back and check for errors of all kinds. You might have made a grammatical or spelling error that your word processor didn’t catch. You might have skipped a part of the prompt. You might have accidentally written the name of one school instead of another. These mistakes can happen, you’re human. But if adcoms see them, you’ll come across as unprofessional. Edit as much as you can!


Writing secondary essays for medical school can initially feel like an impossible task, especially with so many prompts to conquer. But if you follow all the instructions, convey a story that you haven’t told in your AMCAS application, and turn in a well-polished essay, you can hope to impress admissions committees and take one step closer to that dream of becoming a doctor.

Schedule a free consultation

to find out how we can help you get accepted.