How to Build Powerful Med School Secondaries

A four-panel cartoon illustrating the journey of a medical school applicant. In the first panel, a weary student stands at the start of a long, winding path carrying a heavy backpack filled with books, a laptop, and papers. In the second panel, the student, looking even more exhausted, reaches a point where the path splits into multiple smaller paths. In the third panel, the student sits on a rock, looking at a map while a mentor figure offers a bottle and smiles encouragingly. In the fourth panel, the student appears confident and focused, writing on a laptop with papers spread out around them.
The journey of a medical school applicant: From initial preparations to mastering secondary essays, with guidance and perseverance leading to success.

Here at Gurufi, we spend much of the late summer and early fall working with hundreds of clients to perfect their medical school secondaries. In my experience, at this point, applicants are quite exhausted by the immense work it takes to get to this point: studying for and taking the MCAT, getting letters of rec, completing your prerequisite courses, supplementing your clinical experience, completing the AMCAS, and ironing out your personal statement and Word & Activities sections. Now, you must complete a dozen or more additional school-specific essays. This naturally leads people to wonder how they can complement their existing materials in ways that maximize the value and impact of their secondaries. This post seeks to help you craft powerful secondary essays.

Secondary essays provide an opportunity to showcase your unique qualities, experiences, and motivations that make you a suitable candidate a specific medical school. Crafting effective secondary essays requires thoughtful reflection and a strategic approach. Here’s how to respond to common secondary essay prompts and tailor your responses for different schools:

1. Understand the Purpose of Secondary Essays

Secondary essays allow admissions committees to learn more about you beyond your primary application. Moreover, because the admission committees of particular schools craft these essays, they reflect questions that the AdCom obviously cares about. They are designed to assess your fit for the specific program, your alignment with the school’s values, and your readiness for the challenges of medical school. Understanding this purpose will help you craft essays that effectively convey your qualifications and aspirations.

2. Research Each School Thoroughly

Before writing your secondary essays, conduct thorough research on each medical school you are applying to. Understand their mission, values, curriculum, and unique features. Familiarize yourself with their specific programs, faculty, research opportunities, and community involvement. Talk to people at the school, including both faculty and staff if you can. This research will enable you to tailor your responses to align with the school’s specific expectations and culture.

3. Address Common Secondary Essay Prompts

While each school may have unique prompts, some common themes often appear in secondary essays. Here are strategies for responding to these common prompts:

a. Why This School?

This prompt asks you to explain why you are interested in attending that particular medical school. Be specific and detailed in your response. Highlight aspects of the program that resonate with your career goals and interests. Mention unique opportunities, such as specific research programs, clinical experiences, or community service initiatives, that make the school a good fit for you. Demonstrating a genuine interest and thorough knowledge of the school will strengthen your response.

One thing to beware of is writing a “school brochure” where you simply list a series of things that you like about the school. This doesn’t show much more than that you have access to Google. If you can explain in depth, using examples from your past, a few things really well, that is much better than mentioning a bunch of things. As with personal statements, saying one or two things really well is better than saying a bunch of things poorly.

b. Describe a Challenge You’ve Overcome

This prompt seeks to understand your resilience and problem-solving abilities. Choose a significant challenge you have faced, either personally or professionally. Describe the context, the actions you took to address the challenge, and the lessons you learned from the experience. Focus on how the experience has prepared you for the rigors of medical school and a career in medicine.

c. Diversity and Inclusion

Many medical schools value diversity and seek to understand how you will contribute to a diverse and inclusive community. Reflect on your background, experiences, and perspectives that contribute to your unique identity. Discuss how your experiences with diversity have shaped your worldview and how you plan to promote inclusivity in medical school and your future career.

d. Significant Research Experience

If you have significant research experience, this prompt allows you to highlight your contributions to scientific knowledge. Describe your research project, your role, and the impact of your findings. Explain how this experience has influenced your interest in medicine and your future career goals. Emphasize any skills you developed, such as critical thinking, data analysis, or teamwork.

