Before we jump into reviewing medical school secondary essay examples, let's discuss the purpose of secondary applications and essays. The main purpose of the secondary medical school application is to determine whether you are a good “fit” with the mission and values of the school you are applying to, whether your answer to the question "Why do you want to be a doctor?" fits with the overall ethos of the institution.

Medical schools send out secondary essays to further assess the unique characteristics of each applicant that have not been addressed in the AMCAS Work and Activities section or your medical school personal statement. Acing your secondary essays can increases your chances of getting interview invites! Furthermore, these prompts can further help you brainstorm answers to medical school interview questions. This post will go over when medical schools send out secondary applications, how long you have to return them, common medical school secondary application prompts, and tips for writing strong essays that application committees will love. 

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14 min read

When do Medical Schools Send Secondaries? When Should I Return My Essays? Pre-Writing Your Secondary Essays Why Have You Applied To Our School? Cultural Competency Overcoming Challenges Future Goals Explanation of Academic Lapses or Breaks Medical School Secondary Essay Examples FAQs

When Do Medical Schools Send Out Secondary Applications?

Once the primary application has been received and processed, schools will do one of two things. They will either send out secondary application packages to all students who applied, or they will send out secondary application essays to the students that have passed their preliminary screening process. How long it will take for you to actually receive the essay prompts is dependent upon how long it takes AMCAS to process your application (which can take up to six weeks during the peak application season) as well as how long it takes the school to process your application. 

Learn everything you need to know about medical school secondary essays in our video:

How Long Should I Take to Return My Secondary Essays?

Generally speaking, the answer to this question is the sooner the better. Schools see a prompt submission as an indication of your interest in the program. Two weeks should be the most time you allow to elapse before submitting your essay. For example, UCLA secondary essays are due fifteen days after receipt of the invitation.

Some of you may be realizing at this point that you’ve applied to 10-20 schools and that each will likely send somewhere between 2-10 (looking at you, UCLA) prompts. That’s a lot of essay writing! This brings us to the next point:

Pre-Writing Your Med School Secondary Essays:

If you check out our comprehensive list of medical school secondary essay prompts, you can pull out common themes for the schools you are most interested in applying to. You should then create an essay outline or rough essay that addresses each of these themes. Though schools may change their prompts from year to year, pre-planning at least some of your essays will make you much more efficient with your writing, allowing you to create consistently well-thought-out essays. 

Even if the prompts do change, the themes often remain similar. This means that you can pre-write (or at least pre-draft) essays based on common themes that tend to recur in secondary essays. If taking this route, make sure that each example actually works for the prompt and addresses the question before using it. Have a look at our blog for UCSD secondary essay prompts and sample responses.

How to Address the "Why Our School?" Prompt:

The most important component of answering this prompt is doing your research. Do you have a thorough understanding of the school's mission statement and values? What population or populations are they most interested in serving? How do they describe their student body? What curriculum-enriching activities are available to their students? Do they have a strong research program? Is their curriculum a good fit for your learning style? Are all of these things in line with your own values, career goals, and learning needs? Being informed will demonstrate an interest in the program, allowing you to write a response showing that you will be a genuinely good fit for the school.

Tips for how to ace "Why our school?" prompt:

How to Address the "Cultural Competency" Prompt:

Questions surrounding cultural competency delve into your ability to interact with people whose culture, beliefs, or values are different from your own. Are you able to help people in a way that is in line with their values and belief system, even if these values and beliefs are not in line with your own? It is also important to realize the vital role that effective communication plays in bridging cultural differences. Similar to the TMDSAS personal characteristics essay, your essay should focus on the barriers you encountered, the communication strategies you employed to overcome these barriers, how you helped the person in a way that respected their beliefs, and how you will apply this lesson in the future.

Great ideas for narratives that could address the diversity essay medical school prompt include:

  • A time when you used your problem-solving skills to help someone from a socio-cultural background different from your own.
  • A time you advocated for someone from a different socio-cultural background from your own.
  • How you used your communication skills to overcome a language barrier and help someone.
  • A reflection on what you learned from working with people with a different background from your own.
  • A reflection on communicating with people with a different background from your own.
  • A reflection on learning about and accepting the difference in beliefs of people with a different background from your own.
  • A reflection on an interaction with an individual whose values were different from your own.

Check out our video, "How to Think (and How NOT to Think) about Diversity Secondary Essays"

How to Address the "Overcoming Challenges" Prompt:

This prompt is looking at what medical schools typically refer to as “resilience”. The reality is that you will be faced with a wide variety of challenges during your medical training. Medical schools are looking for candidates who are equipped with mature coping strategies, enabling them to proficiently navigate whatever life, or medical school, decides to throw at them.

