July 8, 2014

Getting into Medical School: Tips for Secondary Applications

Hello my med school applicant readers! It's that time of year again when students are turning in their primary applications, getting them verified by AMCAS and thinking about completing their secondary applications. Unlike primary applications, every medical school's secondary application is different. That means each school will have a different fee, different form and different essays. If you've applied to 10+ schools, keeping track of all of your secondaries is a challenge and can be entirely overwhelming. So, what's an applicant to do? Here are some quick tips for successfully completing your secondary applications. 1) Be highly organized- Make an Excel spreadsheet or Word document where you keep the links to the applications, essay prompts, passwords, usernames and other minutiae. That way you can quickly and easily keep track of all the information necessary to access your secondary applications. 2) Be prompt- Most medical schools have rolling admissions. That means you're better off submitting your application sooner rather than later. If you're particularly interested in a school or if it's your best shot for getting in, you should prioritize completing that secondary application first. 3) Read ahead- Some medical schools will have past essay prompts available on their website. If they're available, you can get a head start brainstorming essay topics and language. You should also check out the school's mission, values and other information on their website. You want to be familiar with the school's core information, so that you can utilize it during your secondaries and potentially during your medical school interview! What’s been your experience so far with secondary applications? Tell us in the comments! ...read more
December 17, 2012

Application Essentials III: Secondary Applications

You've crafted a masterful personal statement, you've chosen your favorite 15 activities*, you've meticulously entered every class you've ever taken -- verbatim**, and you've finally hit that blue "submit" button on your AMCAS application. Everything's going fantastically since you dominated the MCAT. But now it's time to turn your attention to that growing pile of letters:  not acceptances (just yet!), but secondaries.  These school-specific applications feature a host of essays -- and they're the next step on the  path to medical school.  As part of our continuing series on holistic review in admissions, let's look at a few FAQs about secondaries. What are secondary applications? Unlike your AMCAS application, which is identical between all the schools you're applying to, secondary applications are administered by each school directly.  As such, they are focused towards the interests of that school.  Secondary applications run the gamut in terms of length and involvement:  some are only a handful of yes-or-no questions, while others require up to four full-length essays.  The "average" secondary application (if there really is such a thing) has one to two short essays, and asks for a bit of additional biographical or academic data. Will I get a secondary application from every school to which I apply? The short answer is:  probably.  Few schools turn down applicants before the secondary application stage.  For the most part, an application is not really considered "complete" until the secondary has been received, and thus will not be reviewed until that point.  There is anecdotal evidence that some schools do screen before distributing secondaries, but you should expect to receive a secondary from pretty much all of the schools to which you apply. How much do secondary applications cost? This also varies school to school, but secondary applications are about $100 on average.  If you have not checked it out yet, make sure to query AAMC's Fee Assistance Program (FAP).  They can help reduce the cost of applications. What are common questions on secondary applications? Again, this is school-specific, but here are some common ones:
  • What are you interested in [our school]?
  • How would you add to the diversity of our school?
  • What is a challenging situation you've had to overcome?
  • One is one non-medical activity that has had a significant impact on you?
  • If you took a leave of absence, or have already graduated, what have you done since undergrad?
  • What specialty(ies) do you think you might be interested in?
Do secondary applications have deadlines? Most school's deadlines are in December or January; however, some schools will give you a deadline based on when you receive your secondary application (for example, "You have two weeks from when you receive this application to complete it.").  Even if the deadline is a while off, be strict with yourself to turn secondaries around quickly.  When I was applying, I gave myself 72 hours maximum to turn around a secondary from when I received it.  That might have been a bit stringent, but set yourself a similar goal (perhaps 1 week would be more manageable).  Without a self-imposed deadline, secondaries start to pile up and you get paralyzed with the amount of work that needs to be done. How do I write so many essays? It is important to be efficient when writing secondary applications.  Since "Why are you interested in our school" is a common question to almost all secondary applications, choose aspects that matter to you in a medical school in general that can then be tailored to each school.  In other words, you may have a common skeleton for this essay focusing on your interest in research opportunities, free student-run clinics and a devotion to the surrounding community, which can then be filled in with specific details about each school:  "[Your school's] commitment to research, such as [insert significant research programs that encourage you to apply to that school] piques my interest in your school."  This adaptability of the essay is critical to being able to turn around those secondaries quickly.  It is no less honest -- you should only be choosing characteristics of a school that do indeed make you want to go to that school -- and it gives your essays structure! What are they looking for in the essays? Even if the essay is not the classic "Why our school?" question, it is critical to link your essays back to the school from which you got the application.  Cite specific examples of programs, projects, or characteristics of a school that make you a fitting candidate.  Other than that, it's all about honesty.  Just like the personal statement, you want activities and achievements that speak for themselves, rather than pandering to what you think the admissions committee "wants to hear." For those of you who have already received secondary applications, what strategies worked for you to help get the job done?  Did you find that it was difficult to stay on top of returning them on time? *One can list up to 15 activities in the AMCAS application.  Often, between employment, medical- and non-medical activities, awards, publications, etc., students have to narrow down their achievements and "pick their best". **When putting your classes and grades into the AMCAS application, everything must appear precisely the same as your transcript.  On my own application, "Analytical Techniques I" had to be changed by AAMC to "Analytcl TechI," as it was written in my transcript. This article is Part III in a seven-part series on Holistic Admissions.  For more information, check out: ...read more
November 30, 2012

