The road to medical school enrollment is no small feat. It requires completing several steps, a pivotal one being secondary applications. Secondary applications hold immense importance in the medical school admissions process, allowing admissions committees to gain deeper insights into your qualifications and fit for their program. But what exactly are secondary applications for medical school?

This guide is all about that! In the following sections, we’ll delve into the types of secondary application questions, tips for managing secondary application costs, and what schools are looking for in essays. So join us and learn how to manage this intensive part of your medical school journey. 

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What Are Secondary Applications?

After your targeted medical schools receive your primary applications, they will send you a secondary application to fill out. These supplemental applications allow medical schools to gather more detailed and specific information about you, focusing on evaluating your qualifications and characteristics as an individual.

Therefore, the primary purpose of secondary applications is to determine whether or not you’re in line with the mission, vision, and values of the institutions you’re applying to. Secondary applications typically include additional questions and essays about your relevant experiences and motivations for pursuing medicine. 

Types of Secondary Application Questions

When it comes to secondary applications, you’ll encounter two main types of questions: essays (prompt questions) and short answer questions. Let’s explore the two types.

  • Essays: Prompt questions are an excellent opportunity to show the school you want to attend what makes you a unique applicant and how you would contribute to their program as a student. Common themes of essay questions include personal motivation, diversity, adversity, career goals, and leadership. 
  • Short answer questions: Secondary applications vary depending on the school. However, they generally focus on what makes you unique and why you are the perfect fit for the school. 

Will I Get a Secondary Application from Every School I Apply To?

While some medical schools send secondary applications to all applicants, others are more selective. Factors such as MCAT scores, minimum GPA, clinical experience, personal statements, and extracurricular activities influence whether a school sends a secondary application. 

But how can you maximize your chances of receiving a secondary application? Here are some tips to strengthen your primary applications.

  • Maintain a competitive GPA and aim for high MCAT scores;
  • Write a personal statement that clearly conveys your motivations, experiences, and potential for a career in medicine;
  • Gain substantial clinical experience through shadowing, volunteering, or working in healthcare settings;
  • Participate in research projects to demonstrate your commitment to advancing your understanding of basic science;
  • Take on leadership positions in volunteer groups, student organizations, or community projects;
  • Request letters of recommendation from healthcare professionals who can attest to your qualifications and character. 

Keep in mind that receiving a secondary application is an intermediate step in the admissions process; it doesn’t imply the likelihood of receiving an interview or acceptance. 

Secondary Application Costs

Applying to medical school can be costly, especially during the secondary application phase. Let’s break down the costs associated with secondary applications. 

  • Secondary application fees: Typically, secondary application fees range from $30 to $200. While this sum may seem small, keep in mind that, on average, students apply to 15 medical schools. So, these costs can quickly add up, totaling several hundred to a few thousand dollars.
  • Transcript fees: As part of your secondary application, you may also have to submit official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions you’ve attended. The cost per transcript can range from $5 to $20. However, depending on the number of schools and transcripts needed, the total cost can add up to a few hundred dollars. 

Understandably, these fees can become a financial burden. So, let’s explore some strategies to manage these costs. 

  • Plan ahead: Create a detailed budget that includes all potential costs of the application process;
  • Save early: Start saving as early as possible during your undergraduate studies to gauge medical school application costs;
  • Target applications: Apply only to schools where you have a realistic chance of acceptance based on your qualifications;
  • Explore fee assistance programs: The AAMC offers the Fee Assistance Program (FAP) designed to assist students who, without financial assistance, would be unable to apply to medical schools. One of the benefits of FAP is that it provides a waiver for AMCAS application fees for up to 20 medical schools. Moreover, some medical schools offer their own fee waivers based on financial needs.

Common Secondary Application Questions

Some of the most common secondary application questions include:

  • How will you contribute to our school’s diversity?

This question is popular because medical schools want a diverse set of backgrounds and personalities to enrich the educational environment. Don’t feel confined to discussing race, socioeconomic status, or culture. Reflect on unique aspects of your qualities, talents, or experiences that make you stand out from other applicants. 

  • Discuss a failure or challenge you had to overcome and what you learned from it.

