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Deciding how many secondary apps to fill out

July 13, 2009

Now is the time of year when seniors are furiously filling out secondary applications for med schools.  Filling out secondary apps can be an overwhelming experience.  Remember these three things:

  1. Some ask for tons of information and can be very long.
  2. Most are expensive.
  3. You have limited time.

You have limited time and money, but want to put your best foot forward and have the best shot at getting into the medical school of your choice.  This is where the art of prioritization becomes critical.  With the AMCAS application (the primary app for med school), you can simply click on each of the med schools you want to apply to.  It takes a very minimal amount of time (although you end up paying an extra $30 for each).  However, secondary apps require more time and attention, and–more importantly–more money.  Secondary apps generally ask more in-depth essay questions, some of which may require considerable time and attention to complete.  On top of that, most will cost you between $50 and $100 to submit.  (This is just a money-making scheme for med schools, but that topic is beyond the scope of this post.)

Don’t assume that because a med school has sent you an email requesting you to fill out a secondary app that they actually think you are a good candidate for their school. Remember, they are trying to cover their bases too and are casting a wide net to assure they have enough “good” candidates to fill their class.  Many schools will automatically send you a request for a secondary app without even looking at your primary application.

My best advice is to pick a limited amount of schools (probably 5 to 10) to apply to.  At this point in the application process it becomes critical to be realistic about where you are likely to get in and where you would actually like to go.  Face up to the reality that you may not be very likely to get into that Ivy League med school you always dreamed about or any state school where you are not an in-state resident.  (Remember, almost every single state school heavily favors their own residents because their tax dollars support them.  Some even have a mandate that a certain percentage of the class must be in-state residents.)  At the same time, realize there are some schools were you may have a good shot at getting in, but would never actually end up going.  Once you have done this, you should have a small group of schools that you 1) hope to get into, 2) will likely get into, and 3) will definitely get into and end up going even if it’s a last option.

It’s helpful to do this for the primary application process (it saves you the extra $30 it costs to send your AMCAS application to a school you would never get into or go to), but it is absolutely critical for the secondary application process.

Have a select number of schools you want to go to (and have a decent shot at getting into) and fill out those secondary applications to your best ability.


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