There are three additional points that I’d make with this prompt. First, writing about science can be hard. It’s difficult to balance accuracy, clarity, and complexity. As such, this is among the most difficult kinds of admissions writing and you may want to think about getting help with someone experienced and adept with this. (like Gurufi! ) Second, think about how you view the role of science and research as you move forward. Do you (be honest) intend to continue doing research in and beyond medical school? If so, think about including this, even if briefly, in your essay. Lastly, also think about your research experience in the same way that you wrote about an important job in your Work & Activities section: did you grow, improve, receive additional responsibilities, or earn a promotion?

  1. Professional Goals and Aspirations

    This prompt asks you to articulate your career goals and how the medical school will help you achieve them. Be clear and specific about your short-term and long-term goals. Explain how the school’s resources, faculty, and curriculum align with your aspirations. Demonstrating a clear vision for your future and how the school fits into that vision shows that you are focused and motivated.

    4. Tailor Your Responses

    Tailoring your responses for each school is essential to demonstrate your genuine interest and fit. Use the research you conducted to incorporate specific details about the school into your essays. Mention faculty members you are excited to work with, unique programs that align with your interests, and community initiatives that you want to be part of. Personalizing your essays shows that you have a sincere interest in the school and have thoughtfully considered how it aligns with your goals.

    5. Be Authentic and Reflective

    Authenticity is key to crafting compelling secondary essays. Be honest about your experiences, motivations, and aspirations. Reflect on your journey and share meaningful insights that provide a deeper understanding of who you are. Avoid generic statements and clichés. Instead, focus on specific examples and personal stories that illustrate your points.

    6. Show, Don’t Tell

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. I don’t love “show, don’t tell” as a piece of advice because it doesn’t feel actionable. You can get to the same idea by saying “tell a story and let the story demonstrate your traits.” Not as punchy, but more accurate. For example, instead of simply stating that you are passionate about medicine, provide examples that demonstrate your passion. Describe experiences that have solidified your commitment to the field and the actions you have taken to pursue your interest. This approach makes your essays more vivid and memorable.

If you need help with storytelling, check out this video. It was made for MBA applicants, but all of the core ideas apply to medical school applications. This other video also provides a useful way to attack the “show don’t tell” problem.

7. Edit and Revise

Writing effective secondary essays requires multiple drafts and revisions. After writing your initial draft, take a break and then revisit your essay with fresh eyes. Seek feedback from mentors, peers, or professional consultants to gain different perspectives. Revise your essays to improve clarity, coherence, and impact. Pay attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation to ensure your essays are polished and professional.

BUT, do be judicious with who you send your essay to. Too many chefs spoil the broth.

Crafting effective secondary essays for medical school applications involves understanding the purpose of these essays, conducting thorough research, addressing common prompts thoughtfully, and tailoring your responses to each school. By being authentic, reflective, and detail-oriented, you can create compelling essays that resonate with admissions committees and enhance your chances of acceptance. Good luck with your applications!

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

How to Select Your Three “Most Significant” Activities on Your AMCAS Work & Activities Section

A cartoon of a young, attractive medical school applicant wearing a white coat, levitating five bubbles. Each bubble contains an object representing a different aspect of their medical journey: a microscope for research, a beaker for science, a trophy for leadership, a stethoscope for clinical care, and a heart symbolizing their desire to become a doctor. The scene is colorful and whimsical.
Selecting your most compelling activities to highlight in your AMCAS takes thought

Medical school applicants often worry about which activities to select as their “most significant” on their AMCAS Work & Activities section. Over the last 17 years, Gurufi editors have helped hundreds of successful applicants craft this vital part of their medical school applications, including providing insights into which activities they should highlight. Since you can only select three, you should invest careful consideration into which accomplishments you elect to emphasize and showcase. When done thoughtfully, the right three activities can round out your application nicely and showcase the breadth and depth of your background.

 

Since every application is different, there is no simple and easy formula for selecting the ideal three, but there are some basic principles you should follow. Here’s how to choose your “Most Significant” activities thoughtfully.

