Medical School Secondary Applications: The Ultimate Guide 2023

Jul 8, 2021

Medical school primary and secondary applications are used to evaluate which candidates will land an interview. In another post, we cover primary medical school applications, but what are secondaries? In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about secondary applications for medical school, including costs, deadines, and examples.

Table of Contents

What are secondary medical school applications?

The medical school application process begins with your primary application (AMCAS, AACOMAS, TMDSAS). Some schools will screen, or select students, based on stats before sending secondary applications. However, not all schools will screen and instead send out secondary applications to all applicants regardless of qualifications. 

Since submitting secondary applications require additional payments for processing, carefully consider how many medical schools you send your primary application to. For instance, if you send your primary application to 50 schools, but can only afford to send 30 secondaries, you will be automatically rejected from the 20 schools you didn’t send secondaries to. Save money by only applying to medical schools that you can afford to send both a primary and secondary application to. 

The secondary application supplements your primary applications with more information about who you are, what drives you, how you will add diversity to a program, and why you are interested in a career in medicine. As such, the secondary application consists of a series of short essay questions unique to each medical school. The average secondary application will include three essay prompts.

What do medical schools look for in secondary applications?

Secondary essay prompts vary from school to school. Some schools will ask general questions but others may ask very in-depth questions. 

Medical school admissions committees use secondary essays to determine whether a prospective student’s missions and goals align with the mission statement of the medical school. 

Based on a holistic review of the primary and secondary application, a medical school will determine whether or not the prospective student will be invited to interview. 

The majority of questions you receive will be for that purpose–do you understand the school’s mission statement, and are you a good fit? Even if the secondary essay prompts are not directly related to the mission statement, do your research! Reading the school’s mission and community goals will give you a sense of how to tailor your essays for each individual school. 

Medical school secondary application timeline

How long does it take to get secondary applications for medical school?

After AMCAS verifies your primary application, they will begin sending it to medical schools. From there, medical schools will decide if they will send you a secondary or not. Since verifying your primary application can take a couple weeks, expect to start receiving secondary application requests 2-3 weeks after submitting your primary application. 

As mentioned above, some medical schools will request a secondary application from you without screening your primary application. These schools contribute to the infamous “secondary flood”, which refers to the high number of secondary application requests you receive right after your primary application is verified. 

In order to prepare for the secondary flood, find previous secondary application prompts online and begin drafting your responses. Even if the prompts that you prepare for are different from the ones you are actually sent, the time you invest in drafting your responses will get you in the right mindset to tell your story. If you don’t have drafts for your secondary essays, you will find yourself writing every day and potentially cramming to finish your secondaries.

If your dream school did not send you a secondary application request during the secondary flood, don’t fret. Some medical schools review primary applications before requesting a secondary application. 

Sometimes secondary application requests from medical schools end up in your spam or junk folder in your email account. Be sure to check these email folders frequently to ensure you are not missing any application invitations. 

What does it mean if I do not receive a secondary application?

If you do not receive a secondary application request from a medical school you applied to, this means they are not interested in interviewing you further. You will most likely receive a rejection letter stating this.

Medical school secondary application questions

In this section, we’ll go over some example secondary application prompts you may receive. Keep in mind, secondary application prompts are unique to each school and can vary from year to year. Without further ado, here are some examples: 

Harvard medical school secondary application

  • If you have already graduated, briefly (4000 characters max) summarize your activities since graduation.
  • If there is an important aspect of your personal background or identity, not addressed elsewhere in the application, that you would like to share with the Committee, we invite you to do so here. Many applicants will not need to answer this question. Examples might include significant challenges in access to education, unusual socioeconomic factors, identification with a minority culture, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. Briefly explain how such factors have influenced your motivation for a career in medicine. (4000 character maximum)
  • Our interview season runs from mid-September through January. Please indicate any significant (three or more weeks) restriction on your availability for interviews during this period. If none, leave blank.

HST Program

The HST MD program draws on the combined resources of Harvard and MIT to provide a distinct preclinical education tailored to preparing students for careers as physician-scientists across the full spectrum of disciplines including biological, physical and engineering sciences. HST classes are small, commonly include graduate students and have an emphasis on quantitative and analytic approaches, centered on understanding disease mechanisms and preparing students to solve unmet needs in medicine ranging from novel diagnostics and therapeutics to applications of ‘big data’ and systems engineering as they relate to healthcare. Please focus on how your interests, experiences and aspirations have prepared you for HST (rather than identifying specific HST faculty or research opportunities). Limit your comments to the equivalent of one page of single spaced text with a font size of 10 or 12. (4000 Char)

