November 30, 2011
By Carleen Eaton, M.D.
With June underway, most applicants are deep into working on the primary application. While some applicants have submitted their applications already, many are still busy perfecting their personal statements, entering each course meticulously from their transcripts and finalizing their list of schools, all with the aim of submitting as early in the cycle as possible. You may not have even thought beyond that wonderful day when the application is safely in the hands of AMCAS. However, although a break is certainly in order after weeks or months of work on the primary application, don’t drift too far from the whole process, since you are soon to enter the next phase: secondaries.
AMCAS is already accepting applications for the 2010-2011 cycle and has given June 25 as the date when they will begin transmitting applicant data to the medical schools. That means that the secondaries will start arriving soon after that date for those applicants who have completed their primary applications. Secondaries may arrive from some schools within days, while others may take months to respond. If you applied to a large number of schools, prioritizing the secondaries and keeping track of the deadlines will be crucial. Some schools give a specific date by which the secondary must be completed, while others state that the secondary must be submitted within two weeks of receipt by the applicant. Prioritize the secondaries from those schools that you are most interested in attending. As always, being early in the process can work to your advantage, so turn in the secondaries from your higher priority schools first if you are in a situation where you need to triage the applications.
A typical secondary entails paying an application fee directly to the school and responding to several short answer questions. However, the range of secondaries encompasses everything from no questions at all to answer, to writing several essays of substantial length. Fortunately, many of the questions on the various secondaries are similar, so after completing a few, you will have a bank of ideas to draw from so that you do not have to begin the writing process fresh each time.
Typical secondary application questions include:
Why did you apply to this medical school?
Where do you envision yourself in ten years?
What are your greatest strengths and weakness?
Explain any deficiencies in your academic record.
How will you contribute to the diversity of the class?
What was your most meaningful clinical experience?
In the coming weeks, I’ll focus on a some of the more commonly asked questions and give you some thoughts about how to approach them and how to generate ideas in order to create substantive answers for each. For now, proofread that AMCAS application one more time and get ready for the huge relief you will feel when you finally submit it.