As most medical school applicants know, the “primary” application, processed by the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), is the uniform application that allopathic medical schools receive. The American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Application Service (AACOMAS) processes applications for osteopathic schools. The Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS) receives and processes applications to public medical schools in Texas.
In addition, each medical school requires its own individual application, known as the “secondary” or “supplemental” application. Applicants first submit the primary application, which is verified and subsequently transmitted to the medical schools applicants choose. Individual medical schools then release their secondary applications or they may be readily available on a school’s website (check with each individual school in regard to their secondary policy).
Some secondaries are relatively simple, only requiring a repeat of biographic data and an additional fee. More commonly, however, secondaries consist of short-answer essays tailored to each school, requiring considerable thought and time and, of course, the requisite fee.
Having advised medical school applicants for the past 20+ years, I have compiled a list of tips to help applicants prepare outstanding secondary applications:
1. Prepare for the time it will take to do the secondary applications. Applicants rarely factor in the time and attention secondary applications demand. Be prepared to spend a solid month writing secondary applications. Make sure you have the time and attention necessary to write secondary essays.
2. Recognize that the secondary applications are as important as the primary. Remember that each medical school has thought carefully about the questions they include on the secondary; the applications are individually tailored to each school’s needs. As such, the medical schools pay close attention to their content. Secondary applications are an incredibly important aspect of the medical school application process and should be treated with the respect they merit. Pay careful attention to each secondary and write your essays carefully and thoughtfully.
3. Return the secondaries in a timely fashion. Your application is considered incomplete until you submit the secondary. Your application will not be read and reviewed until the secondary application is received (some schools screen applications prior to issuing the secondary but this is the exception and not the rule). Try to return your secondaries within two weeks of receipt; this will ensure that your application will be reviewed promptly.
4. Read the instructions in the secondaries carefully. Secondary applications vary from school to school. It is incumbent upon you to read the instructions and follow them to the letter of the law. Some secondaries require submission of a Dean’s Certification Form from your undergraduate institution. Others have strict deadlines. All secondaries are not created equal; they have different instructions and rules. Read them carefully.
5. Write thoughtful and comprehensive essays tailored to each school. There is useful and excellent purpose to secondary applications. The process of writing secondary applications requires you to think carefully and deeply about why you might wish to go to a particular school and whether it would be a good match for your learning style and needs. As such, the secondary applications are immensely helpful to applicants and to the medical schools.
Approach the secondaries enthusiastically, as they are an opportunity to help the medical schools understand you more comprehensively. If you have questions about secondaries or want help with yours, please contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 410-292-5219.
–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting