Applying to Medical School, Part Two: Secondary Applications

Congratulations! You have completed and submitted your primary application…but wait, there’s more.

*drum roll*

Now, you must complete the secondary applications.

Secondary? Seriously? Oh, yes. Seriously.

So, what is a secondary application exactly, you ask?

se·con·da·ry app·li·ca·tion
/ˈsekənˌderē/ /ˌapləˈkāSH(ə)n/
1. another application that costs anywhere from $40-$100.
  • 2. almost every medical school you apply to requires a separate secondary application. Yes, this means you will be paying an additional of anywhere from $40-100 for EACH medical school you applied to in your primary application to which you want to continue applying.
    3. this is optional for the schools that you want a rejection letter from.
    4. this is required for the schools that you want to an acceptance letter from.
    5. lots of busy work.
    6. comes in the form of essays, video submissions, and/or an online, proctored examination. Yes, you read that correctly. Proctored examination.
    7. an application that may cause side effects, such as headaches, nausea, confusion, eye bags, sleeplessness, fatigue, writer’s block, anxiety, sadness, an empty bank account
    synonyms: supplemental application, an application that makes you question your career, it’s OK – just focus on the process

    antonyms: no interviews for you, future rejection letters, “We regret to inform you..”

    Now that you’ve read some of the basic definitions of a secondary application, let me break it down for you.

    Tips and Tricks

    • Secondary applications are different from the primary application. Keep this in mind.
    • Secondary applications are not streamlined altogether like the primary application. This means that each school has their own secondary application that you are required to complete, given that you still want to continue applying for said school.
    • The average cost to submit a secondary application is $60. There are some schools that do not charge at all, but those miraculous schools are a rare find. Remember when I said applying to medical school would be expensive and that you really have to make sure you actually want to apply to all of the schools you are applying to? I said what I said.
    • You have to complete your prospective school’s secondary application for you to get considered for an interview.
    • Some schools automatically send you an email to complete their secondary application almost immediately after you submit your primary application, meaning that they do not look at your primary application until you have completed and submitted their secondary application. This can take days.
    • Some schools look at your primary application first and then send you an invite to complete their secondary application before considering you for an interview. This means they saw potential in your primary application. Congrats! This can take weeks.
    • Some schools already have their secondary application open for anyone to see and download on their websites during application season.
    • Some schools do not have a secondary application. This is also very rare.
    • If you never get an email back (from a school that you applied to in your primary application whose secondary application is not available on their website) within 4-7 weeks inviting you to complete their secondary application, it means you will most likely receive a rejection letter/email once admission decisions have been made.
    • Invites to complete a secondary application take longer when you wait longer to submit your primary application, which means you should submit your primary application as early as possible.
    • Each due date for secondary applications vary, depending on the school AND the student AND when the student submitted their primary application, meaning that if your friend submitted his/her primary application even 1 day earlier than you did, you both can have different due dates for your secondary application submission. This means it is vital for you to keep a calendar for your own due dates per school.
    • The earlier you submit your secondary application to that school, the earlier you will be (or will not be) considered for an interview. The earlier you get an interview, the more likely you will be considered for a possible pre-match offer or get accepted, in general. I will talk more about pre-match offers in Part Three of Applying to Medical School series on

Purpose of Secondary Applications

  • To get to know you better. Each medical school has slightly different missions and values, and secondary applications allow a window of opportunity for the admissions committee to see if you are a good fit for their school’s culture.
  • Capital. This is a good maybe. I only bring this up because secondary applications do not have to be this expensive, but it is, nonetheless. Then again, medical schools have to hire and pay their admissions committees somehow. No such thing as a free lunch, and we might as well learn that sooner than later.

Types of Secondary Applications

  1. Video Submission:
  • Some schools will require you to do a timed, live, “interview-like” video as their secondary application. For example, I applied to a school that required me to answer 3 questions, and I was given 2 minutes to answer each question, one after another through a video recording. I was not given the questions ahead of time; I had to read and answer the questions to the best of my ability within the allotted time, just like a regular interview. The video recording stopped at the 2-minute mark, whether or not I finished answering the question, and there were no do-overs.
  • Some schools will require you to upload your own video, either through YouTube as an unlisted video or through the school’s secondary application website. This is a case where they would give you the question you need to answer ahead of time, so you can practice.
  • Tips for video submissions:
    • Dress and groom yourself professionally.
    • Be calm. Do not fidget.
    • Try not to look too intimidating – smile when it is appropriate.
    • Record yourself in a quiet area, preferably with a background that is not too distracting or will not give the wrong impression.