 

Integrate with Your Personal Statement

Your personal statement and Work & Activities section should complement each other, creating a cohesive narrative about who you are and why you want to pursue medicine. If the personal statement provides depth, character, and nuance into one or two pivotal moments in your life, then the W&A should complement through breadth of experience. Thus, when selecting your “Most Significant” activities, ensure they add depth to your story without duplicating content from your personal statement. If your personal statement focuses on a specific event or life experience, use your “Most Significant” activities to shed light on other dimensions of your journey.

 

Highlight Leadership, Service, and Commitment to Social Justice

Medical schools value applicants who demonstrate leadership, a strong sense of service, and a commitment to social justice. Indeed, the revised formatting of the W&A section makes clear that this is a priority. When choosing your “Most Significant” activities, consider those that showcase these qualities. Did you lead a project, organize an event, or serve as a mentor? Did you volunteer extensively or work with underserved communities? These experiences not only highlight your skills but also reflect your commitment to making a difference, an essential trait for future physicians.

 

Focus on Long-Term Involvement and Growth

Activities that demonstrate sustained commitment and personal growth are highly valued. Prioritize those that span a significant period, where you gained new skills, earned promotions, or took on increased responsibilities. These experiences show your ability to commit and evolve, which is crucial for a successful medical career. Consider including activities where you played a long-term role in research, led a team, or made a lasting impact through community service.

 

Link Activities to Your Aspiring Medical Career

If possible, choose activities that connect with your aspirations as a future doctor. For example, if you aim to specialize in pediatrics, highlight your work with children. If you’re interested in medical research, discuss your research projects and their outcomes. By linking your “Most Significant” activities to your future career goals, you demonstrate a clear vision and purpose, qualities that medical schools seek in applicants.

 

Fill in the Gaps

Think of your application as a series of buckets to fill: science/research, service, your “origin story” explaining “why medicine?”, leadership, and clinical experiences. Your personal statement should not cover all five; it should focus on one key aspect. Use your “Most Significant” activities to fill in the gaps. If your personal statement primarily discusses your origin story, use this section to highlight your leadership or research experiences. This approach ensures a well-rounded application that captures various facets of your journey.

 

Tell a Compelling Story

With an additional 1,325 characters, you have the opportunity to share a compelling story about each “Most Significant” activity. Think about moments that had a profound impact on you or others, challenges you overcame, or lessons you learned. Craft a narrative that captures the essence of the experience and its relevance to your medical journey. By telling a captivating story, you engage the admissions committee and leave a lasting impression.

 

Selecting your “Most Significant” activities for the Work & Activities section of your AMCAS application is a strategic process. Focus on experiences that complement your personal statement, demonstrate leadership, service, and social justice, and showcase long-term involvement and growth. By linking these activities to your future aspirations in medicine and filling in the gaps, you’ll create a compelling narrative that reflects your readiness for medical school and beyond.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Important Changes to This Year’s AMCAS Application

Two medical school applicants, one male and one female, navigate an obstacle course wearing white coats, stethoscopes, sneakers, shorts, and gym socks. They carry piles of applications while sweating, facing various hurdles, climbing walls, and balancing beams
Know the new obstacles AMCAS has erected!

With the AMCAS portal opening May 1, many medical school applicants have already begun this process in earnest. Of all the graduate and professional schools, medical school has the most intense, time-consuming, and onerous application, and changes to it can send shivers of panic up the collective spines of aspiring physicians. Not to worry, at Gurufi, we have nearly 15 years of experience helping applicants earn admission to their top choice medical schools. We’re here to help!

         Here are some of the changes to this year’s AMCAS that you need to be aware of. These changes reflect a broader shift toward a more holistic review process. As such, in addition to noting specific things you should be aware of, also note how these changes are strong indicators of how much admissions committees care more and more about whether applicants have demonstrated leadership, care about public health, and have a service-oriented mindset when it comes to medicine as a career. Thus, these changes aim to capture a wider array of applicant experiences, providing admissions committees with a deeper understanding of candidates’ backgrounds, experiences, and motivations.