Application Essentials I: The Holistic Review Process

Earlier this month, I had the great fortune of attending the 2012 AAMC Annual Conference in San Francisco, CA.  This meeting represents one of the largest gatherings of medical educators, premedical advisors, admissions officers, practicing physicians and students in the country, all with one common goal:  your education.  This is the group that writes the MCAT, runs the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) and creates informative resources like Careers in Medicine to help you plan your future medical career. One of the “hot topics” in medical admissions these days is holistic review.  While a full detailing of this process would probably take a half-dozen posts to explain, it boils down to the idea that an applicant should be evaluated on all of his or her credentials – not just GPA and MCAT score.  This has always been true, but schools that have committed to holistic review are taking it to the next level.  Holistic review gives balanced attention to an applicant’s experiences, attributes and academic metrics (what the AAMC refers to as E-A-M).  Rather than assessing an applicant’s personal statement, extracurricular activities and experience (both medically- and non-medically oriented), letters of recommendation, and interpersonal characteristics in the context of their scores, these parts of the application are dealt with on their own.  This is not to say that GPA and MCAT are decreasing in importance (in fact, as you might have learned from Kaplan’s Medical School Officer Survey Debrief last night, the MCAT is getting more important – 51% of medical school officers consider it the most important factor in medical admissions, up from 43% in last year’s survey).  What it does mean, though, is that each aspect of your application will now be looked at with an even finer-tooth comb, and every credential you present is now taking on more significance in the admissions decisions schools are making. What effect will holistic review have on medical schools?  As AAMC states, “[m]edicine is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, collaborative, and technology-enables, just as our society is growing more diverse, multicultural, and globally interconnected. … [Holistic review] assist[s] medical schools in establishing, implementing, and evaluating mission-driven, student diversity-related policies, processes, and practices that help build a physician workforce capable of and committed to improving the health of all.”­1  In other words, by diversifying the demographics and experiences of their incoming class, schools will be able to turn out physicians more representative of that school’s mission and – more importantly – able to respond to the ever-changing world of healthcare. So what does this mean for you?  Again, the processing of your application and attention to each facet of you – as a student, physician-to-be, and individual within society – will be taken to a higher level with more rigorous review.  But no worries!  We’ve got your back.  We’ve already talked plenty about metrics (see my posts on the average GPA and average MCAT scores for medical school applicants); so this is the kick-off for a series on the rest of your application. Sources: 1.  AAMC Holistic Review Project:  Achieving Improved Learning and Workforce Outcomes through Admissions.  AAMC.  May 2012. This article is Part I in a seven-part series on Holistic Admissions.  For more information, check out: ...read more
Applying to Med School
June 27, 2011