This prompt is meant to examine your resilience. The journey to a medical career is known for being challenging and demanding, so medical schools want to ensure their students are up to it. Moreover, they want candidates who can handle challenges and are mature enough to make the right decisions in times of need. To answer this question, make sure to keep your essay on the positive side. Mention an experience or a dire situation and explain how you dealt with the problem and what you learned from it. 

  • How do you envision your career as a doctor?

It’s normal not to have a clear vision of what kind of a doctor you want to be yet. So, for this prompt, you should focus on the life experience that led you to the decision to become a doctor. Moreover, you should focus on the general direction you expect your career to take. Make sure to mention you’re always on the lookout for new opportunities to explore. 

  • Why us?

One of the most common and challenging questions is explaining why you want to study at X school. To answer this question, first and foremost, you must research a school’s website to see what they offer. Make sure not to copy directly from their website, as it will be the same as other applicants. To avoid this, relate to an experience and how that fits with that particular school. Moreover, you must show that you’ve done your research and are genuinely interested in the program. To approach this question, make sure to:

  • Explain how the school’s mission and values align with your own;
  • Highlight specific programs or opportunities at the school that pique your interest;
  • Discuss any goals that you can achieve at this school.
  • Describe your most meaningful leadership positions.

Medical schools are looking for students who have the capacity to foster potential in healthcare. Therefore, they seek applicants who showcase leadership skills. While you may still be growing in leadership skills, you can highlight experiences where you’ve made an impact and demonstrated initiative. Keep in mind that the most important takeaway of this essay isn’t the status or level of the experience you mention – it’s what you’ve learned from it. 

Common Secondary Application Questions

What Are Schools Looking for in the Essays?

Admission committees use secondary application essays to gain a deeper look at your character and potential for a career in medicine. To craft a compelling and authentic secondary application essay, you should follow these guidelines:

  • Answer the prompt as straightforward as possible;
  • Outline your response to use your space effectively;
  • Relate examples to how you will benefit medicine and make a good physician;
  • Adhere to word and character counts and make sure to address all critical points in the essay;
  • Reflect on your experiences and emphasize their impact on your decision to become a physician;
  • Re-read your essay and make sure it’s free of errors and it conveys the message you’re trying to make.

Remember to tailor your essays to each school’s mission and values, as this is a critical factor in showing what a great fit you would be for the program. 

Beyond Essays: Additional Application Components

When applying to medical school, your secondary application often includes other components beyond essays. These components are:

  • Proof of residency: Medical schools, especially public institutions, often require proof of residency to determine in-state or out-of-state tuition rates;
  • Professional headshots: In your secondary application, you may also have to include professional headshots. The purpose of headshots is to help identify you when reporting for interviews. Typically, these photos should be formal, similar to passports, have a neutral background, and you should dress professionally;
  • Personal information: You’ll also have to enter basic information about yourself, such as your name, contact information, felonies and misdemeanors, date of birth, gender, and ID number. As part of personal information, you may also have to submit official transcripts from post-secondary institutions you’ve studied in;
  • Pre-med competencies: You may also need to provide additional information about clinical experience, research experience, and leadership roles. 

By preparing these components thoroughly, you can effectively demonstrate your qualities and suitability for a career in medicine. 


Secondary applications are crucial components of your medical school application process. They provide you with the avenue to demonstrate what makes you a unique fit for a medical school program. Moreover, they offer admissions committees deeper insight into who you are as an applicant and future medical professional. Therefore, it’s crucial to approach secondary applications thoughtfully and strategically. Now that you know what secondary applications are and what they encompass, you can start drafting your responses today. Seize the opportunity and show what makes you a perfect candidate for a future in medicine.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do secondary applications have deadlines?

Yes, secondary applications have deadlines. These deadlines vary among different schools but typically fall between late August and late February. Make sure to meet each school’s specific deadlines, as missing a deadline will result in your application not being considered. 

When should you submit secondary applications to a medical school?

We suggest submitting your secondary applications within 14 days of receiving an invitation. Keep in mind that being prompt in your applications demonstrates that you’re interested in the program and increases your chances for interview slots. 

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