2. Test Submission:

  • Some schools now require you to take what’s called a “CASPer” exam, which screens for people skills by using an online situational judgment test.
  • It costs $10 per medical school you send it to.
  • You are being videotaped while you take the exam to make sure you are who you say you are and to make sure you are not cheating.
  • This exam has 12 scenarios. For each scenario, a situational video where there is a conflict is played for you. The videos cannot be replayed. After the video plays, you are asked a few fill-in-the-blank questions, which are all timed.
  • Be honest. This test is only designed to weed out socio/psychopaths that have no empathetic nerves in their bodies.
  • Essays:
    • Lots and lots of essays.
    • The most common form of the secondary application come in the form of multiple essays, both short and long.
    • Questions, such as:
      • What experiences and/or relationships have motivated you toward a career in osteopathic medicine?
      • Please describe your most meaningful health-related experience.
      • Briefly describe the community you anticipate practicing medicine in post-residency.
      • Choose two of [insert medical school here] values and explain their importance to you and how they integrate with each other. Please explain how this integration will impact your medical school education.
      • Describe a learning experience by stating the circumstances of the experience (why you participated) and what you learned about yourself through that experience.
      • Describe a situation in which you interacted with individuals who were different from you.
      • How does your background and/or experiences align with [insert medical school here]’s mission?
      • Describe a community service experience.
      • Describe a position of responsibility/authority in which others depended on you for direction.
      • Describe a creative endeavor (anything that required you to be creative in your approach, such as fine arts, computer programming, web design, writing, etc.)
      • Please describe why you are interested in applying to [insert medical school here] school in particular.
      • Please describe how a parent, guardian, friend, relative, or mentor influenced your aspirations to obtain a medical degree. If not applicable, please so indicate.
      • Please describe any personal experiences OR disadvantage (educational, financial or otherwise) and their significance to you in your pursuit of a medical degree. If not applicable, please so indicate.
      • How have your experiences prepared you to be a physician?
      • Describe a time or situation where you have been unsuccessful or failed. What did you learn from this experience and how have you applied this learning to your work and/or life?
      • What would you like to contribute and be remembered for in medicine?
      • Describe a group project or activity of which you are most proud.
      • Describe a time that you have witnessed someone acting unethically or dishonestly, or experienced behavior of harassment or discrimination.
      • Describe an example of a very difficult assignment, task, or situation that you did not think you could accomplish.
      • Please explain any academic discrepancies or extenuating circumstances that you feel the Admissions Committee should know.
      • Briefly describe your single, most rewarding experience.
      • Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment.
      • Briefly describe a situation where you had to overcome adversity; include lessons learned and how you think it will affect your career as a future physician.
      • Briefly describe a situation where you were not in the majority. What did you learn from this experience?
      • The Admissions Committee values hearing about each candidate for admission, including what qualities the candidate might bring to the School of Medicine if admitted. If you feel there is information not already addressed in the application that will enable the Committee to know more about you and this has influenced your desire to be a physician, feel free to write a brief statement in the space below. You may address any subject you wish, such as being a first generation college student, or being a part of a minority group (whether because of your sexual orientation, religion, economic status, gender identity, ethnicity), or being the child of undocumented immigrants or being undocumented yourself, etc. Please note that this question is optional and that you will not be penalized should you choose not to answer it.
      • Indicate any special experiences, unusual factors, or other information you feel would be helpful in evaluating you, including, but not limited to, education, employment, extracurricular activities, prevailing over adversity. 
    • Above are only SOME of the essays that I had to write in my secondary applications. SOME. Meaning, I wrote and submitted more essays in addition to the ones that I listed above.
    • Each essay can range anywhere from 100 words – 5000 characters.
    • Tips and Tricks:
      • Gather all of the questions of each and every one of your secondary applications and their appropriate maximum character/word count, and type it all up in one document with their respective due dates and medical schools. This way, you can see which essay prompts are similar between which schools so that you do not have to write completely different essays for the ones that have similar prompts. Also, depending on your preference, you can gauge which essays you want to tackle first, in respect to either the due dates, the character length/word count requirement, or the difficulty/complexity of the prompts.
      • Always save a copy of your essays in the Cloud just in case your computer gets wiped out for some reason.
      • Always hit the save button every few sentences. You never know when your computer might crash on you.
      • Have a trusted proofreader.
      • Do not procrastinate. The difference between you and the next person in getting an interview can depend on how early you submit your application.

Each secondary application is different. Some will be a combination of essays and video submission; some will have only essays; some might not even require a secondary application. Keep an open mind, and roll with the punches.

I hope this was an informative and helpful part to your journey of applying to medical school. Secondary applications become more dreadful the longer you wait to finish them. Since you would most likely be completing these during the summer, I suggest that you reserve 2 whole weeks where you finish and revise your secondary applications. Just brace yourself and accept the fact that this is just part of the process. Those who have walked before you had to do it, and now it is your turn. Take it as a blessing, and remember that the best way to get through it is to grow through it.

Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass away… 

Earl Nightingale

… so might as well be a doctor.

Maius Bermejo


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