Secondary Applications in Medical School Admissions

“Please list five personal hobbies/interests.” I looked at the question on my medical school application and thought, “Do I really write ‘collecting comic books’ here?” It turns out that because I did answer honestly and uniquely (actual response: “Collecting comic books; specifically Batman), I made a positive impression on the admissions committee and was ultimately accepted by my first choice medical school. Sharing the following understanding of the secondary application process will help you on your way to doing the same thing.   As you probably know, the medical school application process is a marathon. It requires patience, determination, perseverance, and lots of endurance. The MCAT is only one stretch of that marathon; after taking the exam and receiving their score, applicants have to login to AMCAS and start the long process of submitting information about undergraduate coursework, extracurricular responsibilities, the personal statement, and the schools to which they want to apply. After this sometimes grueling process is completed and paid for, the primary application gets sent out to every school selected and you can sit back and relax, right? At this point, it’s tempting to want to take a break. You might want to forget all about computers, test prep books, and anything scholastic and just flee to a tropical island. The problem is that soon your inbox and mailbox are going to get flooded with secondary applications, and it’s extremely important to be prepared for them. The best strategy, actually, is to already have them completed or at least have time built into your schedule for completing them.   There’s a big difference between the primary and secondary applications. The primary application is general – it’s submitted through the AMCAS system, and it goes out to every school you select. The secondary application is specific, differing between each institution, and it can be sent and submitted either digitally or the old-fashioned way (Remember that thing called an envelope? They still make those!). While there may be overlap in the types of questions you’re asked, the best applicant will cater the response to each school, mentioning important things that are unique to that program. Many premeds think of medical school as a 4-year period where they earn their degree and they do not really care, at first, about where they go - they just want to get the degree. You never want to come off looking that way.   The best way to prepare for secondary applications is to do your research. When admissions committees go through secondary applications, they are looking for specific experiences and characteristics that would be a great fit with the culture at the school. When answering the questions on these applications, you want to personalize your responses and be as specific as possible. Visit the school’s website, read about their profile in the Medical Student Admission Requirements (MSAR) guide, take a tour of the campus, and reach out to anyone whom you know that either goes to that school or has ties to that school. If you can network with a current or recently graduated student, make sure you do so! Anything that will give you insight into the campus and the program will give you an edge. Doing so will definitely give you a head start and improve your chances of acceptance, and might even open up your schedule enough to fit in a trip to someplace tropical! ...read more
Applying to Med School
July 7, 2010

Medical School Secondary Applications – “Describe an obstacle you have overcome.”

By Carleen Eaton, M.D. One common category of secondary application questions are those that ask the applicant to describe an obstacle or hardship he or she has overcome. Some applicants have a background that includes an obvious obstacle: immigrating to the U.S. and learning a new language and culture, growing up in a socioeconomically disadvantaged area, being the first in the family to attend college or having to help out financially at home. However, many applicants can’t easily come up with a topic for this type of secondary questions. Such applicants tell me that, while their lives aren’t perfect, things have gone pretty smoothly for them and without financial disasters, death or serious illness in their past what are they to write about? To formulate a response to this question, you first need to consider what the committee is trying to learn from your response. While they certainly want to know if you have had any serious disadvantage in life, they also want to know how you react to setbacks. Questions of this sort usually ask how you overcame the obstacle. While the obstacle itself constitutes part of the response, equally important was how you reacted to the situation. This is a chance for you to demonstrate the characteristics you possess that will make you a success in medicine. When in a tough spot, do you consider your options, seek help from those around you and confront the situation? Or do you wait out the problem or look for a way around it?  Even a seemingly minor obstacle can be used to illustrate how you handle problems. After all, a physician confronts challenges every day – making difficult diagnoses, performing complex surgeries on minimal sleep or having to break bad news to a patient. The way you address difficulties in your own life will provide insight into the kind of physician you will become. Now that you know the logic behind these questions, you need a topic. If nothing in your background and upbringing immediately comes to mind to use as subject matter, then start thinking about specific events, even brief ones, that presented a challenge for you. Examples include dedication to a sport and then an injury that ends your participation temporarily or permanently, difficulty adjusting to college life and managing your own time, a financial setback in the family necessitating you juggle work and school or an illness or injury that disrupted school and made for a tough semester. Again, these don’t need to be earth shattering events but rather ones that give you an opportunity to describe your personal qualities and characteristics. Once you’ve chosen a topic, describe the situation so that the reader has enough context to understand the scenario. Next, discuss the steps you took to deal with the problem. What did you do first? Gather information? Take some time to contemplate what had happened? Then what? How was the situation eventually resolved? In the course of discussing the situation and your reaction to it, you will give the committee some insight into who you are and how you face adversity.  A great response will show the committee that you are just the type of person who will make an excellent med student and physician. ...read more
Applying to Med School
June 8, 2010

Secondary Applications

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. ...read more

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