Journey of the Undergraduate Physician Scientist

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Navigating the Secondary Application

What are the components of a secondary application?

While secondary applications vary by institution, most consist of the same basic components: identifying/personal information, essays, a self-reported background check, and the opportunity to explain any aspect of the application that may need clarification, such as time off from school, grades, withdrawals from courses, etc. Some applications also ask for a professional headshot and the results of a CASPer assessment, which is a test that evaluates the personal and professional attributes of an individual. Note that it takes approximately three weeks to get the CASPer results back after having completed the assessment. Therefore, it is in an applicant’s best interest to take this test as early as possible if he/she is applying to schools for which CASPer is a requirement.

What is the timeline for submitting secondary applications?

Although there is some variation, secondary applications for most schools are due in December. However, the sooner applicants submit the secondary application, the more quickly the application will be reviewed by an admissions committee. It is highly recommended that applicants submit the secondary application within two weeks of receiving the invitation.

What costs are associated with the secondary application?

The cost of the secondary application varies depending on the school. Secondary application costs for DO programs ($25-$100 per school) are generally less than those for MD programs ($50-$175 per school). It is important to be cognizant that some schools may charge a lower fee if applicants submit the secondary application before a specific deadline. If a school offers this incentive it will be clearly stated in the email that contains the instructions for filling out the secondary application. If you qualify for the AAMC Fee Assistance Program, the majority of your secondary application fees will be covered.

I have submitted my primary application but have not yet been verified. What can I do in the meantime to get prepared for secondaries?

Although some schools will screen before sending secondary applications, most institutions will begin sending secondary applications right after your primary application has been verified. The number of secondary applications you will get in one day might be daunting – especially if you have applied to many schools. The best way to stay organized and prepared is to pre-write essays. Many schools recycle secondary application questions. Passport Admissions has accumulated a comprehensive list of questions that you can use to start the pre-writing process. Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions that will be on the majority of secondary applications:

Why have you chosen to apply to X University?

Take this opportunity to discuss the clinical and research resources the school offers that are of interest to you. What specific labs or graduate programs interest you? Does the school have pioneering work in the field that you wish to pursue? Does their interest in serving underserved populations align with your goals and do they have a student run clinic you anticipate working with? Use this question to succinctly summarize your goals as a physician-scientist and point out how the specific institution you are applying to will help you achieve them. Focus on the alignment of your research interests and the research programs/labs/initiatives of the university. It is important to show a basic knowledge of a school’s curriculum, or their balance between clinical and research training, but for those who plan to pursue a dual-degree, you should focus your answer towards the unique research opportunities that a university affords you.

Describe a challenge that you have faced and how you responded to it.

For this question you are encouraged to think outside of academics and talk about an instance that made you grow and mature as a person. This is a great time to talk about any unique adversities that you have overcome and the lessons you have learned. Review the Core Competencies for Entering Medical Students and discuss any of the characteristics that you developed from this experience. This can serve as a great time to bring up any part of your application that you feel requires an explanation (poor grades during a particular semester, low MCAT, etc). Moreover, do not shy away from telling personal stories, so long as you can tie in the challenge and your response to the challenge into your personal statement. These will make you memorable, and will provide a refreshing sense of personability to a committee that sifts through thousands of applications.

How will you add diversity to our school?

Use this question to talk about the non-academic interests you have developed (whether in arts, sports, or working with a specific population) and discuss how you will incorporate that component of your life into the institution to which you are applying. Consider how your perspective has developed through participation in non-academic interests thus far, how that perspective is likely different from other students, and how you can apply it to your training and the medical teams you will participate in. Also, take time to explore the clubs and organizations that are present at both the medical and graduate schools and think about the ways in which you can contribute.

I have already answered the question that is being asked in the secondary in my primary application. Can I repeat what I originally discussed?

Over time, schools have identified aspects that most applicants have failed to address in the primary application. As a result they have incorporated these questions into secondary applications. Unless it is specifically stated that you can copy information from your primary application, it is best to explore other stories and experiences. It would also be acceptable to talk about a different aspect of the same experience you have already discussed in the primary application.

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