MD/PhD Program

  • Briefly list your research interests/areas; use keywords only. This information is not binding. (100 character limit)
  • Please list publications, indicating for each whether it is published, submitted/under review, or in preparation.
  • For PhD’s in the social sciences only, please complete the following and upload where indicated:
  • Statement of Purpose: Describe your reasons and motivations for pursuing a graduate degree in your chosen program of study at Harvard. What experiences led you to your research ambitions? Concisely state your past work in your intended field of study and in related fields. Briefly indicate your career objectives. Your statement should not exceed 1,000 words. Health Policy applicants should indicate the concentration(s) and policy area(s) of interest.
  • Please see Program Details to determine whether the program to which you are applying requires a writing sample, CV, or other documents. Please follow departmental requirements on type and size of writing sample. Unless noted, writing sample is limited to 20 pages. 

Tufts medical school secondary application

All prompts have a 1,000 character limit. 

  • Do you wish to include any comments (in addition to those already provided in your AMCAS application) to the Admissions Committee at Tufts University School of Medicine?
  • Please briefly describe your plans for the coming year. Include in this explanation if you will be a student, working, conducting research, volunteering, etc.
  • Do you consider yourself a person who would contribute to the diversity of the student body of Tufts University School of Medicine? 
  • Do you have any withdrawals or repeated coursework listed on your transcript(s).
  • Did you take any leaves of absence or significant breaks from your undergraduate education? (Do not include time off after graduation.)

Georgetown medical school secondary application

Why have you chosen to apply to the Georgetown University School of Medicine and how do you think your education at Georgetown will prepare you to become a physician for the future? (1 page, formatted at your discretion)

Stanford medical school secondary application

  • The Committee on Admissions regards the diversity (broadly defined) of an entering class as an important factor in serving the educational mission of the school. The Committee on Admissions strongly encourages you to share unique, personally important, and/or challenging factors in your background, such as the quality of your early educational environment, socioeconomic status, culture, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and life or work experiences. Please discuss how factors have influenced your goals and preparation for a career in medicine. Please limit your answer to 2,000 characters including spaces.
  • What do you see as the most likely practice scenario for your future medical career?
  • Choose the single answer that best describes your career goals and clinical practice setting: Academic Medicine (Clinical), Academic Medicine (Physician Scientist), Non-Academic Clinical Practice, Health Policy, Health Administration, Primary Care
    Public Health/Community Health, Global Health
  • Why do you feel you are particularly suited for this practice scenario? What knowledge, skills and attitudes have you developed that have prepared you for this career path? Please limit your answer to 1,000 characters including spaces.
  • How will you take advantage of the Stanford Medicine Discovery Curriculum and scholarly concentration requirement to achieve your personal career goals? Please limit your answer to 1,000 characters including spaces.
  • Please include anything else that will help us understand better how you may uniquely contribute to Stanford Medicine? (OPTIONAL)Please limit your answer to 1,000 characters including spaces

Medical school secondary application fees

How much do secondary applications cost?

The average cost of a single secondary application is around $100, but can range from $30 to $200. The cost to submit both primary and secondary applications will be a huge financial investment in your future as a doctor, but it can also be a financial burden. Applying to schools that you are most excited about and that are a good fit for you will make your investments worth it. 

Keep in mind, all secondary application fees are non-refundable. 

Medical school secondary application fee waiver

If you need help paying for medical school applications, consider applying to the AAMC fee assistance program. Benefits offered to students in need include a reduced MCAT fee, prep materials, and a waived AMCAS fee that covers 20 medical school applications. This will help you with costs throughout the process. 

If you are approved, you have one year to use your benefits. Unused resources will not carry over to the next year. However, you can apply to the Fee Assistance Program more than once, and up to five times. 

To apply to the Fee Assistance Program, you will need to submit financial documentation that verifies your income and your parents’ income. With this, you must file your Federal Income Tax Forms, a copy of your financial aid award letter if you currently have financial aid at your university, and signed consent. Depending on your situation, you may also need to submit supporting documents such as alimony or child support documentation.

For more information, visit the AAMC FEE ASSISTANCE FAQ

Medical school secondary application deadlines

When should medical school secondaries be submitted?

Each secondary application deadline will differ by school. Some medical schools will ask for secondaries to be submitted after two weeks of sending them out while other medical schools will offer months to submit secondaries. 

To be the most competitive applicant, submit your secondaries within three days regardless of the school’s deadline. Why? Medical schools have a rolling admissions process, and you want your name at the top of the pile! 

If you take too long to submit secondary applications, some schools will automatically deny you. Although medical schools provide deadlines, submitting secondaries quickly demonstrates your excitement and interest in the school. Therefore, for the best chance at an interview, we recommend submitting secondary applications within 3 days of receiving the invitation. 

