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Six Medical School Secondary Essays You Can Start Writing Right Now! (And which ones you should wait on!)

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Each year, we work with a select number of medical school applicants to help them draft strong, distinct personal statements and descriptions for the Work and Activity sections within their AMCAS applications, which are due at the end of May. 

They inevitably ask us, in the days after submitting, “This is when we get a break, right? Secondaries aren’t until July.”

Our answer? “Yes” aaaand “no.”

Though secondary applications will not rear their heads until July, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make great use of your time in June to render secondaries less demanding (and soul-sucking) when the time comes.

There are certain essay types we recommend writing in advance, since the odds are incredibly in your favor that you will need to submit them come July, and there are some essays we recommend waiting to write. (More on those later.) 

Write in Advance: 

There are six medical school secondary essays you can begin writing ahead of time, banking on the likelihood that you can use at least some of that writing once prompts are released. They are as follows:

  1. The Diversity Essay
  2. The Adversity Essay
  3. The Hobby Essay
  4. The Gap Year Essay 
  5. The Leadership Essay
  6. The Medical Career Essay

Let’s dive into each.

First up: The Diversity Essay

Ah, the diversity essay, a perfect opportunity for you to share with admissions what it is about your background and past experiences that will bring a fresh perspective to their student body, and ultimately enable you to provide quality care to a diverse patient population down the line.

Let’s start by looking at some examples of what these essay prompts have looked like in years past:

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? Please explain and limit your response to 1,000 characters.


The Feinberg School of Medicine values diversity as a measure of excellence.  We define diversity as the totality of the characteristics and experiences of our students.  We believe that a diverse student body improves the educational environment and the ability of our graduates to serve an increasingly diverse patient population. Everyone has their own narrative.  Please provide more detail about how your experiences would enrich the Northwestern community. (200 word max)


Kaiser Permanente is committed to advancing equity, inclusion, and diversity for all. How will you contribute to the diversity of the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine? (250 words)

The diversity essay is incredibly common on all kinds of admission applications—medical school secondary applications being no exception—which means, odds are, you’re going to need to write one. So, save yourself some time and headaches in July by writing it in advance. The prompts listed above are great launching points for your brainstorming process.

A strong diversity essay will…reveal more about your background and offer admissions a glimpse into some of the unique life experiences you bring to the table. You’ll want admissions to finish your essay knowing that you have the ability to work with people from all walks of life and that you value the opportunity to do so.


The Adversity Essay

The adversity essay asks applicants to describe a challenge they overcame or address a moment in which they felt they had failed. 

Here are some examples:

Briefly describe a situation where you had to overcome adversity; include lessons learned and how you think it will affect your career as a future physician. (2500 characters) (The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)


We are all navigating through challenging times, and physicians and physician-scientists must contend with many instances of uncertainty. Describe a time when you faced a situation that was ambiguous, confusing, or uncertain, and how you navigated making a decision without complete information. (3000 characters) (University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine)


Tell us about a time when you have had to overcome adversity. (1,500 characters) (University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine)


Discuss a time in your life in which you have failed at something other than an academic experience. How did you confront the failure and what did you learn from it? Please describe how you typically approach challenges that you face in your life. (350 words) (University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson)

A strong response to an Adversity essay prompt will…illuminate how you respond when presented with a hurdle or challenge. We recommend you explain the challenge, failure, and/or situation at hand, then dedicate most of the words available to walk admissions through your thought process, reaction, and takeaways. Be careful not to write about anything that may seem trite, like getting a C on an exam. Your response will showcase qualities like initiative, resilience, and an ability to learn from past missteps. A word of advice: Make sure your topic doesn’t overlap too much with the idea you plan to write about for your leadership essay down the line. You want admissions to learn unique and valuable information about how you react when faced with difficult situations.


The Hobby Essay

Admissions knows (or hopes!) that you have other interests besides medicine. This is an opportunity for you to show that you are a well-rounded human with diverse interests.

