3 Med School Secondary Application Questions

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  1. D. Sayed Morsy

    D. Sayed Morsy Bronze Member

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    THOSE WHO HAVE APPLIED to medical school know it can be a lengthy process. In addition to the primary application, supplemental or secondary applications must also be completed before an applicant is considered for an interview.

    Unlike the primary application, which is common to all medical schools, the supplemental applications are unique to individual programs and may ask a wide range of questions. The responses to these questions are meant to provide medical schools with more insight about an applicant and help schools determine if that applicant is a good fit for their program.

    Some schools are more selective and do not send secondary applications to all applicants. Many, however, invite all applicants to complete their secondary applications, which often comprise a set of essay prompts. These can range from questions about personal or professional experiences to an individual’s motivations for become a physician.

    Since some of the secondary questions for different schools are similar to each other, it is tempting to prepare canned responses that can be applied to multiple programs. This approach may work in some cases, but it is important to keep in mind that often, the same question is posed in slightly different ways by different schools. Therefore, if you are going to reuse a response from one school to the next, make sure to read the question for each program carefully and tailor your response to the prompt as much as possible.

    We recommend looking at different question themes, developing ideas for each theme and forming an outline for that theme. You can then modify this outline as you respond to questions from different med schools with similar themes. There are three common question themes you will likely encounter on med school secondary applications, and there are strategies that can help you tackle each theme:

    • The "Why our school?" question.
    • The diversity question.
    • The challenge question.
    The 'Why Our School?' Question

    This question can be framed in different ways. The most straightforward version asks why an applicant is applying to the program. However, the question prompt may also ask applicants to comment on why they would be a good match for the school, or how attending the school would enable them to achieve their future career goals.

    Many applicants treat this question like a homework assignment, thoroughly perusing the website of that medical school and listing as many features of the program as they can fit in the space provided. Instead, carefully look at the school’s mission statement, vision and values. Identify elements of these statements that align with your interests and incorporate those elements into your response.

    Once you have talked about aspects of the mission, vision and values that appeal to you, find specific examples to back up your response. For example, if a school emphasizes scholarly research in its mission, you can cite your passion for conducting research. You can even briefly allude to your prior research experiences as evidence. Then go on to talk about specific research opportunities the school may offer, describing how the program ties into your interests and aspirations.

    The Diversity Question

    Diversity is not limited to race or ethnicity. It also includes experiences or viewpoints that could add in a positive way to a medical school's incoming class. The school may ask applicants to state what makes them diverse or inquire about how they will contribute diversity to the institution or the medical profession.

    To answer this question, you can certainly talk about your cultural, ethnic or even religious background. However, do not limit your answer to these topics. Also share experiences or interests that make you diverse. One of our recent students talked about his experience with ballet, showcasing how this art form demanded precision, discipline and emotional endurance.

    In responding to this question, many times applicants limit their response to historical data such as their background or previous experiences. However, depending on how the question is framed, it is a good idea to go above and beyond and provide concrete examples of how prior exposure to diversity would enable you to contribute to the medical school and the profession.

    One of our students who majored in anthropology described how her undergraduate education gave her unique insights into the nuances of human connections and made her better equipped to listen to patients and understand their needs.

    One point to remember as you respond to this question is to display humility. Even if you have lived in seven countries growing up and had a wide range of unique experiences, it is a good idea to acknowledge the limits to your abilities and to recognize that others may also have unique qualities.

    The Challenge Question

    Medical school secondary applications often asks applicants to describe a challenge, adversity or hardship. The exact nature of the question may vary from school to school, so it is important to understand exactly what is being asked.

    If the question asks you to describe an experience with adversity or hardship in your life, the response will be very different than if it inquiries about a challenging project or assignment you worked on in college.

    This question is a great opportunity for you to demonstrate resilience, which is a key quality that medical schools look for. Whether you are being asked to talk about a life situation that was difficult to deal with or a setback in a research project, you want to show that you were able to bounce back from the difficulty. Remember to also reflect on what you learned from the experience and how it helped you grow.

    In doing so, make sure to stay positive. Do not make yourself sound like a victim or seek pity from the application reader. Instead, describe the challenging situation in a matter-of-fact fashion and explain what approach you used to overcome it.

    As you incorporate ideas into your secondary essay responses, remember to review your primary application as well. You want to make sure that in your responses to the secondary essays, you do not present information that is inconsistent with your primary application.

    At the same time, you should also avoid repeating the exact information that you presented in your primary application. By striking this balance, you will come across as sincere and hopefully sway the school to offer you an interview.

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