You can use any example from your own life to address this prompt. Ideas include:

  • A time when things did not go according to plan.
  • Overcoming a setback.
  • Overcoming an illness or injury.
  • Dealing with the illness of a loved one.

The important thing to remember with this prompt is to keep it positive. Focus on the strategies you used to overcome the hurdle that presented itself to you, and what you learned from the situation. Review our blog for a more in-depth guide to writing adversity essays for medical school secondary applications.

Or, watch our video below for adversity essay examples:

How to Address the "Future Goals" Prompt:

It’s okay not to know exactly what kind of doctor you want to be. For this prompt, reflect on the experiences that cemented your decision to pursue medicine.

  • What was it specifically about these experiences that made you want to become a doctor?
  • What fascinated you the most? Why?
  • What patient population did you enjoy working with the most? Why?

You can then go on to say what kind of doctor you would like to be, or, if you haven't decided, suggest more generally which direction you would like to see your career take (ie: mention a patient population you think you would like to work with). Many students change their minds once having been in medical school a couple of years, so it’s reasonable to say that you will keep your eyes open and continue to explore every opportunity!

Here's a video about the secondary essay prompt, "Your Future as a Medical Professional":

How to Address the "Academic Lapses or Breaks" Prompt:

If you have an academic lapse or took a break that you wish to explain to the admissions committee, you may want to prepare this prompt in advance. The most important things to focus on are:

  • Clearly, yet briefly, explain the situation that led to the break or lapse.
  • Outlining how you moved past the situation.
  • Outlining what you learned from the situation, and how you will manage similar situations going forward.

Here's a Recap of Everything:

Medical School Secondary Essay Examples

1 - Why our school?

Write a critical analysis of your personal and scholastic qualifications for the study of medicine, the realization of your professional ambitions, and why you are choosing to apply to our school.

When I was in kindergarten, I was playing tag with my friends when I noticed a kid sitting on the bench. He seemed visibly anxious and left out of the fun so I felt compelled to invite him to play with us. This sense of compassion lay the foundation for my desire to study medicine. As I grew older, I became more inquisitive about the natural world and wanted to know how everything worked and fit together. I started to become passionate about chemistry, mathematics and biology, finding that those subjects gave me the tools to understand my surroundings. I felt empowered with every new concept I would learn; however I never quite felt as though I knew enough. It was only when my friend asked for help with her mental illness that I realized just how much I did not know and how unequipped I was to help someone in this situation. The clash between my sense of compassion and my lack of knowledge and ability to help drove me to want to study medicine.

As I ventured into college, my knowledge-seeking tendencies manifested in an interest in biomedical engineering. I chose this degree for its ability to teach me about the design and manufacturing of groundbreaking medical technologies such as skin-grafts, medical imaging devices, and prostheses. I dreamt of pushing clinical innovations and finding the next technology to revolutionize patient care. Aside from educating myself in medical technology, my college years gave me a lasting perspective and understanding of the Hispanic community’s struggles. I once accompanied my friends to volunteer in a mobile clinic. It was early in the morning when a nurse told me to put up a sign that read: “We do not check IDs.” At first, I was confused, but after careful consideration, I realized that it was to not deter illegal immigrants from seeking medical aid. As the day went on and patients came in, I noticed that most did not have the means to afford regular health and dental care. Most of them prayed that their illnesses would go away on their own because they did not have the means to get professional help. This experience really opened my eyes to the plight of underserved communities and reinforced my decision to pursue medicine so that I could help serve those who were unable to help themselves.

I applied to X University for its opportunities to allow me to work with underserved communities and develop the technical and interpersonal skills to provide patients from these communities the best care. I hope to combine my experience within medicine and engineering to push clinical technologies and advancements further to provide cheap and effective alternatives to current medications and treatments to drive down the cost of healthcare so that it can become available to more people. 

2 - Cultural Competency

A. Describe how you relate to someone who is very different from you. Examples of differences may be cultural, racial, religious, economic, gender/sexual orientation, lifestyle.

The world is so diverse and it can be easy to resign to only care for and be informed of one’s own personal interests. To connect with someone else is to choose to forgo ignorance, and aim to understand other people and their backgrounds. This is a choice that is made every day when we decide how to interact in society.

In my first year of university, I roomed with a person who immigrated from Colombia. I saw how difficult it was for her to transition to a new country and to overcome cultural barriers. Instead of accepting the fact that our cultures rendered us incompatible, I decided to educate myself on her culture. I started to read of the political unrest in Colombia, I found Latin music we could listen to, and I utilized my basic Spanish to try to make her feel at home. Five years later, we still live together and are the best of friends. It's clear that a little effort trying to understand the life and journey of someone else can go a long way to building connections and trust.