  1. 1. Social Justice/Advocacy Experience Type

One of the most notable additions to the AMCAS application is the new Social Justice/Advocacy experience type in the Work & Activities section. This category allows applicants to highlight their involvement in social justice or advocacy efforts, demonstrating their commitment to advancing the rights, privileges, or opportunities of a person, group, or cause. Examples of activities that fall under this category include registering people to vote, advocating for civil rights, reducing health inequities, addressing food deserts, or advocating for vulnerable populations such as children or the homeless.

         Note that this doesn’t necessarily have to be healthcare-related social justice work, as the above list indicates. Medical schools recognize that doctors must be prepared to work with diverse populations and advocate for health equity. By including this experience type, the AMCAS application aligns with the values of medical schools that seek to produce physicians who are not only clinically competent but also socially conscious and dedicated to addressing systemic issues.

Practical Advice: considering using one of your “Most Significant” entries so that you can have an additional 1325 characters to explain, at length, what you did, why it was important to you, what you learned, and perhaps how you think this work has given you an important perspective on the kind of doctor you aspire to become.

  1. Replacement of the “Disadvantaged Status” Question with “Other Impactful Experiences”

The second major change to the AMCAS application is the replacement of the Disadvantaged Status question with the Other Impactful Experiences question. This new question aims to promote a holistic review by allowing applicants to provide additional context about the challenges they may have experienced in their lives. The Other Impactful Experiences question is designed for applicants who have faced or overcome challenges in various areas, such as family background, financial circumstances, community setting, education, religion, or other life experiences.

This change provides a broader scope for applicants to share their unique stories and backgrounds, allowing admissions committees to better understand the hurdles they may have overcome. It also reduces the stigma associated with the term “disadvantaged” and offers a more inclusive platform for applicants to express their personal journeys and resilience.

Practical Advice: Any time you are discussing status, you want to make sure that you go beyond describing the status. Ultimately, the idea that you hope to convey is that a particular status is connected to experiences, worldviews, certain kinds of empathies, and connections to causes or problems that are personal to you. This is partly a function of wanting to make sure you convey yourself as a compelling candidate and partly a function of schools wanting to make sure that they remain on the right side of the law vis-à-vis new affirmative action rulings by the US Supreme Court.

  1. Addition of Drop-Down Categories for the Institutional Action Question

The third change involves the Institutional Action question, where applicants must report any disciplinary or academic issues they faced during their undergraduate education. Previously, this question was open-ended, but the new format includes a drop-down menu allowing applicants to select “Conduct,” “Academic,” or “Both.” This change aims to provide a more comprehensive view of any institutional action and allows applicants to categorize the nature of the issues they encountered.

The addition of drop-down categories provides more clarity and context for admissions committees. It helps them better understand the type of institutional action, reducing ambiguity and promoting a fairer assessment of applicants with disciplinary or academic histories.

Practical advice: We have written extensively about how to address missteps in your medical school applications. Check out these shorts, here, here, and here (this was done for MBA applicants, but the ideas are the same!):

  1. Optional Field for AAMC PREview® Exam Registration Date

The final change to the AMCAS application is the inclusion of an optional field to indicate an upcoming AAMC PREview® exam registration date. This addition allows applicants to indicate their intention to take the PREview exam, providing medical schools with information on when they can expect the score .

The AAMC PREview® exam assesses applicants’ pre-professional competencies and is designed to help admissions committees evaluate candidates’ readiness for medical school. By including this optional field, the AMCAS application aligns with the growing importance of the PREview exam in the admissions process, allowing schools to plan accordingly for the evaluation of these scores.

Remember, though these changes are important, the underlying components of a strong application remain the same. Take these changes into account as you craft your personal statement, Work & Activities, and secondaries. And, if you need help with these vital documents, Gurufi’s editors collectively have more than 50 years of experience helping students earn admission into the top medical schools in the country! Check us out today.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top medical schools. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.