If you are stumped for ideas, writing becomes almost impossible, and reading through some Columbia medical school secondary essay examples is a great way to jostle your mental blocks.

There are plenty of ways to approach writing your medical school secondary essays, and how to prepare for your medical school application can be tricky. Columbia Medical School has its own prompts for you to answer, and despite reading up on how to make your medical school application stand out, you might want something more.

In this article, we will give you exactly that: examples of Columbia medical school secondary essay prompts, so you can study them for inspiration and technique and write your own.

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Essay Prompts and Example Answers Conclusion FAQs

Essay Prompts and Example Answers

Essay #1:

“Did you work for compensation during college, during the year, or the summer?”

Word limit: 300 words

Example for option A: If you answered “yes”:

I worked in my school’s library at college. Although I needed the money, the smell of books alone would have enticed me to keep the job. However, this job also afforded me great insights into organization, cataloguing, and data management.

Working in a library also made me understand how to find data on a particular topic in a far more efficient and effective manner because I got to help my fellow students look up the materials they needed. Working in a library brought me closer to information.

Finally, my library work sparked my curiosity, and I found myself reading up on topics that other students were researching; they would ask me for materials, and I would get curious and read about that subject later.

In the summer, I held two jobs. The first was a job as a lifeguard at a recreational center. The second was working for my father, who co-owns a woodworking business. The former kept me near the water – which is one of my favorite places to be – and allowed me time to exercise before and after my shifts. I believe physical health is very important, which is one of the reasons I want to become a physician.

My father’s shop is a small one and focuses on highly detailed carving work. I was allowed to do some of that work – with my dad’s supervision – and helped to craft some lovely pieces for our customers. I am proud of a lot of the work I have done there. Working with my hands, particularly with intricate and delicate detail, has boosted my fine motor skills – essential for surgery – and my patience.

While paying tuition and living expenses was my primary goal, I believe my school year jobs left me with many valuable life lessons as well.

Example for option B: If you answered “no, I focused on academics and volunteer opportunities”:

Mathematics is a passion of mine, but one which requires a lot of study time, particularly with the courses I have taken, combined with a fast-track program that aimed to get me out of college in a shorter time span. Therefore, I have had very little time outside of classwork and preparation to acquire and hold a job – even a part-time one.

With what time I had, I did not seek employment. This is not because I was lazy; rather, my circumstances led me to forgo work. First, I was fortunate enough to have full scholarships to school, and I come from a well-off home, so money was not an issue. However, the main reason, and the bigger one for me, was that I was offered a volunteer opportunity that I could not pass up.

While at school, I applied for a position as an intern with a mathematics think tank, hosted by my college. Engaging with this think tank, which dealt primarily with statistics and computing, was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. My duties included writing reports, arranging data, taking minutes, and doing other largely secretarial jobs; however, I was allowed to sit in on and participate in “brainstorming” sessions and was free to speak during team meetings. Contributing to this think tank boosted my understanding of my field immensely.

During the summer, I volunteered with a local hospital to gain more pre-med experience. I held two volunteer positions: one was helping with patient–hospital interactions by acting as a kind of liaison and oftentimes just talking with or comforting patients and their families. The second volunteer position saw me in the hospital’s laboratory, acting as an assistant to the physicians working in the lab.

Looking for college essay tips? Check out the infographic below:

Essay #2:

“Please describe your most meaningful leadership positions.”

Word limit: 300 words

Leadership has never come easily to me, as I always have a large dose of imposter syndrome telling me I shouldn’t even be trying to be a leader. Nevertheless, I have increasingly found myself in leadership roles over the last few years. I will tell you about three of them.

First, I consider it an honor to be a scoutmaster; I was a scout myself while I was growing up. Because I went to a local college, I could keep up with my scouting troop and work with them, passing on my good experiences and knowledge of how to find your way if lost in the woods, how to set up a shelter, and how to make the perfect s’more. Teaching children in this capacity has been very rewarding – I love passing on what I have to the next generation.

Second, I was the team leader on a semester-long group assignment as part of my biological science course in my third year of college. Each team was tasked with researching a self-selected area of human biology. We chose how the aging process affects muscle development, and I was elected team leader. In addition to research, I was responsible for keeping the others on track and on schedule, arranging our data, and delegating other responsibilities. I quickly learned that letting go, assigning tasks, and building a team that relies on and cares for one another is the most important aspect of leadership.

Third, I found myself reading for pleasure less and less, and I didn’t like that one of my favorite pastimes was being neglected, so I started – and led – a small on-campus book club. This not only enabled me to refresh my reading for pleasure, but also allowed me to dive deeper into the books I read. I conducted discussions and arranged meetings.

Essay #3:

“Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons values diversity in all its forms. How will your background and experiences contribute to this important focus of our institution and inform your future role as a physician?”

Word limit: 300 words

There is, for some people, a distinction between “adopted” and “natural” children, but all children are natural, and adoption as a process is as natural as any other form of social care we give each other in civilization. My brother, Wesley, is adopted, and visibly so. My introduction to race relations came through the daily experience of living in a multi-racial household. This gently brought me into a world where I understood the intrinsic humanity of everyone and where skin color and background were less important than care and empathy.

As we grew, we learned that our family’s comity is not always the norm in society-at-large. Sometimes, we had this unpleasant truth communicated gently, verbally, but other times, we had to learn the hard way. Wesley and I stuck up for each other, always remained friends as well as brothers, and often found ourselves up against adversity that threatened our diversity.

We grew still more and became old enough to participate in politics and social discourse. We participated in rallies for social justice and volunteered with municipal politicians who would champion diversity and reconciliation in our city. These activities brought us up against severe resistance, and we had to remove ourselves from a protest when the police broke it up, but we always returned to keep fighting for justice.

