If you’re feeling stumped, staring at a blank page, tired of reading tips and articles on structure, you might try a new approach: perusing some UPenn medical school secondary essay examples. Studying expertly written essay examples will let you see how all the advice and tips on writing secondary essays get put into action.

There is always the question of how to make your medical school application stand out. Look to your essays, as secondary essays are uniquely tailored to you and your school of choice. What better method can there be for how to prepare for your medical school application?

In this article, we will provide you with up-to-date prompts for the University of Pennsylvania’s secondary essays and examples for each prompt.

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Article Contents
7 min read

List of Prompts Required Essay Prompts Optional Essay Prompts Conclusion FAQs

List of Prompts

Required UPenn Essay Prompts

The following essay prompts are required for all students:

Prompt 1

“The Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) is deeply committed to recruiting a diverse class to enrich an inclusive team-based learning experience. How would you and your experiences contribute to the diversity of the student body and/or how would you contribute to an inclusive atmosphere at PSOM?”

Limit: 1,000 characters

Sample Answer:

My friends and I looked like a Diversity poster. I was the Asian kid, but we basically had the whole spectrum of humanity contained within our group. The thing is, we never treated each other differently, and in our group, the idea of equality and philadelphia between people of all races, nationalities, and groups seemed possible in our lives.

When we were younger, we didn’t pay any attention to that kind of race stuff, but as we got older, the inevitable hard truths rained down on us. I, and my friends, became involved in local movements to champion diversity.

I believe in these ideals, but one thing that always bothered us was how divisive the language of inclusion is, which is dreadfully ironic. I believe that my unique contribution can be as an activist and as a champion of diversity who is also a peacemaker and a bridge between people who aren’t yet interested in rallying to a cause.

Prompt 2

“Please explain your reasons for applying to the Perelman School of Medicine.”

Limit: 1,000 characters

Sample Answer:

Perelman School of Medicine is located in a hospital. Other schools have a more academic setting, but you are right there in the thick of the action, as it were. I think that this direct contact with medicine will take me from academia and theory directly into the clinical and practical context that is the purpose of my studies.

Very few schools can boast of such close proximity to the environment that their graduates will one day occupy. In my case, I have always been a “doer,” and more theoretical aspects of learning never suited me as much as the hands-on. I was far more at home in shop class than in English. I’d rather have tools than theories.

For this reason, I believe that not only will I learn best through Perelman, but I also believe that I will sync up well with the School and be able to contribute in ways I would not be able to at other institutions.

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

Optional Essay Prompts

Prompt 1

“Have you taken or are you planning to take time off between college graduation and medical school matriculation? Please describe your activities during this time.”

Limit: 500 characters

Sample Answer:

I plan to take a gap year before medical school due to my college experiences. Growing up in a very small, very conservative area, I was not exposed to many alternative viewpoints, and I found that my ideas were challenged at college in the best way. I felt like I was expanding my horizons exponentially. I want to continue that experience.

I am joining Habitat for Humanity to build houses and assist communities that have been adversely affected by disaster.

Prompt 2

“Have you participated in any global activities outside of the US prior to submitting your AMCAS application?”

Limit: 1,000 characters

Sample Answer:

I am a traveler between multiple worlds, and these worlds stretch and strain me constantly. My family comes from Iran. I am a Muslim, and I find myself at a strange nexus: perceived as radical by other people, I am an American, but also an “Other.” I seek peace, but I struggle with notions of diversity that are challenged every day.

The global activity I participated in involved an invitation to travel to France and participate in a campaign of togetherness and tolerance. Despite having a very thin grasp of French, I agreed to go along. My cousin was organizing an outreach program to help establish better relations between Muslim and non-Muslim populations in France – a nation that increasingly must make peace with its Muslim denizens.

The events were a series of meals between community members and leaders, which functioned simultaneously as social events and think tanks. I believe we helped make some small progress toward amity in France.

Prompt 3

“Are there any special, unique, personal, or challenging aspects of your personal background or circumstances that you would like to share with the Committee on Admissions, not addressed elsewhere (siblings/relatives at Penn, applying as a couple, educational environment, culture, ethnicity, etc.)”

Limit: 1,000 characters

Sample Answer:

My husband and I both aspire to work in the medical community, and we are applying together to suit that end. We both met while doing our undergrads – he was studying English while I was working on anthropology – and while we knew there would be difficulties in getting married prior to medical school, we also knew that we didn’t want to wait for all the years required to attain our degrees.

Therefore, we are applying together. He is looking into specializing in psychology, while at the moment, I favor general medicine. Ideally, we would like to practice together someday, but for now, the goal is just to study and train together.

While we have discussed the ramifications of studying separately, we would prefer to acquire our medical degrees together, as this would make our personal lives much, much easier. We both agree that Perelman is our top choice.

Prompt 4

“Were there changes to your academic work and/or personal circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic that you would like to share with the committee? Please describe these changes during this time.”

Limit: 500 characters

Sample Answer:

As part of my psychology major, we were studying the effects that casual, social interaction had on outcomes in psychological treatment.

If there ever was a discipline and study that was debilitated by the concept of “social distancing,” this was it. We were forced to put our research and experiments on hold while we conceptualized a way forward in a project that required human interaction.

Our solution was a photo-negative of the study: focusing on absence, rather than presence.