What medical schools do rolling admissions?

Rolling admissions is the process through which schools review applications in the order they were received. Both MD and DO programs employ rolling admissions for both primary and secondary applications. 

In order to be successful in a rolling admissions application process, you must be strategic about timing. Students who submit their secondary applications earlier in the process will be evaluated first. If you wait to submit your application until the last day of the school’s deadline, chances are that you have given away your interview slot to an earlier applicant. 

Although applying early improves your chances, submitting your application early does not guarantee you an interview. It simply allows medical schools to evaluate your application sooner rather than later. You still need to meet all their requirements and have a competitive application, including a strong GPA and MCAT score.  

Medical school secondary application headshot

Do you need a headshot for medical school applications?

Some medical schools require you to submit a headshot with your secondary application, for the purpose of verifying who you are when you arrive at your interviews. The exact directions for the dimensions and format of the headshot will be given by the medical school requesting the photo.

What do you wear for medical school secondary application headshots?

Consider every part of your application to be equivalent to a job interview. Therefore, dress as if you are at an interview. 

For your headshot, consider wearing a suit with a collared tie, a dress shirt, a jacket, or even a jacket without a tie. Any outfit that you would wear in a business casual setting will reflect well. 

You don’t need to spend a ton of money on your headshot, and can even take your photo at home with a clean background. For example, you can set a timer or have a friend take a photo in good lighting while you stand in front of a bare, clean wall or solid background. Make sure the photo is taken with a professional camera. 

If you do not have a clean wall or a friend with a professional camera, you can have professional headshots taken at a walgreens passport center near you. This should cost around $10-$20. The prices will vary depending on the walgreens you choose.  

How to write secondary applications for medical school

1. Read the school’s mission statement.

Before you begin drafting a secondary application, read the medical school’s mission statement and core values. What personal and professional goals do you have that align with their mission? Do you have specific experiences you can share to showcase your principles and character? How can you demonstrate you are a good fit for the culture of that specific medical school? These are all great questions to brainstorm before you begin writing your secondary application essays.  

2. Show, don’t tell: Be specific about your experiences.

As you draft your essays, think about your experiences and what you have to offer. Regardless of how hardworking, motivated, or determined you are, the secondary application gives you an opportunity to tell each school how and why you share their values. Tell your story through specific experiences. For example, what experiences do you have in rural settings that you can share with schools who prioritize sending physicians to rural areas? 

When explaining your character and values in a secondary application, cite specific experiences that can shape your essay. Every time you can answer a question with an anecdote and/or specific examples from your life, do it!

3. Dig deep and be authentic.

Most schools will ask you to write essays about diversity or hardship. Make sure you are writing about experiences most people would consider a hardship. Failing exams, classes, or having to retake the MCAT would not be considered a hardship by most medical schools. Do not be afraid to be honest, vulnerable, or to write about personal experiences. 

While writing about your personal hardships, remember that medical schools are searching for how you’ve handled adversity in your past. This will help them infer how you will handle hardships and challenges as a medical student, attending physician, and beyond. Therefore, do not simply write about your hardships. Emphasize how you overcame and grew from the experience. How did your personal hardships shape the person you are today, and the kind of physician you will be?

Writing about diversity can be challenging because most people relate diversity to ethnicity, privilege, and/or to minorities. Diversity essays are not meant to exclude students that are well-represented in their field of study. Instead, diversity can encompass many attributes. 

Have you served in the military? Are you a returning student? Are you a nontraditional student? Are you the first in your family to pursue higher education? Are you a parent? Are you from a rural area? Did you major in something other than science? All of these would make you diverse, and you should share them! Think about anything that is personally important to you. Diversity can refer to anything that makes you who you are, and this can include significant life events, such as achievements or challenges. 

In order to be authentic, forget about any preconceived notions you have about what the school wants to hear. Be yourself by providing authentic and personalized responses!

4. Be honest about your weaknesses.

Some schools may send you essay prompts that ask you about your shortcomings. Part of telling your story is owning your weaknesses. Do not try to cover them up and do not write about a strength framed as a weakness. Everyone has areas they can improve. 

The purpose of these prompts are to determine if you are humble enough to admit your shortcomings and whether you are working on improving them. What are you doing, or have done, to overcome your weaknesses? By focusing on your personal growth, you will show admissions that you acknowledge your weaknesses and are taking steps to better yourself.

5. Don’t sell yourself or your stats.

The medical school you are applying to already has your stats (MCAT and GPA) from your primary application. You don’t have to sell yourself based on your stats in your secondary application. If you got this far in the application process, it is clear that you are hardworking, dedicated, and resilient. Rather than continuing to sell yourself, focus on telling your story beyond your stats. 