Now, here’s a question: what race am I? What race is Wesley? I haven’t said, although you might have imagined us a particular way in your mind. My point is that I don’t care, and Wesley doesn’t care. We are human beings and brothers first – that’s who we are. That kind of love, compassion, and togetherness – whether in the calm of a loving family or the harsh reality of a protest – is what I can bring to Vagelos. That’s my kind of diversity.

Essay #4:

“Anything else?”

Word limit: 300 words

I must discuss a painful subject here, for me and my application, but which is necessary for both and for my chance of procuring a position in the cohort of Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. On my transcript, you will notice my first semester of environmental science has a low grade – a C. I’m sure you have noticed already. I offer this as my apologia for my low grade. Note that word: this is not an excuse, but a formal written defense, as per the definition.

Why didn’t I accept the offer to take the course at a future date? My grandfather had died, and we were very close. I had even lived with my grandparents for a few years while my mom recovered from some of her own health problems, so Grandpa’s death shook me to my core. My teacher asked if I wanted time off or a lighter workload, but I didn’t want to wind up taking classes in the summer, and I felt like I should work hard – as Grandpa taught me – to make it through. This was my mistake: not knowing enough about myself to know how much I would be distracted. My grief took longer to process than I thought, put me behind just before an important exam halfway through the course, and severely hurt my final grade.

After reflecting on this, I sought counselling, and have been seeing a therapist to deal with my loss. Being able to sort through my psyche helped me with both processing my grief and keeping that grief from derailing my life. I have taken away a big lesson from this experience about knowing when I need help and accepting help when it is offered.

Due to this growth, I am convinced I won’t repeat these errors that led to a low grade.

Essay #5:

“If you have graduated from college, please briefly summarize what you have done in the interim.”

Word limit: 300 words

Having completed my final semester of college in the Fall-Winter term, but not wanting to matriculate during the Winter-Spring term, I had months ahead of me. Still, I knew that those days would be eaten up like a fast-burning fuse if I was not careful. I started working on my medical school applications immediately. This extended time meant that I could do more research on which institutions I was interested in. I loved this because research makes me feel prepared and focuses my mind. I could also spend more time crafting my application.

Columbia stood out immediately to me because of your focus on research, which has always been one of my favorite aspects of study. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. Researching a topic feels like uncovering a mystery to me, and I have always been a puzzle solver and a planner. With this in mind, I knew that I could use my interim months adding research experiences to my resume. I found a job working as a research assistant with the Red Cross, which was perfect for me. Although much of my workload involved menial tasks like data entry or looking up obscure facts, I felt like I was an important member of the team and able to really help with what they were accomplishing.

I still hold that job, and although I will regrettably have to leave it to attend medical school, I will be forever grateful for the lessons I have learned and how it has honed my mind to a keen edge. Even if it does not improve my application, I would consider it worthwhile.

Confused about how to respond to your secondary medical prompts? This useful video can help you stay ahead!


Armed thus with expertly written essay examples, you should have a good idea of how to structure and execute your own essays for Columbia medical school. You might want to avail yourself of college essay review services to help you polish and refine your own essays, but however you move forward, do so with confidence to create the best medical school secondary essays that you can.


1. Do the prompts change every year?

Prompts change, but not as often as every year. When they do change, they are often very similar from year to year. You will encounter similar types of prompts, such as “why this school?” or why you decided to take a gap year before medical school. Every year won’t be exactly the same, but you can know roughly what to expect.

2. Do the prompts differ from institution to institution?

Slightly, but you will see similar themes pop up. Most schools are looking for a lot of similar characteristics. With that said, you can expect to see different wording – which can certainly change the way you should write your essays.

3. Can I use anything from one school’s essays for another’s?

If they are applicable, yes; with similar essays, some overlap happens, and transferring one essay to another school can seem like a great way to avoid some writing. You can certainly do that but double-check the second school’s requirements to see if you missed anything.

4. Are the character limits hard?

Yes. Limits are placed for a reason, and you must adhere to them. Even an infraction of one word isn’t allowed. Always follow the instructions on any aspect of your application, including word counts, character counts, or page counts.

5. How much time does it take to write these essays?

BeMo recommends that you spend 2–3 weeks working on your essays, with at least a small amount of time set aside each day for that purpose. You must come up with a topic, write the essay, edit it, proofread it, and take enough time to get it right. 

6. Does Columbia grade the essays?

Essays aren’t formally graded, but they are being evaluated – your application does depend on this. Consider every aspect of your application to be of high importance, as any given part of the application, done poorly, can be the part that keeps you out of a spot at your dream school. If done right, any aspect can also be what gets you your place.

7. Do grammar and spelling matter?

Of course they do. Again, without grades you aren’t going to lose “points” or something like that, but you do need to communicate clearly and present a good “verbal image” of yourself. Spelling and grammar matter in this respect. If you present as someone who is sloppy and doesn’t spell-check, it will not reflect well on you or your application. Likewise, if you form sentences incoherently, discerning your meaning becomes frustrating for any reader, and whether you are a great candidate or not becomes a huge question mark for the admissions committee. Don’t let that happen; double-check all aspects of your writing.

8. If an essay is optional, should I be writing it?

It might be tempting to skip what is optional in your application – it’s a lot of work, after all – but we recommend that you write all the essays. Each one is a chance for the application committee to know you better and think, “Yes, this is the right person for Columbia.” Optional essays give them more to work with, and as you will be putting the time and effort in anyways, you should fill them out. It’s worth it to secure your position in your ever-brightening future.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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