Secondary — The Mill

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Hello Everyone!

Secondaries is all about finding a balance between rushing and completion. You have a strict time limit (longer than displayed in this picture), if you wait too long the platform you’re comfortably standing on will disappear, you’ll have to parley obstacles into success. P.S. don’t sue me Nintendo!

So, you’ve gone and done it now — you decided to apply to medical school. You’ve have/or you will put in your primary application early, right? Right?  And now’s a good time as ever to consider the secondary application period. To orientate you:

  1. Primary applications – due early June (changes slightly year to year)
  2. Secondary applications – due early July – end of application period (varies by school, in general get them back within 2 weeks of reception)
  3. Interview(s) – early September until spring of the next year

*the dates are dynamic, keep track of your year.

What’s the benefit of hammering out the secondary early?

If you put in your primary early, you’ll have about a month or so to work on secondary essay drafts. The caveat here is that you won’t actually have received any secondaries by the time you ought to be drafting them — talk about cognitive dissonance, eh? So, what’s the trick here? Well, the secret is to know what to expect. Case in point, because I already knew what to expect I already had drafts to use for secondaries completed in May (because my PS was pretty much finalized by the beginning of May). This meant that I was able to respond to some secondary applications within days of reception, this seemed to have worked out, I was offered one interview less than a week after sending in my secondary in July. Thus, by the time I was working on more secondaries, I had landed several interviews already — this saved me some pesos because I was able to rescind my interests in some secondary applications, therefore saving several hundred dollars.

How long are the prompts?

Unlike the primary, you will respond to each school individually. This also means that each program will have their own prompts, and character limits. In general though, they range from several hundred characters (a fat paragraph) to “write as much as you’d like” 10,000 characters. In general, the less characters per entry the more prompts you’d expect to receive, the vice versa is true as well. I did secondaries somewhere in the teens, with the exception of one school, all of them had multiple short entries (i.e. 6-8 entries). Some of them have an optional entry as well, interestingly, I skipped the optional entry for BU because I couldn’t think of anything worth writing that I hadn’t already covered without being redundant — it worked out.

You’ll also probably find that you’ll have various versions of the same essay, the only difference will be the character count (i.e. short, medium, long entries). The short entries are much harder to write in my opinion, because they should contain a lot of bang for the buck, it’s easy to blabber on and on with a long entry. But, with that said, never blabber on and on.

What types of things do the prompts ask?

In general, the prompts asks for more clarification of things you probably already have briefly touched on during the primary application. The important thing to understand is that, while each school does generate their own secondary, after you do enough of them, you’ll find that you probably have already hashed out 1/2 or 2/3 of the entries, because you already have something drafted similar. Here’s a good link from, they profile the Johns Hopkins secondary prompts from 2013.

Bank these prompts, go search the school you’re applying to for more secondaries. It may astonish you, but most schools are rather transparent about giving away their past secondary essay prompts — believe it or not, they don’t want the process to be the reason you don’t get in!

Do’s and Don’ts 

– Don’t shoehorn a secondary from another program into the secondary you’re applying to. Follow their prompt to the T, if you don’t answer every clause in their prompt then you’ve failed to answer the prompt. Likewise, answering a question that had nothing to do with the prompt is a dead give away that you’re recycling.

– Do customize each secondary, so that any traces of “general answer” is stricken away. Have a friend re-read your secondary, to make sure you don’t slip in the wrong information from another school. Everyone borrows from their other drafts/prompts, it’s pretty accepted, and well expected. But, do make the effort so pretend like that was your only time ever answering that question.

– Don’t let the quality drop too much from the primary to secondary — it’s easy to turn in a great primary, you have all the time in the world. A good secondary is rushed, but should still feel complete. Don’t try to write a Pulitzer Prize entry, but if your writing quality drops too much they may wonder who wrote your primary entries.

– Do attempt to be somewhat consistent in your writing quality.

– Don’t return a secondary late, it shows your lack of comparative interest in their program.

– Do return a secondary within 1-2 weeks of reception, just make sure it’s quality.

– Don’t turn in a secondary without proofreading — you’ll mess up anyways, but you’ll feel a little better.

Well, thanks for having me! And you can find me on twitter at @doctorORbust



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