After you submit your primary application through AMCAS (read more about that here), you will begin to receive secondary applications! While there is only one centralized AMCAS application, almost every school you add to AMCAS will have their own supplementary (secondary) application.
These secondary applications will include more essays and sometimes a little bit more demographic information for you to insert, too. You’ll often have to repeat the same information for many programs since the applications are no longer on the same system. Each school will email you a link to their own portal so that you can access and complete their individualized application. So unfortunately, most of the writing and “fun” has only just begun!
WHEN WILL YOU RECEIVE SECONDARIES?
You will begin to receive secondary applications after your AMCAS application is verified. For more information on the overall timeline, check out this post. Note that the specific timing may vary by school. Applications will trickle in at slightly different rates, depending on how quickly each program marks your application as received. Additionally, if you are waiting on an MCAT score or letters of recommendation, some schools will withhold your secondary until this point.
Still, you may receive your secondaries on the very same day when your AMCAS application is verified, so be prepared!
HOW MUCH DO THEY COST?
The biggest bummer about secondaries is, unfortunately, the cost. You might recall that on AMCAS, your first school costs $160, and then each school you add after that costs $39. Yet for your secondary application, every school will charge you an additional fee for their institution. This ranges anywhere from about $50-$125, on average. Most of my secondaries were about $100. For me, this was definitely the most expensive part of the process.
HOW DO SCHOOLS CHOOSE WHO RECEIVES A SECONDARY?
The other thing that can be slightly frustrating about secondary applications is that they may mean something different in regards to your application status at each school.
Some schools will “screen” before they send out secondaries. This means that they take the time to review your application a little bit, and then they decide if they are interested enough to send you a secondary application. This screening may solely be based off of your GPA and MCAT score (and if this is the case, the school will likely publish this “cut-off” information on their website – make sure to check before you send an application there so you aren’t automatically rejected and thus wasting money!), or it may involve a more holistic look at your application. In either case, if you receive a secondary from a school that screens, you should definitely be excited!! They are interested in you and want to learn more.
Other schools, however, will send secondary applications to every single person who applies. These secondaries will come in quickly, but they will not indicate anything about your chances since everyone will receive them. Unfortunately, you still need to pay the money to complete them and just hope for the best! Most schools do their secondary applications this way, so be prepared to spend lots of money while knowing very little about your chances at a certain institution. It’s no fun, but it’s part of the process.
GENERAL TIPS FOR WRITING SECONDARIES
As soon as you submit your primary applications, you’ll have to wait anywhere from a few days to a few weeks (see our timeline post here again for more specifics) for AMCAS to verify your application and actually send it to schools. During this time, it is an excellent idea to get a head start on secondary applications!!
You can do this by essentially Googling each school and their secondary application prompts. They are almost always kept the same each year, so you can start to actually write the essays before you even receive the secondary. Then once you receive the link, you can paste in your essays, edit/proofread a few more times, and submit!
As you write, you’ll notice that many of the secondary prompts are very similar to each other. Thus, you might be using a few of your answers multiple times, or needing to change them only a little bit in between schools. Starting this early and keeping track of the essays you’ve written will allow you to be the most efficient with your applications.
- Answer the question.
This one sounds pretty obvious… but truthfully, it is one of the most common mistakes that I have seen or heard about each year. Note that while keeping templates of your essays is a great idea, it may lead you to fall into the trap of ignoring the prompt. Be careful!!
(Additionally, IMPORTANT: Your templates and essays should NOT include any parts of your essays from your primary AMCAS application. Your secondaries should be new information for that school and cannot repeat what you have already discussed. It’s tough, but key!)
To elaborate on why it may be more difficult than you anticipate to clearly answer the question: an essay prompt at one school may be very similar to another. For example, both essays may primarily involve a discussion of a major obstacle you have faced. However, one prompt might then ask you to reflect on what you learned in the process, and another one might want to know what you did to overcome the obstacle. At the core, much of the same material can be used in these essays as you describe a major hurdle. Yet you need to be sure to frame it in the viewpoint requested by the school and use your experience to address the main question.
And, of course, make sure you have changed important pieces of information on each application, like the school’s name!
- Be error-free, but quick.
When I applied, I often heard the general rule that you should submit secondaries within 48 hours of receiving them. While this would in fact be lovely (and it’s great if you can!), it does not have to be a hard rule. In fact, if I were going to give a “time,” I would likely say more like a 1-week deadline for each secondary to still show that you are interested/dedicated.
HOWEVER, I only extend the time because it is more important that you accurately answer the questions than it is to submit within two days. You will get bogged down as you receive a billion secondaries (OK not really, but it will feel this way!), so you don’t want to rush but you do want to be efficient. Put simply, you want to turn in your secondary as fast as you can while still taking the time to thoroughly edit your responses.
If you have pre-written your responses, you can feasibly turn the secondary around within a few hours of receiving it. A few days should hopefully be very reasonable for you to make any necessary edits depending on exactly what the prompt requires. Remember that your application will not be marked as complete until you submit these secondaries; you may be very tired by this point in the process, but don’t give up when you’re so close to the finish line of your application being marked complete!
- Connect all of your ideas to your potential and motivations as a future physician.
This doesn’t always have to be explicit. The doctors reading your essays will know what qualities a good physician should possess – i.e. compassion, patience, humility, leadership, etc. Thus, you do not have to directly state, “I am really kind, and that will make me a good doctor.”
Instead, take opportunities to simply show schools how you have developed traits that are inherently needed to succeed in medicine. Tell me about a moment where your patience was challenged, what you learned about yourself from that encounter, and how you came out a better person (the kind of person that medical schools will inherently want to interview!).
In the end, secondaries will come down to lots of patience, lots of attention to detail, and another opportunity for you to put your best foot out there. Good luck!!
-Emily Hayward, rising MS-2