For instance, instead of providing anecdotes that show you are hard-working, explain what inspires you to work hard and practice discipline. 

6. Don’t stretch the truth.

Everything that you write about will be verified during the application, your interview, or even after the admissions offers are sent to you. Never lie or enhance your stats, experiences, or anecdotes. Schools will be able to determine whether or not your stories make sense or are consistent. In the same way that your personal statement is unique to you, so are your secondary essays.

7. Always answer optional prompts!

All students will answer the required prompts, but not all will answer the optional ones. Go the extra mile. Answer all the prompts presented to you, even if you have already answered a similar one. However, do not reuse any material that you have already used in your primary or in other secondary essays. Instead, frame your story and experiences in different ways to tell another perspective. For example, if you have already used an anecdote in another prompt and you would like to retell it, take it the extra mile and write about details or lessons learned that you have not previously mentioned. 

8. Get your secondary essay proofread by a professional grammar editing service.

There are two types of proofreading for personal statements and secondary essays – proofreading for content and proofreading for grammar. Many premeds make the mistake of only having their essays proofread by a premed advisor who is not a grammar specialist. Since grammar errors are a huge distraction for seasoned readers, getting your essay proofread by an English specialist will ensure you are not drawing any unwanted attention. 

For grammatical proofreading, we recommend or your undergrad’s writing center.

9. Address the medical school by their name.

Have you ever read a “To whom it may concern” letter? They’re very impersonal. You do not want to set this vibe in your secondary essays. Rather, you want your secondary essays to be personalized to each school you apply to. 

Since secondary prompts are often similar between schools, many students recycle core components of their essays between different secondary applications. If you choose to do this, make sure you personalize your secondary by addressing the medical school by their name. 

For instance, if you are writing an essay for Georgetown, be careful not to mistakenly leave Stanford’s name in the essay.  

Medical school secondary application examples

In this section, we will show you how to communicate messages through anecdotes and writing. To use this section most effectively, review the topics before reviewing the sample responses. These sample responses can be thought of as a complete essay response or a section of an essay response. Keep in mind these are resources to help you spark your creativity. Do not write about any of these scenarios if they do not apply to you. 

Without further ado, here are some sample responses for secondary essays. 

Topic: writing about how a sibling with a disability influenced your decision to pursue a career in medicine. 

Growing up, my sister and I were each other’s primary playmates. We played pretend around the house, making forts and make-believe stories with our toy dolls. We pushed the ceiling of our creativity daily by always creating a more extravagant story than the last one. When our make-believe games ended, I was able to return back to reality; however, my sister was not. My sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia at the age of five. 

Although I understood my sister for her condition and I knew her kind-hearted soul, my unforgiving peers did not have the same opinion. They often called her hateful names, and mocked her mannerisms. I grew very protective of her, and defended her in every situation I could. Through trial and error in how to approach her bullies, I learned lifelong lessons about advocacy and effective communication. I learned how to approach sensitive issues while considering multiple perspectives, how to manage my temper in frustrating situations, and how to craft my words to effectively communicate for others. 

Topic: addressing your assimilation experience as an immigrant. 

In many ways, China prepared me for a life in the United States. I was required to learn English and study American history in elementary school. Also, my teachers in China instilled discipline and consistency in me at a young age. Given my educational background and strong study habits, I assumed my assimilation experience into American culture would go smoothly. In reality, it was anything but smooth. Although I didn’t struggle with the American high school curriculum, I found it difficult to relate to others socially. 

My classmates listened to music and watched TV shows I never heard of before. During the first few weeks of school in the United States, I found myself unable to meaningfully connect with others during conversation, which made me feel like an outcast. In an attempt to fit in with my peers, I started consuming everything American pop culture. My obsession with fitting in caused me to lose parts of myself and my own culture that contributed to my unique heritage. 

When my parents saw this, they immediately took a stance to reinstate the Chinese culture in me. At the time, I felt like my parents, who are proud Chinese immigrants, were pushing their culture onto me. Our conversations were often met with resistance, which affected our relationship. With time and patience from my parents, however, I began embracing my Chinese roots again. 

My assimilation experience into American culture taught me many important lessons in cultural competencies. In medical applications, a culturally competent provider does not need to understand everything about a particular group in order to provide effective treatment. Instead, the provider should strive for awareness and understanding of other cultures in an effort to provide care that fits his/her patients’ contexts. 


In this article, you learned all about secondary applications for medical school, including their costs, how to write secondary essays, and when you should expect them. For further reading, check out: 


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