Let’s take a look at some prompts:

Outside of medicine, and beyond what we can read in your application, please tell us what you’re curious about, or what you’re passionate about, or what brings you joy – and why. Some examples include listening to historical novels, exploring national parks, woodworking, baking cupcakes, podcasting, knitting, playing pickleball, filmmaking, making music, etc. Do not exceed 2500 characters including spaces (about 400 words) (University of Michigan Medical School)


Please describe your hobbies (or non-academic pursuits) and how they will influence your success as an Osteopathic medical student and/or Osteopathic physician in the future. (2000 characters) (Touro University California College of Osteopathic Medicine)


Indicate what you do for fun and diversion (hobbies, special interests, etc.). (Florida State University College of Medicine)

A strong response to a hobby essay prompt will…give admissions insight into what makes you tick when you’re out of your scrubs and in layman’s clothes. Since a career in medicine is often accompanied by stress, it’s imperative that you have other activities and hobbies in your life that allow you to decompress in a healthy, sustainable way. Maybe you want to write about your love for mountain biking in the early morning before the world wakes up, or perhaps how you kick back and play bass in an Irish punk band (does music not have healing powers, too?). Don’t list awards you’ve received; instead, tell a story about something meaningful to you. This is a chance for you to stand out and for admissions to deepen their understanding of what brings you joy.


The Gap Year Essay

In your secondary travels, you will likely come across some variation of the gap year essay. Admissions wants to know: what did you do (or what do you plan to do) between graduating college and attending medical school?  

Here are some examples of these prompts:

If you are currently not a full time student, please briefly describe the activities you are participating in this academic year. (100 words or less) (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai)


If you have taken any time off from your studies, either during or after college, please describe what you have done during this time and your reasons for doing so. (2500 characters) (NYU Grossman School of Medicine)


If you have a year or more between college graduation and medical school matriculation, describe both your completed activities and future plans during the gap period. (200 word max) (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine)


Are you planning on taking time off after college? Please describe your activities during this time in 500 characters or less. (University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine)


If you have already received your bachelor’s degree, please describe what you have been doing since graduation, and your plans for the upcoming year. (2000 characters) (The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)

A strong response will…add more context to your application. Maybe you plan to volunteer or travel the world in the year between undergrad and medical school. Perhaps you have responsibilities at home to attend to or it’s been a few years since you graduated with your Bachelor’s degree, and you’ve been acquiring real-world work experience (e.g. internships, shadowing experiences) that you will bring with you to med school. Tell your story in a way that reveals more information about you and further connects your past or near-future plans to a career in medicine.


The Leadership Essay

The leadership essay presents you with the opportunity to do a little humble bragging.

Let’s look at some prompt examples:

Tell us about your leadership experience(s) and/or key leadership skills. (Organized a fundraiser, had club/organization officer role, etc.) How do you motivate or influence people? If none, please write not applicable. (1600 characters) (Florida Atlantic University Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine)


Please share some personal examples of problem solving in a team environment and/or leadership experience that would lead to your success in a Problem Based Learning environment. (4000 characters) (Nova Southeastern University Dr. Kiran C. Patel College of Allopathic Medicine)


Describe your leadership style. Provide a specific example of how you have applied your leadership style. (100 words minimum) (Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine)


Describe examples of leadership experience in which you have significantly influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. (1000 characters) (University of Kansas School of Medicine)

A strong response will…showcase your leadership qualities without sounding boastful or grandiose. The truth is, leadership can take on many different forms, and there are different ways to be a leader. A thoughtful response will show that you not only have what it takes to step up to the plate, but also work well with and empower others, value input, and move with integrity. 


The Medical Career Essay

Many medical schools will ask about your goals as a physician, how you plan to impact medicine, and/or how you view a physician’s role within the greater community.

Let’s look at some prompt examples:

Where do you see yourself in your medical career fifteen to twenty years from now? (750 characters) (University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine)


What quality or attribute do you think is most important in being a physician? Please explain. (150 words) (Quinnipiac University Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine)


What do you consider to be the role of the physician in the community? (200 words) (Emory University School of Medicine)


Imagine and reflect upon your life and medical career at the time of retirement. What do you envision being your proudest/most significant accomplishment? (500 words) (Michigan State University College of Human Medicine)

A strong response will…show admissions that you’ve thought critically about the future you envision for yourself and have reflected on why you want to pursue a career in medicine. It will also reveal what you would like your legacy to be and how these experiences align with your long-term life goals. If it’s your first time deeply considering these questions, we recommend you leave yourself plenty of time to brainstorm and freewrite. You might just discover new things about yourself in the process!


Wait to Write:

Next up are the essay types that we recommend waiting to write.

The Why Essay

Why do you want to attend this particular medical school? Odds are you remember the Why Essay from your undergrad days. If not, let us remind you. The Why Essay is an opportunity to show admissions that you’ve done your research and can say (or write) with confidence that the school in question is the ideal school for you to pursue your degree, and in turn, you are the ideal candidate for their institution.

