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Basics of the Secondary Applications

Written by Tino Mukorombindo

If you already know the basics, skip to the bottom so you can see helpful tips that will make your application standout


After you submit your general primary medical school application, interested schools will send you a secondary application. Here we will discuss these secondary applications. 

Some schools automatically send secondary applications while others only send them to applicants they pre-screened and have further interest. The purpose is to extract more information from you and will allow you to stand out even more! You must submit every secondary application you receive. Do not allow fear or insecurity to stop you from returning your secondary to schools you think are “out of your league.”

Every piece of your application is important, and the secondary is no exception. It is unclear if secondaries hold more weight than the primary application. However, be aware that an admissions officer who may not be impressed by your personal statement or primary application can decide to give you an interview because they really liked your secondary essay responses. Therefore, do your best to take advantage of every opportunity you get to showcase yourself. 

The sooner you return your secondary application, the better. It can go a long way in showing just how interested you are in attending a school. Generally, it is best to turn in the secondary one to two weeks after you have received it. If a school gives you a deadline, do your best to submit at least 3-4 days before this deadline.

If you have several applications, you need to balance your time and figure out your priorities. Submitting the secondaries sooner is good, but you do not want to sacrifice quality for the sake of turning in your application quickly.

We recommend that you focus more on the schools you would really like to attend. Also, consider pre-writing essays to keep yourself from being overwhelmed by the secondary application process. The question prompts for the past year, and sometimes even the current year, can usually be found on the internet. This allows you to space out your writing and maintain a consistent level of preparation so that you do not end up feeling pressed for time when you get several secondaries at once. You can also reuse essays from other secondary applications. If you do this, make sure you tailor each essay for the institution you’re applying to.

Finally, schools often offer an optional section. This may be the area where you can address deficiencies in your application or highlight good things. You do not HAVE to fill this section out. However, we recommend that you consider doing so if you have a glaring problem like a very low MCAT score or a failing grade. If you decide to address something, we recommend that you mention what the deficiency is, then spend the remainder of the section explaining what you learned from the experience and what you did or are actively doing to address it. 

Secondary applications are complicated, but we hope this article will help with navigating this part of the journey. Check out our helpful tips article as well for more information.

Tips for Success

Research every school:

It is in your best interest to put a good amount of effort into this process. Therefore, you need to know who you are applying to. For example, some institutions are heavily focused on research. Consequently, it’s essential to know this and emphasize research experience in that article. Another institution might be focused on service, so you can focus more on highlighting your mission trips and other service trips. 

We recommend that you look through each school’s website. They sometimes offer statistics as to what specialties students match into. You can even read through their student handbook or contact medical students that you know at these institutions. Also, utilize social media to ask questions! No matter what, do what you must to figure out specific reasons why you and that school would be a great fit. 

Get help!

As with any other aspect of your application, ask someone who is ahead of you to look through your responses. They can give you valuable insight and guidance. As you complete more secondaries, you will get better at answering questions, but until then, ask for help!

Answer each question with intentionality 

Phrase every question to answer the following: Why should I be a doctor? Why would I be a good doctor? Why should you select me? Each item you answer is an opportunity to make yourself look good, so take it! Avoid generic, bland responses, and do your best to respond in a manner that will make a person want to know more about you. Do this by tailoring your responses to incorporate your specific experiences, beliefs, or qualities while still correctly answering the question. I generally tell my mentees that they should answer each question as though that question is the only thing that an admissions officer will see about them. 

Answer your secondaries on Google Docs or a separate document

When you get a secondary, copy, and paste all the essay prompts and questions onto a different text-editing program. Doing so will allow you to make multiple edits, regardless of your internet connection. It will also allow you to have a database for answers if you want to re-use responses. You can also share these documents with the people who will be revising your essays.

Be timely!

Ideally, you should be submitting your secondary applications around 3-5 days after receiving an invitation to complete. At the latest, you should submit within two weeks

Avoid the temptation of quickly finishing your secondary just for the sake of being complete. You want to make sure that you are producing a high-quality application but don’t compromise quality for the sake of speed. Also, if it’s for a school you really want to attend, make sure you edit multiple times and ask mentors and advisors for their input. 


Do not waste your hard work and effort on silly errors. Make sure you spell change every secondary. Make sure that the sentences make sense and transition smoothly. If you are re-using essays, make sure you address the institution appropriately (do not address the University of Louisville in an application for why the University of Kentucky is a good fit for you). When admissions officers are reading thousands of applications, they may not look favorably on an applicant who was unwilling to spend a few extra minutes to make sure their essays make sense. 

If you have other questions, comment below, or reach out to us via email ( or through our social media accounts. 

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