B. Please discuss the diversity that you would bring to our school of medicine and the profession of medicine.

The challenges I faced as a first-generation immigrant has taught me several valuable lessons, which have influenced my pursuit of medicine. Here in the States, I am granted liberties that are otherwise unattainable in Vietnam- specifically access to quality healthcare and opportunities for growth and enrichment. My first exposure to medicine did not transpire in a hospital but instead took place in a small tent affiliated with a roaming clinic.

The significant gap in healthcare accessibility, advancement, and quality between the States and the developing countries were increasingly apparent when I returned to Vietnam to visit my family. In time, I also realized that these similar circumstances and situations exist in my local community as well. This has inspired me to advocate for the underserved population because I, myself, can identify with their struggles. During our financial crisis, my family received overwhelming support and generosity from several neighborhood communities. I wish to return the kindness. Now more than ever, in a time where immigrants are restricted access, I must fight to give them a voice.

I also bring with me the traditions and culture of a Vietnamese American. I have developed my own understanding of the diverse facets of the Asian American identity and the ripple effect it has on the community. Through lion dancing and partnering with the Vietnamese and Chinese communities, I grasped the important role that communities play in providing resources. To become one of the few Vietnamese doctors in the area would allow me to address the needs of the community and give me a platform to collaborate with other communities of color. One of my goals is to break down the language barriers and stigmas surrounding the older Asian community and help them achieve their health goals.

I bring a steadfast mindset of advocating for the underserved in my community and as an immigrant Vietnamese American, I aim to use my position to influence decisions that will benefit the entire community.

3 - Overcoming Challenges

Describe a challenging situation you faced and what you did to address it.

My sister was diagnosed with epilepsy at 3 months old, and it has been a continual learning experience. She never qualified for an autism diagnosis, but her behaviors resembled an autistic or neurodivergent individual. As an 8-year-old, I did not notice public reactions to my sister’s behaviors.

But, as we both grew older, I became embarrassed when people would stare at her, or notice her behavioral differences. Behavioral incidents continued to occur throughout my time in high school and college. However, I have grown into a more empathetic person who better understands the difficulties my sister faces. I won’t deny that sometimes it is still embarrassing, but I remind myself that she struggles to control her behaviors and it is not her fault.

The best way I can help her as a sister is to be there for her and try to help her through the emotions she may not be able to express all the time. Understanding my sister has made me into a stronger, more confident and empathetic woman.

4 - Future Goals prompt

Professionalism and the ability to gain respect in the community in which you live is of utmost importance as you embark upon a career as a physician. What three professional qualities do you feel a Student Doctor must be able to demonstrate as he/or she makes the transition into the study and practice of medicine? How will you demonstrate those qualities as a medical student at RowanSOM?

There are many valuable attributes a student doctor must possess, but the three of which I consider the most valuable are self-discipline/reflection, open-mindedness/sensitivity, and teamwork skills.

Possessing self-discipline and self-reflection skills are key for any student doctor planning on tackling the arduous medical courses that will come their way. Through my undergraduate career, I have constantly improved upon my academic study strategies to adapt to the rigors of upper-level biological courses. I realize that when one way does not work it is crucial to consult peers, advisors, and professors to improve my approach. Such changes included recording my lectures, attending more office hours, and even seeking resources outside of my lecture material to supplement my knowledge. I use this principle in my personal health goals as well. For example, my favorite hobby that I use to keep me grounded is going to the gym, where I attempt to break my fitness plateaus by researching and consulting peers. It is this drive to constantly improve myself that will allow me to overcome the many obstacles that will come my way during my medical pursuit.

In addition, it is important for student doctors to be open-minded and sensitive when understanding patients from diverse backgrounds. My research experience at the Center for Addiction, Personality, and Emotion Research enriched my understanding of the socioeconomic and environmental factors that are involved in developing addiction disorders. Learning about the neurobehavioral and psychological processes that underlie addictive behavior reinforced my awareness of the health disparities that arise from environmental and social systems in my local community. It is imperative to understand the patient outside of their symptoms in order to realize the other factors involved in their diagnosis. I aim to one day use this knowledge to inform my future patients of preventative measures and how to overcome their environmental strains.

