Many medical schools include an optional essay in their secondary applications. Obviously, this “optional” essay is not required, and the essay prompt sometimes emphasizes this point. Often, the question will include the stipulation that you cannot include anything that was already mentioned in your primary application or other essays. Some schools even state that most applicants don’t complete this optional essay. However, I recommend that students dig deep to find material to use for this essay, as a way to set themselves apart from other applicants.
There are many successful ways to approach this essay. Here are a few ideas:
Optional Essay Tip #1: Use this space for updates.
Technically, any new events or activities that you haven’t covered in the primary would make excellent content for this essay. As long as there isn’t another secondary question requesting updates specifically, writing about something new could be the most effective use of this space. With an updated copy of your CV or resume, make a list of all the latest developments in your academic and professional life, for example a new COVID-related volunteer commitment, a responsibility you assumed to reduce social injustice or any kind of service commitment. Depending on the character limit, provide as many details as is necessary. For the conclusion, discuss how these recent developments have better prepared you for their program.
Optional Essay Tip #2: Discuss any hobbies or talents that you have not previously mentioned.
If you play an instrument, compete in a sport, or create some form of art, you can discuss your development in these areas, if not already mentioned. Developing your fine motor skills or working well with a team are valuable abilities in medicine. While you may think that your interest in portrait photography doesn’t relate to the medical field, I’ll never forget a former client who became an otolaryngology surgeon – he used his love of portrait photography to develop his aesthetic sensibilities for reconstructive surgeries. Sharing your personal interests with the selection committee can often reveal what unique talents you will bring to your practice of medicine.
Optional Essay Tip #3: Share a recent personal experience or achievement.
If you have recently participated in a conference, hike, or marathon (or other similar event), you can write about the experience. As long as it’s not discussed anywhere else in your application, demonstrating how you enjoy finding new ways to challenge yourself to develop your skills can impress a selection committee. This type of essay could reveal your dedication to lifelong learning and personal development. In medical school, you will be encouraged to continually push yourself to discover new limits and talents. Why not start now? At the same time, it’s not going to impress anyone if you decide to hike Mount Everest and never return. Use good judgement in finding safe and healthy ways to test your limits.
Need personalized assistance with your secondary essays? Contact me or my colleagues at Accepted or check out our Secondary Application Services. I love working with clients on challenging essay questions. Many students discover things about themselves they never expected to learn through this process of self-examination and those newly revealed qualities are great material for optional essays.
• The Ultimate Guide to Secondary Essay Questions From Top Med Schools, a free guide
• Secondary Strategy: Answering “Why Do You Want to Go Here?“
• What NOT to Write in Your Medical School Secondary Application Essays