Pre-Med Chat Transcript - July 14, 1999

Pre-Med Chat Transcript - July 14, 1999

Unfortunately, the excellent discussion and material discussed in the July 14, 1999 Secondary Essay Chat was lost due to technical difficulties related to our chat software.

We have already taken steps to eliminate similar problems in the future, and we apologize for any inconvenience that the lack of this transcript may cause our clients and Web site visitors. In an effort to provide our viewers with as much information pertaining to the secondary essay chat as possible, Linda Abraham has published her prepared presentation below.

Please feel free to let us know if you would like to be informed of future chats by sending e-mail to We would also be interested in knowing if you would prefer a different format - all question-and-answer for example - or different topics.

Secondary Essay Chat

Welcome to's second online chat. Appropriately enough, we will focus on secondary essays this evening.

I encourage dialogue and discussion, but I would like to suggest a structure to make it easier to follow the threads of conversation. So here is the protocol:

I will post material to the chat. If you have a question on that material, please type a '?' and then your question. I and/or other participants will reply. If one of you wants to comment on the current topic, please jump right in. If you want to start a different topic, please type '?'.

I also want to introduce Paul Bodine, who will be helping me lead the chat. He is one of's editors. Thank you for joining us, Paul.

I will open the second part of the chat to questions. Please ask any questions that you have pertaining to writing secondary essays. If we have time at the end, I will open it up to questions on any aspect of writing for medical school admission - AMCAS essay, non-AMCAS personal statements, secondaries, or letters of recommendation. Again if you want to ask a question or raise a new subject, please type '?'; if you want to comment on a topic currently being discussed, type away!

OK. Let's get started. First a question for all of you: How do secondary essays differ from the AMCAS essay?

  1. Frequently more focused and directed.
  2. Often writing more than one essay for the application
  3. Length varies enormously from school to school.

What do these differences and the fact that you have already written an AMCAS essay and submitted the AMCAS application imply when you write secondaries?

These differences have a few implications:

  1. Each essay is part of a larger whole. In writing the essays you should be aware of the information that the reader already has, including your GPA, MCAT, AMCAS application, letters of recommendation, and other information requested in the secondary.

  2. Each essay is another opportunity for you to sell the school on your qualifications and your fit with the school.

  3. Make sure you answer the question. This may seem obvious, but when you are sending in your tenth secondary application, there is a strong temptation simply to cut and paste an essay that answered a similar question. Use the first essay as a starting point, but adapt it to make sure you really do answer later questions.

  4. If you have the space - let's say a page a more - you have room for a lead, theme, body and conclusion. If you only have half a page, you probably only have room for a theme, example, and one sentence conclusion. And if you only have a couple of lines, get to the point as succinctly as possible.

I'd like to go back to the importance of these essays being part of a larger whole. Think of your application as a jigsaw puzzle. The secondary essays are puzzle pieces, and they need to fill in gaps in the school's picture of you.

Therefore you want to add to and supplement the information provided elsewhere; you do not want to duplicate or contradict other information. When tackling a new secondary application with multiple questions, take a minute to strategize. If your application has a question asking about research, don't go into depth about your research on other questions. If none of the questions ask about hobbies, and you were captain of your school's varsity tennis team, try to work that fact into an essay about achievement.

You can tie into the themes raised in your AMCAS, but as much as possible bring out additional facets of your experience, personality and background by discussing other influences, interests, and experiences that are important to you.

In deciding what to include you can use the same criteria I mentioned in the AMCAS essay chat: Include what is most important to you and most distinctive about you. Try to provide evidence of accomplishment, leadership, initiative, empathy, and good interpersonal skills. As always, use specifics to support your main points and distinguish yourself from the competition. Make sure your essay follows the rules of good grammar and style.

Let's look at some typical secondary questions:

  1. Why do you want to be a doctor or what has been the most significant influence on your decision to enter medicine?

Answer this question conceptually and in terms of your experiences. Saying "I want to help people" is not enough. Why do you want to help people through a career in medicine? How did you determine that this is your path?

