Completing the Jigsaw Puzzle
By the time admissions people start reading the secondaries they know a little bit about you. They have seen your transcript, GPA, and MCATs. They have also reviewed your AMCAS essay so they should have read what you think is most important for them to know. But of course pieces are still missing from this picture of you.
The secondaries must fill in the missing pieces. And just like a completed jigsaw puzzle, secondary essays combined with the rest of your application should present as sharp and clear a picture of you as possible. The secondary essays should not only flesh out the school's image of you, but seamlessly complement the other parts of the application without overlap.
So how do you write secondary essays that will accomplish all that? You provide supplemental information that ties into the themes and activities discussed in the other material. If you emphasized your impressive research experience in your AMCAS essay, either discuss research experiences you didn't have space to bring out there, or go into more depth about the experiences you already dealt with. Perhaps you can give different examples from your independent research project or honors thesis. Maybe you can examine the laboratory experience you had as opposed to the clinical research experience you already wrote about. Use secondaries to fill in the gaps.
If the secondary application questions give you enough room, you can use the same structure you used for your personal statement — lead, thesis, body, conclusion. This framework, used by journalists everywhere to sell their articles and persuade their readers, provides an engaging, compelling structure for your essays. If, however, you only have a third of a page or less to respond to a question, you probably won't have enough room. Get right to the point.
Following the suggestions in Ten Do's and Don'ts for Your Personal Statement will help you write effective secondaries. So remember to unite your essay with a theme and only include information that supports it. As always, specifics will strengthen and distinguish your writing, but be sure to both describe and analyze the important events, people, and experiences in your life. Let the reader know what is important to you and why. Anecdotes and specifics without reflection will read like a disconnected list. Reflection without specifics will result in a collection of generic statements and platitudes. And of course, make sure your essays are correctly written and professional in appearance.
Unlike the AMCAS application, secondary applications will have specific questions. Be certain your essays answer the questions they are addressing. Don't use canned answers. While you can cut and paste, take the time to answer each question — not just the questions asked on the first application you worked on.
Approaches to Common Secondary Questions
Why do you want to attend this school?
In answering this question, show that you have researched the school and its programs. Discuss the program's distinctive attraction for you. If you are interested in a particular specialty and this school is especially strong in that area, discuss your interest in that field and the special opportunities the school provides. Perhaps mention the work of a particular professor whom you admire. Briefly write about the advantages of the school's location and its appeal, but don't make the accidents of geography the main focus of this essay.
Where do you hope to be in ten years?
To further bring out your experiences and add pieces to the jigsaw puzzle that is you, tie your future to your past with this school's program: Show how your aspirations stem from past experience and then discuss how the school's program will enable you to achieve your goals. Use this essay to demonstrate your knowledge of the medical profession and that you have given some thought about your future. Show that you have realistic goals while discussing your anticipated career path.
What clinical experiences influenced your decision to go into medicine?
View this question as a great opportunity to fill in some gaps in that picture you are trying to create. If you discussed the most important aspect of your clinical experience in your AMCAS essay, for this question you can discuss some other aspects of that experience while reminding your reader briefly of the points made in the AMCAS essay. Alternatively, you can discuss a volunteer experience that you didn't have room to mention in the AMCAS essay and reinforce some of the points you made there using different anecdotes and examples. As always use specifics, but remember to reflect on those incidents so the reader will know why you considered them important enough to include.
So far Accepted's medical section has emphasized content, but of course, persuasive writing requires good style, grammar, vocabulary, usage, etc. You know, those nit-picky details that most people prefer not to think about. Well if you prefer to continue not thinking about them or if you don't think you know enough about them to ensure good writing, visit Accepted's review and editing service.
By Linda Abraham, Founder and President of Accepted