Lastly, it is crucial for student doctors to develop teamwork skills when entering the field of medicine. Physicians have to be prepared to engage and work within different teamwork structures or environments with other specialists to provide high-quality care for their patients. My experiences as an EMT taught me firsthand how critical it is to build long-lasting relationships based on trust with your team. I have spent countless hours getting to know my EMS crew to ensure that we built a sense of camaraderie that would allow us to work well together during calls. I remember one occasion when my partner was flustered during a stressful call and could not remember the next step in delivering a treatment protocol to a patient. I noticed he was frustrated and subtly reminded him of the next step. Based on our relationship and trust, he acted on my advice and later thanked me for the assistance. Knowing that we always had each other’s back gave us the reassurance and confidence we needed to handle the many unpredictable calls that came our way. I hope to strengthen this same sense of teamwork as a future physician.

5 - Academic Lapses or Breaks

If you have taken a gap year(s), please explain what you have been, or will be, doing since graduating from your undergrad institution. 

I threw myself into the medical school application process during my final year of my undergrad degree. Realizing that my application was lacking, I have spent the time since graduation gaining volunteer and leadership experience, improving my MCAT score, and taking science prerequisite courses.

Taking post-baccalaureate classes proved advantageous. I was thrilled when my MCAT score improved significantly, going from 505 to 517. My score was a testament to the hard work and dedication I put into my organic chemistry and molecular biology courses, and to the time management, accountability, and work ethic I refined in studying for the MCAT.

While pursuing post-baccalaureate science courses improved my academics, volunteering at a seniors’ care center has opened my eyes to the issues facing seniors and those who care for them. Once, upon entering the facility, I heard a patient calling for help; he had fallen and could not get back into his wheelchair. Per volunteer protocol, I cannot physically assist the residents into their chairs. However, after determining that he was not physically hurt, I calmly reassured him that I was getting help and informed the nurses of his situation. This incident and other experiences at the center allowed me to develop and practice skills such as enforcing appropriate boundaries, working with others, and handling unexpected and stressful circumstances with poise.

From my various experiences, I have developed and refined my belief system and skill set. I've developed a greater sensitivity to those facing physical or mental limitations, and a dedication to serving my community in overcoming such challenges. I’ve learned the value of being empathetic and showing compassion in the process. I've developed the critical traits and values that I am certain this school would be proud of, whether as a student or as a physician.

Here is a recap of the medical school secondary essay examples:


1. What is the purpose of medical school secondary essays?

Medical school secondary essays are meant to provide medical school with more specific information about your candidacy and fit for their specific medical school programs. The questions are geared towards the specific missions, requirements, and goals of each med school program.

2. When should I deliver my secondaries?

If the school does not specify a deadline, you should aim to submit your secondaries no later than 2 weeks after receiving the invites to complete them.

3. What are some of the most common medical school secondary essay prompts?

Some of the most common med school secondary prompts include "Why our school?", "Cultural Competency", "Overcoming Challenges", and "Future Goals". Pay attention to the wording of the prompts - they may not include this direct terminology, but nevertheless you should approach them with specific strategies to answer them.

4. How many secondaries do I have to complete for each school?

Each medical school will have its own secondaries requirements. Some may ask for 1 or 2 essays, while others may require 10. Check the requirements of your schools of choice to make sure.

5. Are there schools that do not require secondaries?

Yes, there are some schools that do not require submission of med school secondaries, but these are rare. Check with the programs of your choice to make sure.

6. How can I plan my secondaries if I do not know the exact prompts?

Many med schools recycle their secondary prompts from year to year. Plus, as you could tell from our blog, there are some common themes that all secondaries explore. Check out the old prompts from your schools of choice to start planning general outlines for your essays.

7. What happens if I do not submit my secondaries? What happens if I am late submitting my essays?

Most likely, you will be eliminated from the applicant selection pool right away. Med schools will want to see your dedicated and commitment to their school, which secondaries demonstrate. If you are late or do not submit them at all, you will no longer be considered for a position in their medical school.

8. I have way too many secondary invites to complete on time. What should I do?

If you applied to many med schools, there is a chance you will have trouble completing all the secondaries on time. If this is your position, you should certainly try to complete all of them on time and of good quality. However, if this is impossible, focus on the schools you want to attend and where you have the highest chance of acceptance and complete their secondaries first. You can then use the essays you wrote to adjust to other programs.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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Wynne Milhouse

Hello! Would it be okay to write about how not getting into medical school the first time was a time of adversity, even if it was on a secondary for a school I didn't apply to last time (or if it was)? I feel as if this prompt may show up for schools that I did and did not apply to two years ago, but not getting into medical school the first time WAS a big hurdle, and I have made significant changes to combat this. Is it okay to talk about that, or will that reflect poorly on me? Thanks! Best, Wynne Milhouse


BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Wynne! Thank you very much for your question. Absolutely, you should write about not getting into med school the first time even if you are writing secondaries for a school you did not apply to last time. You can even mention that you are now applying to this school because you improved your research and found that this would be a more suitable choice for you. Let us know if you have any other questions!