Preparing for Secondary Applications Part 1

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Hello Everyone!

If you’re applying to medical school this year, then mid June is your time to start working on your secondary applications. This may come as a shock, because the primary application just opened and you’re probably exhausted. However, this is a marathon more than a sprint. Once the secondary period starts (after the AMCAS releases all completed/verified applications at once in late June or early July) you will *hopefully* be inundated with secondary applications. Now, you should bear in mind that the schools you apply to fall into two broad categories for secondary applications, those are schools that pre-screen and those that don’t.


Schools that pre-screen will only send secondary applications to applicants they consider competitive for their program. For example, one university I applied to has a rather long pre-screening process where it may take several weeks for them to give you their decision of if they’ll even send you the secondary or not. Most schools those are pretty good at letting you know early on, this is important because this allows for you to add more schools early on. What are schools looking for? Good question, I doubt any school will give up it’s true screening criteria and it’s really hard to make a large brush stroke assertion about what is considered important. But, for the most part we are probably safe assuming that schools with high competitiveness in categories of research and/or grades and/or community service and/or stats will probably prefer to cherry pick from the lot.

No Pre-Screen

The school just receive all the applications from the primary, and an automatic secondary letter is generated. So, if you applied to 20 schools that don’t pre-screen then you’ll get 20 secondary applications. However, receiving the application isn’t indicative of the program’s interest in you as an applicant.

I applied to both schools types of programs. Most of my applications were with schools that pre-screened, so I knew I was “headed in the right direction” with the admissions committee and I wasn’t just receiving applications ‘randomly’. However, it’s also important to apply to schools that don’t pre-screen, I feel, is that you probably gives you a shot at someone reading your application whereas it might of been “put to the side” because of the pre-screen. For example, BUSM doesn’t pre-screen I believe, and it’s a hyper competitive program (the school receives about (+10K for about 180 seats) and I still got in — I’m really happy I took a shot with their secondary. The pre-screen acts like the canary in the mine (no birds were hurt in the writing of this blog post), the dipstick, so don’t be afraid to apply to a few of them. For example, a school that pre-screened me send me my invitation for an invite several hours after I sent my secondary — I knew I probably was going to be okay.

How do the secondary applications roll in?

Let’s say that you’ve applied to 20 schools that pre-screen, then there’s a statistical possibility that you will receive no applications, this should make sense to you now from our conversation above regarding pre-screening. Whereas, if you applied to 20 schools that don’t screen then you’ll surely receive those 20 secondary applications. So, let’s assume you both applied in early June and have a fruitful secondary response, then you should then expect applications to roll in every few days (sometimes more than one a day) until possibly September of October (some schools do have later windows). Here’s a brief list of how my secondary season and interview season started:

Submitted Primary Application to AMCAS June 11th 2013
July 2nd, 1st Secondary
July 8th, 2nd Secondary
July 11th, 3rd & 4th Secondary
July 15, 5th Secondary
July 17th, 6th & 7th Secondary
July 18th, 8th Secondary
July 19th, 9th Secondary
. even more secondary applications
. even more secondary applications
July 24th, 1st interview invite

As you can see, they really do just roll in.

What are secondary’s notification look like and how will I receive it?

Every single secondary that I received came in my email. The secondary will usually have the following information:

1. How to log into your programs’s specific secondary application account. This is always different, each school has a disparate process. You’ll likely be given a user name and password, or will use your AAMC ID as a user name. This can get confusing after a while, so I strongly suggest making an Excel sheet to keep track of all of the: log in hyper links, passwords, and user names. 

2. Links such as technical standards, return deadlines (sometimes unstated, awesome 2 weeks as ideal), contact information, and other information such as statistics.

Here’s how one of mine looked with the university information stripped for their privacy. I did keep the statistics the same, though I changed the numbers while keeping the ratios correct to further protect the school’s privacy:

“We are in receipt of your 2014 AMCAS application.  Thank you for your interest in Awesome-O University School of Medicine.  We invite you to complete the Supplementary Application which is on the web at the following address:


You will be able to log in by selecting “School of Medicine regular admission.”

1. ID number – Use your AMCAS ID number.

2. PIN – your initial pin is 3545653.  The first time you log in, you will be directed to change your PIN to another number between 6 and 15 digits in length.  Please use a number that is easy for you to remember because you will use it throughout your experience with AU.

3. Supplementary Application – as you click into each section it will populate with information from your AMCAS application.  Please update as needed, fill in any additional information, and submit any supplementary documents.

4. Application Materials – AU will receive the application materials that you provided to AMCAS.

5. Deadline – Please note that the deadline for submitting your supplementary application is November 15, 2013, 11:59 pm Pacific Time.

6. To Submit Application – click the [APPLICATION IS COMPLETE] button.  Once submitted, you will be able to download a copy of the application for your records.

7. $75 Application Fee (FEES VARY from $75-150) – is a non-refundable processing fee, to be paid when your supplementary application is submitted.

8. Official transcripts – If accepted, you will need to request official transcripts from each post-secondary school you have attended be sent to AU before you may register for classes.

9. Last year Awesome-O University received over 6326 applications for 165 seats.  The average entering GPA was 3.75 and the average Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) score was 9-10 on each section.

10. A current MCAT score is required.  MCATs taken prior to 2011 will not be considered for a 2014 application.

11. If you have indicated on the AMCAS application that you are applying to the Combined MD/PhD program, please be aware that an additional application is required for the PhD component of the program.  Application to the Basic Sciences PhD component is available at http://awesomelink”


How long are secondary essays, and what do they tend to be about?

Secondary applications have a very large range of requirements.

1. Some schools just require a check and you hit a few check boxes such as their technical standards and understanding that there are no refunds.

2. Schools that require several short to medium (around 5 – 8 entries).

3. Schools that require a few, but very long entries/essays. For example, I had one secondary that had only 3-essays, but all of them were several thousand characters each (one was up to 10K characters). This doesn’t mean that you’re forced to reach the character max, that’s a sophomoric way to write, instead it means you have the time to write a cogent argument.

The interesting part though, is that almost no matter what secondary you receive, most of them really do dig at the same general topics although there’s a hundred ways to ask the same general question:

1. Why medicine?

2. How would your admittance add to the university’s diversity?

3. Explain any gaps in your application (leave of absence, post bacc etc.)

4. What makes you interested in X university?

5. Any other special circumstances (excellence or adversity, better yet finding your excellence in adversity!) you’d like to committee to know about?

6. Hypothetical question (how would you deal with X and describe a time where you had to)

7. Project to the future question.

8. Your last plea (the optional essay)

9. An ultra random question to get to know you (for example, what is your nickname and why — yes, I got one of those questions).

10. What support do you have/ties to the area? / What do you know about the area that makes you want to attend this program?

I will write more articles on this and how to address each question; but, as stated above, the entries will range from a few hundred words to a full on mini essay (in length). The key to finishing your secondary applications is to be aware of what they may ask you, and already have your premises outlined on what you’ll be addressing to answer their question sufficiently. Stay tuned for more entries this week, where we’ll learn how to tackle these questions. For now, draw together your premises for each question (have an outline) and be ready to re-hash the question in separate forms (short and long). The trick is, writing different lengths while still maintaining quality, we’ll talk about this later.

Till next time, do your homework on your school!

Part 2:







3 thoughts on “Preparing for Secondary Applications Part 1

    […] some really great posts flying around. Check out @doctorORbust’s posts about secondaries here. He gives a lot of really in-depth detail on successfully completing your application and is a […]

    […] Tips on Preparing for Secondary Applications […]

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