Secondary Application Tutorial Part 1
Secondary Application Tutorial Part 2
Secondary Application Tutorial Part 3
Secondary Application Tutorial Part 4
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Helpful Tips for Completing the Secondary Application
There are so many layers to the application processes to medical, dental, PA and pharmacy school that its easy to get confused. There is the primary application processed through centralized application services like the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) or the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) and common to all programs. Then there is the individual school application which is frequently referred to as the secondary or supplemental application. Applicants often get stressed out because the supplemental applications to medical school, dental school or PA school have their own essay prompts and can be tricky to answer. Here we would like to offer a few basic tips to help you navigate the secondary application process:
Tip Number 1: Timing — The first point to keep in mind with the secondary application is timing! After you submit your primary application, you will get inundated with secondaries and its easy to sit on them or to get too caught up trying to make sure they are perfect. With secondaries you do not have to be as meticulous as with the personal statement. Its still important to pay attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure but do not go through 10 iterations of each secondary essay you draft. We suggest getting each secondary out no later than a week after you have received it. If you cannot get it in within the first week, do not take more than 2 weeks to turn it in.
Tip Number 2: Outline — Another tip, which many applicants find useful is to begin the writing process for the secondary application by coming up with a skeleton or outline for you response. Even if you do not want to write out an outline, come up with a mental outline in your head. Start by reading the prompt carefully and coming up with an organizational scheme for how you are going to answer the question. If the prompt asks, “describe a challenge you faced in your life and tell us what you learned from it?” think about the organization of you response before you even start writing. For example, you can devote one paragraph to describing the challenge and a second paragraph to explaining what you learned from it. Once you have decided on an organizational scheme, stick to it and make sure you keep ideas in the proper paragraph.
Tip Number 3: Detail — A common question applicants frequently ask regarding the secondary applications is, how much detail should they put into their secondary application responses? The best way to gage this is to look at the character limit to the response. If the prompt gives you a page, they expect you to include details but if they only give you 500 characters, you will not have much room to expand on your responses.
Tip Number 4: Copying and Pasting — Is copying and pasting responses from one secondary into another acceptable? This depends on whether the answer applies. It is always important to read the essay prompt carefully. If the prompt is similar but not identical, you may have to modify your answer. For example, one prompt may ask you to describe a single experience that was most influential in your decision to become a physician, dentist, or PA while another may ask you to describe how your collective clinical experiences led to your decision to pursue medicine. Although these ideas in both responses may overlap, the prompts are not identical. So if you copy the response to one and paste into the other, you will have to make modifications. Also, remember that under no circumstances should you copy and paste parts of your personal statement into your secondary responses.
Tip Number 5: Answer the Question — An obvious but often neglected point to keep in mind when responding to secondary questions is to read the essay prompts carefully and to make sure to respond to the question without going off on tangents. Applicants often use the space to provide explanations, which they deem as important without paying attention to the question prompt. Often times, an applicant will use the space provided to talk about themselves even if the question is asking something else.
Here is an example to demonstrate the point: A common question on secondary applications is, “What qualities would you bring to our school?”
So many people like to respond to this question by writing a long-winded essay about their experiences working at a hospital, shadowing physicians or PAs, assisting dentists or serving an underprivileged community. But this narrative does not answer the question. It would be appropriate if the prompt asked you to describe your non-academic experience as a premedical or pre-PA student. Make sure your response to the question is framed in a way that answers the prompt. If you are going to refer to your previous experiences in your response to the above question, it should only be as a part of a bigger narrative to demonstrate how you acquired the qualities that you would bring to the school. The better way to frame your answer to this prompt is to start by describing the qualities that you would bring to their program and telling your reader why these qualities would be important. To show your reader how you acquired these qualities, you may briefly mention your prior clinical or community services experiences.
For example if you have served an underprivileged community for several years in a clinical or non-clinical capacity, you may incorporate this experience into your response. But if the question is asking what you would bring to their program, you should avoid elaborating on this experience too much without mentioning what you would bring to the school. Instead, consider what qualities this experience has given you and what it says about you. For example, it may demonstrate that you are committed to the underserved. And it may have taught you more about how culture affects healthcare. Using this approach you can respond to the question by explaining that you would bring a commitment to the underserved and an appreciation for how culture affects health to their program. It would also be valuable to explain why these qualities would be useful in medical school or dental school or PA school. You could argue that your passion for giving back to the underserved would translate into your regular participation in free clinics as a student at their school. Or you may argue that your passion for the underprivileged would motivate you to work with other students to come up with community projects to help low-income populations. After you have answered the question, you can mention in 1-2 sentences how you acquired this passion and commitment through your previous experiences.
Now lets consider a few common questions that you may encounter on a secondary application:
1) Why do you want to attend our program?
How would you go about answering this question? First, avoid using a generic answer. If you say something like I want to attend your school because of your superb academic environment, your state of the art facilities, and your dedicated faculty, you are not saying anything special about their program. Show your reader that you have done your homework about the school and you are seriously considering the program by getting into specifics. One way to get an overall sense of the school’s priorities is to read their mission statement. This will give you a sense of their general philosophy, their values, and what they emphasize. Also, look at specific parts of the curriculum, community-based and research opportunities, and other offerings at the school that you find appealing. Once you have identified these, do not just list them. Instead explain how these specific opportunities would improve your learning experience and enable you to become a better healthcare provider.
2) How you would contribute to the diversity of the incoming class?
For this question, its valuable to draw on your personal experiences. If you grew up in another country or your parents immigrated from another country, explain how your family life helped you become familiar with another culture. Also, provide details about how your exposure to a different culture helps you understand people. But you don’t have to be from another culture to contribute diversity. Even if you are a 5th generation American and you have never been abroad, you likely have had plenty of opportunities to learn about other cultures. This learning may have taken place in college through interactions with diverse students. Or perhaps it happened during your community service or clinical experiences where you cared for individuals from other ethnicities. These experiences would enable you to contribute to the diversity of the incoming class and should be highlighted. Also, diversity is not just about the different cultures you have been exposed to. If you have been involved in unique experience such as athletics or the arts or scientific research, remember these experiences make you diverse.
3) Describe your involvement with underserved communities
There are many different variations to this question. The question prompt may ask you to share your most significant community service activity or ask you to explain how your community service activities have influenced your decision to become a physician, dentist, or PA. With this type of questions, there are two important points to keep in mind:
- First, do not state that seeing the plight of poor people made you more appreciative of your own life. That does not make you sound giving and selfless, instead it makes you come across as if you are more concerned about your own happiness and you see everything through your own lens. This is a common mistake that applicants make when describing their experiences working with underserved populations.
- Second, when you talk about community service activities, do not talk focus too much on the gratitude and appreciation expressed by the communities you served. Its not uncommon for applicants to talk about being inspired to go into medicine, dentistry or the PA profession after seeing patients thank them and express gratitude. When you say this, it sounds as if you need the reinforcement from patients to feel rewarded. The people reviewing your application want to know that you are truly committed to service and that your desire to give back is not driven by external factors like gratitude from patients. In the real world, not every person you serve will be thankful.
Hopefully the pointers we have reviewed here will help you get off to a good start as you begin to work on your secondaries. For further assistance with secondary applications, please call us at 1-888-839-9997 or visit us at www.admissionshelpers.com