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3 Tips for Your Secondary Medical School Applications

With medical school application season in full swing, anxiety levels are noticeably high–I can personally attest to the stress of waking up for two months with the “Did I get an interview e-mail?!” alarm going off in my head. As you start putting together your secondary applications, there are some core principles you should follow. Now, I’m not going to promise that you’ll feel any less anxious–no one does until they have some certainty about the outcome of their application cycle, and that won’t come until two weeks after your interviews. However, you can at least manage your risk, and maximize the chances of your applications success.

1. Know what the question is asking you. 

Many of you were excellent at recognizing this task on your MCATs and on your scholastic exams, but I’m always surprised at the number of students who struggle to see the goal of the questions being presented to them on the primary and secondary applications. Recently when the AAMC added the “3 Most Impactful Extracurricular Events” section, allowing students the option to talk more about their extracurricular activities? Many took it as a way to list more leadership positions and awards they earned. I’m not saying NOT to do that, but a brag sheet that has no structure as to how you earned those distinctions (Were you involved with this club for a long time? Did you volunteer because of a particular reason? What attracted you to that activity?) really DOESN’T tell the medical school admissions committee anything new about you, other than that you’ve got some more initials after your name. Give yourself character and depth, and make sure that this section complements their comprehensive impression of you. That’s going to lead us to our next point.

2. Make sure you have a common theme to all parts of your application.

Yes, your application. No I’m not just talking about your personal statement. You could be a well- traveled, All-American athlete who has done research on HIV vaccinations for starving orphans, but those are just cold hard facts until you give them character and emotional depth. Tell how the sports injury you suffered right before the championship led to your seeking meaningful inspiration while you healed from both physical and spiritual defeat. Show how that led to you interacting with your physicians, who encouraged you to take a Doctors Without Borders trip with them, on which you discovered a passion for global medicine. NO, DON’T MAKE IT UP! But this relates back to the point I made above–make sure you have a reason for picking those extracurricular activities that you highlighted, and integrate them throughout your application.

3. Get feedback.

I thought my personal statement was so solid that no editor (who wanted to keep their job) would dare touch a letter on it. WRONG. My dad sent me back my first draft with half of it crossed out, with a comment box saying simply “Get rid of this.” I had focused my essay too much on research and too little on the community service aspect of my journey to medicine. It jarred heavily with the overall theme I had tried to establish of my compassion for others leading me into medicine. I was starting to read like a pipetting machine that wanted to go to medical school to do more pipetting! I hadn’t realized it, though, because I knew my story, so I knew what I meant. That wasn’t how it read, though, and I needed that outside perspective to tell me that. Ask non-medical friends, as well. Your themes and messages should be clear to anyone reading your application, and sometimes those outside eyes can give you insight you’d not expected. In general, seeking out others’ opinions will not change the overall message you want to convey, but it may help you to realize what impression you’re giving to people. That’s a HUGE benefit in any kind of writing activity.

The application process is long, but once applications are in, they’re final. Make the most of your process, have some fun, and make sure you get some constructive feedback. Eventually you’ll get that great news, and you’ll be waking up excited for medical school, not panicking about your applications.


Jason W. is one of Top Test Prep’s leading MCAT instructors and Medical School admissions counselors. His students consistently earn great scores and gain admission to top medical schools–we hope you’ll take something away from his expert advice!

To learn more about our test prep tutoring and expert admissions counseling, call (800) 501-7737 today.

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