By the time admissions people start reading the secondaries they already know a little bit about you. They have seen your transcript, GPA, and MCAT score. They have also reviewed your AMCAS essay so they should know what you think is most important for them to know. But of course pieces are still missing from this picture of you.
The Role of Secondary Essays
The secondaries must fill in the missing pieces of your profile. They must be combined with the rest of your application to present a clear and holistic picture of you. The secondary essays should not only flesh out the school’s image of you, but should seamlessly complement the other parts of the application without overlap, like the various pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
How do you write secondary essays that will accomplish all that? You provide supplemental information that ties into the themes and activities discussed in the other material. If you emphasized your impressive research experience in your AMCAS essay, either discuss research experiences you didn’t have space to bring out there, or go into more depth about the experiences you already dealt with. Perhaps you can give different examples from your independent research project or honors thesis. Maybe you can examine the laboratory experience you had as opposed to the clinical research experience you already wrote about. Use secondaries to fill in the gaps.
Structuring Your Secondaries
If the secondary application questions give you enough room, you can use the same structure you used for your personal statement – lead, thesis, body, conclusion. This framework, used by journalists everywhere to sell their articles and persuade their readers, provides an engaging, compelling structure for your essays. If, however, you only have a third of a page or less to respond to a question, you probably won’t have enough room, and you should get right to the point.
Following the suggestions in Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Your Application Essay will help you write effective secondaries. A few important tips to remember:
- Unite your essay with a theme and only include information that supports it.
- Use specifics to strengthen and distinguish your writing and be sure to both describe and analyze the important events, people, and experiences in your life.
- Let the reader know what is important to you and why. Anecdotes and specifics without reflection will read like a disconnected list. Reflection without specifics will result in a collection of generic statements and platitudes.
- Make sure your essays are written well and are professional in appearance.
Unlike the AMCAS application, secondary applications will have specific questions. Be certain your essays answer the questions they are addressing. Don’t use canned answers. While you can cut and paste, it’s always better to take the time to answer each question – not just the questions asked on the first application you worked on.
Approaches to Common Secondary Questions
Here are some questions you can expect to see on secondary applications:
Why do you want to attend this school?
When answering this question, show that you have researched the school and its programs. Discuss the program’s distinctive attraction for you. If you are interested in a particular specialty and this school is especially strong in that area, discuss your interest in that field and the special opportunities the school provides. Perhaps mention the work of a particular professor whom you admire. Briefly write about the advantages of the school’s location and its appeal, but don’t make the accidents of geography the main focus of this essay.
Where do you hope to be in ten years?
Tie your past and future together by showing how your aspirations stem from past experience and how the school’s program will enable you to achieve your goals. Use your secondary essay to demonstrate your knowledge of the medical profession and to show that you have given some thought about your future. Show that you have realistic goals while discussing your anticipated career path.
What clinical experiences influenced your decision to go into medicine?
View this question as a great opportunity to fill in some gaps in that picture you are creating. If you discussed the most important aspect of your clinical experience in your AMCAS essay, for this question you can discuss some other aspects of that experience while reminding your reader briefly of the points made in the AMCAS essay. Alternatively, you can discuss a volunteer experience that you didn’t have room to mention in the AMCAS essay and reinforce some of the points you made there using different anecdotes and examples. As always use specifics, but remember to reflect on those incidents so the reader will know why you considered them important enough to include.
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