Let’s look at some prompt examples:

Given the distinctive educational philosophy and integrated curriculum at FSM, describe how your personal characteristics and learning style would align with the institution. (200 word max) (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine)


Please explain your reasons for applying to the Perelman School of Medicine and limit your response to 1,000 characters. 


The Admissions Committee uses a holistic approach to evaluate a wide range of student qualities and life experiences that are complementary to demonstrated academic excellence, strong interpersonal skills and leadership potential. What unique qualities or experiences do you possess that would contribute specifically to the NYU Grossman School of Medicine community?


How will the University of Connecticut School of Medicine best serve your needs of becoming a physician or physician scientist? (1800 characters)


What is your specific interest in the MD Program at GW? What opportunities would you take advantage of as a student here? Why? (1750 characters)

A strong response will…differentiate you from other applicants. Each of your Why Essays should be geared toward each particular school. Sure, you can use the same general template, but a strong Why Essay will not be fully recyclable for any other institution because it will reference specific details unique to each one.

We recommend saving this essay for later since it’s possible your dream school(s) will not invite you to complete a secondary application. However, that doesn’t mean you still can’t do some preliminary work in the meantime. In order to make the writing process easier down the line, you can begin researching the schools you’re most excited about and taking detailed notes to reference while writing your essays later. What is it about the schools that you love? How do their offerings or missions align with your goals? Having notes will make writing this essay a breeze when the time (hopefully!) comes.


The Additional Info Essay

The Additional Information Essay is an opportunity for you to address anything the school in question hasn’t asked, but you think it would behoove them to know.

Let’s look at a few examples:

If there is an important aspect of your personal background or identity or a commitment to a particular community, not addressed elsewhere in the application, that you would like to share with the Committee, we invite you to do so here. Aspects might include, but are not limited to significant challenges in or circumstances associated with access to education, living with a disability, socioeconomic factors, immigration status, or identification with a culture, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. Briefly explain how such factors have influenced your motivation for a career in medicine. Completing this section is optional. (150 words or less) (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai)


This section is optional. It should be used to bring to the attention of the Admissions Committee any important information (personal, academic, or professional) not discussed in other sections of your Yale Secondary Application. If you are a recent graduate, please also list your post-graduation plans/activities in the “Additional Information” section and submit any relevant updates for finalized plans/activities as the application year progresses. Please limit your response to 500 words. (Yale School of Medicine)


Is there any further information that you would like the Committee on Admissions to be aware of when reviewing your file that you were not able to notate in another section of this or the AMCAS Application? (No word limit) (Georgetown University School of Medicine)

A strong response will…fill in any gaps in your application and offer one additional brush stroke or lens to the portrait of your candidacy.

We recommend waiting to write this essay because it’s difficult to gauge ahead of time what questions you will be asked, and you may very well have material drafted for other applications that fit perfectly here.  


Our Advice for Creating a Plan of Action

We recommend setting a goal for yourself, whatever feels feasible for you.

In an ideal world, by the end of June, you would have six 300 to 400-word essays prepared and fully edited—that way, when the prompts roll out in July, you have quality material to pull from to piece together your responses. 

Rough drafts won’t cut it here. You should have tight paragraphs that can be moved around based on the individual prompts. 

Let’s say, for example, you encounter a prompt that asks about a time you faced adversity and how you will apply what you learned from that experience to accomplishing your future goals. If you’ve followed our advice, you will have two thoughtful essays prepared that you can finesse to become one cohesive draft for this combo prompt. 

Another tactic worth noting: manage your own expectations. If you’re applying to medical school, you’re most likely someone who cares about others and pays attention to details, so you may also be an overachiever prone to perfectionism. 

Remember: done is better than perfect. Instead of spending hours trying to get that one metaphor perfect, write down the main idea and move on to the next essay. Come July, you won’t have time to worry about such minutiae, and a finished, submitted essay is always going to be better than an absolutely perfect essay that isn’t polished until weeks after the deadline. (Also, does an absolutely perfect essay even exist?) Keep up your momentum, don’t get stuck on minute details, and try to work at a sustainable pace.

As medical school essay advising experts who have been through the process countless times, trust us: the more you can do in advance, the better. It will save you from nights of banging your head against the table as emails roll in one after the other asking you to write more essays…and giving you just two weeks to do it!  

This process is manageable, but it requires forward thinking, time management, and flexibility—all traits and skills of a successful doctor, so we know you’ve got it in you!

Want to work with a seasoned Advisor on your drafts?
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