Some of you may have written about crucible-like experiences in your AMCAS. Even though it may answer the question, do not just paste your AMCAS essay into the secondary slot. Give the adcoms more reason to admit you by telling them more about you. You can write "In addition to the influence of XYZ discussed in my AMCAS essay, the ABC experience proved critical to my decision to enter medicine." Then discuss ABC and how it influenced you.

If you emphasized a personal experience, i.e. the illness of someone close to you in the AMCAS or a personal achievement, then perhaps now is the time to dwell on your exploration of medicine in college. Conversely, if you focused on clinical and research experiences in the AMCAS, here is your chance to discuss the personal achievements or influences that may have motivated you to explore medicine.

In discussing these events, as in writing all your secondary essays, combine description and analysis. Description without analysis will seem list-like. Bland declarative statements about your dedication or other fine qualities without specifics will read like a boring collection of platitudes.

Any questions on this type of question?

  1. Discuss an important non-medical experience and its influence upon you.

Well that's pretty straightforward. You can describe an obstacle overcome, a personal achievement, travel, a hobby, sport, or discipline. Again, try to choose instances where you demonstrated a quality like discipline, initiative, leadership, empathy, and interpersonal skills. Then discuss how the experience influenced you. How did your life change as a result? What insight did you acquire? Please don't just say that the experience matured you. Day-to-day living matures you too. Again combine description and analysis, and in the analysis try to achieve a little depth and individuality.

Any questions on this type of question?

  1. Discuss an important medical experience and its influence upon you.

Again, a pretty straightforward question. Bring out a medically related experience that you didn't have time to discuss in other essays or the AMCAS. Alternatively, you can discuss a great clinical experience in greater detail or different aspects of that activity that you had to omit in the other essays.

As in the non-medical experience, combine description and use of details with analysis.

Any questions on this type of question?

  1. Why do you want to attend this school?

    Some students think it is clever to write something so generic that all they have to do is change the school's name, and they can use it for all secondaries. The generic response is usually a little more elaborate than the following, but it goes something like this:

    "I want to attend ABC Medical School because of its early clinical exposure, outstanding research facilities, exceptional faculty, and diverse student body. In addition I am really attracted by your big city/rural (choose one) location."

    Wrong approach. The schools want to know why you would pick their school from among the many with early clinical exposure, outstanding research facilities, etc. What programs do they have that attract you? Is there a fit between the school's approach and your interests? (There should be.) Is there a professor with whom you would like to do research? Why is this school among the others that offer in-state tuition (if that is the attraction) and an appealing locale, the one you want to attend?

Any questions on this type of question?

  1. What are your career goals, or where do you see yourself in ten years?

    What do you want to be doing in ten years? Do you see yourself as a specialist completing a fellowship? Practicing as a primary care physician in a large HMO? As a family doctor in a rural practice?

    Write clearly about your goal and the way you intend to achieve it. By doing so, you will demonstrate your realistic knowledge of the medical profession and typical career paths.

    Any questions on this type of question?

  2. What do you bring to medicine?

No laundry lists of stellar qualities, please. After a while they become positively nauseating.

However, a revealing incident or two that illustrates the qualities A) you believe are important to medicine and B) you will bring to the field could be an excellent addition to your application.

Any questions on this type of question?

This concludes the presentation part of the chat. I would like to open the floor, or at least the keyboard, to your questions.

Just a couple of reminders: While I am happy to discuss approaches to the secondary essays and questions of content, this is not a forum for posting your essays and receiving feedback.

Also, please remember the protocol posted on the chat.htm page and at the beginning of this chat: If you have a question or want to raise a new topic, please type a '?' and I will reply. If one of you want to respond to a question or comment on the current topic, please jump right in. If you want to start a different topic, please type '?'.

Thank you again for coming. Good luck!