Hello? Yeah, no, I’m back here. Behind the figurative pile of application forms. Yeah, under the stack of credit card receipts. There you go. Hi! How are you? Oh, that’s great, so glad to hear it. No, no, things haven’t been too bad. Oh, this? Just a wrist brace. Yeah, doctor says if I keep writing like this, he’s gonna have to fit me for a hook.
It’s my own fault. I knew what I was getting into when I applied to almost 40 schools. But it still blows me away to think that I have written more in the last few weeks than I have in the rest of the year combined. Fortunately, getting so many applications out the door in a timely fashion has been a task made much easier by my taking a systematic approach to pre-writing.
Do Your Research
Once I had my list of schools drawn up, I created a Google Drive spreadsheet to help me keep track of my progress. I trawled through last year’s School-Specific Discussions threads on The Student Doctor Network forums, collecting information about each medical school. People helpfully post the secondary essay prompts in these threads, and though the essays may change from year-to-year, in many cases, they stayed exactly the same. After recording the essay prompts, I’d start looking for two noteworthy dates:
Determine the date they released the secondary. In many cases, this is within the first week of the AMCAS applicant data being made available to the schools. In others, the secondary goes out much later in the summer. Use this information to prioritize the essays you want to write first.
Determine the date they released the first interview invite. This is arguably the more important date. Early interview invites mean early interviews, which mean a greater chance at an early acceptance. Plus, applying to medical school is a little crazy-making, so it’s nice to have encouraging feedback about your application earlier rather than later. If a school is known for sending out interview invitations in the first week of application season, you definitely want to make sure you’ve got that school’s essays polished and ready to go.
(Note: Some schools have pseudo-non-rolling admissions, where no acceptances are doled out until March. Early interview invites may be less important at these schools, but since they also tend to be some of the top dogs, you still might want to pre-write their essays. If nothing else, it will give you more time for editing.)
Going into this game, I knew I would not be able to realistically pre-write every school’s secondary essays, but using the above strategy allowed me to have the first ten schools’ applications ready for roll-out on day one. From that point, it was mostly a matter of being green.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Underneath some flowery language, many of the essay prompts are quite similar:
“Describe your activities for the upcoming year.”
“What was your greatest challenge, and what resources did you call upon to address it?”
“Describe your exposure to the field of medicine.”
“What are your career goals, and how will attending Clara Oswald University School of Medicine help you achieve them?”
And, my personal favorite, “How will you contribute to the diversity of our class?”
Once I had these five essays written in one form or another, altering the language to fit the school or to fit a certain number of words was simple enough. I felt a bit guilty at first, but why should I? As long as I’m answering the question and presenting truthful information about myself, I doubt admissions committees would be offended by my self-plagiarism.
For the school-specific questions, you have to do some digging and ferret out the programs that fit with your interests and your learning style. Not only is this an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework, but it’s also your chance to convince the admissions committee that your interests match their mission.
Other Secondary Tips
- Start saving yesterday - My secondary applications have ranged in cost from $65 to $130. When you’re picking schools, be realistic about the strength of your application as well as your budget.
- Try not to get arrested - Almost every secondary I’ve completed has asked me to divulge my (thankfully clean) judiciary record.
- If you don’t have a pre-medical committee letter or packet, be prepared to explain.
- Keep your transcripts handy. Yep, even though you just went through the trouble of painstakingly entering your coursework into your AMCAS application, many secondary
- applications require that you enter it in again.
- Write your essays in Google Drive. Okay, sure, this is just my personal preference, but between the continuous autosave and the relatively clutter-free interface, I pick Google Drive over MS Word every time.
So far, I’ve kept up pretty well, submitting twenty-three secondary applications in two weeks. And I’m happy to report that at least a couple of my applications hit the mark, as I’ve gotten three interview invites! The timing was perfect, actually – The first invitation landed in my inbox 45 minutes after I received my first rejection, just in time to crash the absolutely killer pity party I was winding up. Hopefully there are more to come, and I’ll be back with a progress report soon. Just have to figure out how to type with these hooks.
Photo credit: kozumel on Flickr