Prompt 5

“If you were offered an option to continue courses with a standard grading system or switch to Pass/Fail, and you chose Pass/Fail, please describe the reason(s) for your decision here.”

Limit: 500 characters

Sample Answer:

I chose Pass/Fail because I wanted to refocus my attention. I felt like my goal was becoming the acquisition of the highest possible grade. I knew that this was not really the point of education. The point of education is to acquire knowledge, to learn how to think, and to gain insights into whatever subject you are studying.

The Pass/Fail system allowed me to forget grades and focus on what really mattered: knowledge. I did this to keep myself focused on the true goal of education.

Prompt 6

“Have you taken any online courses for credit? (not due to the COVID-19 pandemic)”

Limit: Unknown

Sample Answer:

The History of Eastern Europe, as taught by Prof. Davisfield, was a unique opportunity I could not pass up. Offered at a college in another country, I could not afford travel expenses, nor could I arrest my studies at my then present institution.

I elected to take Prof. Davisfield’s wonderful course, based on its reputation for immersion in the history of Eastern Europe from unique perspectives. Davisfield’s unique approach meant focusing on the everyday lives of citizens, rather than going from conflict to conflict and centering on division, as so many courses on Eastern Europe do.

Due to the uniqueness of the course, I requested to attend lectures via Davisfield’s livestream and was accepted.

Have you started planning your Medical School Secondary Essays yet? Stay ahead of the curve with this helpful video!

Prompt 7

“Have you been nominated for or received an award from any state, regional or national organization? (if you select Yes, you can list different awards and write about them briefly)”

Limit: Unknown

Sample Answer:


State level:

Rhode Island Spelling Bee – Runner-up / 2nd place awarded

Charles Innsfield Essay Competition – Presented from the Innsfield Future Leaders Society – 2nd Runner-up / 3rd place awarded

Regional level:

New England Sustainability Award – with my high school class. Presented by the Greener New England Organization, given for our work collecting trash and assisting with a new recycling program.

National Level:

Research Initiative Award – nominated – for a research paper I wrote while doing my undergrad; the paper concerned rituals shared between humans and animals, focusing on how elephants and people mourn the dead.

Prompt 8

“Have you or your family experienced economic hardships?”

Limit: Unknown

Sample Answer:

You see a game piece, used to propel your token between one and six spaces, but I get anxiety every time it rolls. My father used to have a very big problem rolling dice. He always seemed to be “up” for “so long,” but by the time he got back to the house, he had found his way down again. This behavior lost us our house and moved us into much smaller accommodations. It meant downsizing and putting to yard sale most of our toys. How many of your toys lasted your whole childhood? I had two make it through.

My parents almost lost their marriage as well; they separated but never divorced, and once Dad got help, they got back together.

We’re doing fine now, but these trials have left me with a major aversion to gambling activities. Fortunately, I have also learned to persevere, to help loved ones, rather than give up on them, and to make homes out of human connection instead of material things.

Prompt 9

“Have you been employed at the University of Pennsylvania Health System or Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and worked with a Penn faculty mentor? If yes, please indicate name, department, phone number of faculty, and start/end dates.”

Limit: Unknown

Sample Answer:

I was employed at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and worked with a Penn faculty mentor.

Name: Dr. Beth McCartney

Department: Pediatrics

Phone Number: Add the phone number of the faculty member.

Start Date: Add the start date: day, month, year.

End Date: Add the end date: day, month, year.


Reading the expertly written essays above should give you excellent insight into how to form your own answers to the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s secondary essay prompts.


1. Are these prompts the same from year to year?

Secondary essay prompts change, but not radically. You are almost guaranteed to come across a “Why this school?” essay, for instance. Most other prompts will remain fairly similar, as secondary essays are often focused on diversity, adversity, personal growth, and other similar qualities.

2. Are prompts also similar from institution to institution?

Yes, they are usually similar, although they will not be identical; don’t think you’ll be able to copy-paste essays from one school to the other.

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

If a prompt is extremely similar and your answers will be similar, yes, you can use the same language for both responses.

However, do note that you need to be extra careful to eliminate any references to specific schools or programs. Take the time to tailor your responses to each school.

4. Are the character limits hard?

Yes. Not only are the character caps hard limits, but they also include spaces, so make sure you measure your essays accordingly.

Never exceed the limit by so much as one character. It is better to adopt a policy of brevity, anyway; say more with less whenever possible.

5. How much time should I spend writing my essays?

As soon as the prompt list is released, you should begin working on your essays at least a little bit each day. We recommend, if possible, to spend some time every day for 2–3 weeks working on your essays.

6. Are my essays graded?

Essentially, yes. You might not be getting a letter grade or score, but you are being evaluated. Treat these as though you are being graded.

7. Do spelling and grammar count?

Absolutely, yes. If you were an evaluator – a member of the admissions committee – and you came across an essay which was difficult to read due to frequent spelling and grammar errors, what would you think of the writer?

Linguistic errors might occur for many reasons – dyslexia or having English as a second language, for instance – and those are legitimate apologies for a certain number of errors. However, the committee is selecting students who will one day become medical doctors, with literal lives in their hands. If they are worried about your ability to communicate life-saving instructions, or understand important details, that will reflect negatively on your candidacy.

8. Should I write the optional essays or focus on perfecting the required ones?

Write all the essays. Each essay is an opportunity to improve your standing with the committee. Take advantage of every opportunity given. In this way, you will be as competitive as possible with your application.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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