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Examples Of Medical School Secondary Essays

Part 4: The “Why Us?” Secondary Essay

Example "Why Us?" Essay Prompts

Example 1: “What makes LLUSM particularly attractive to you?” (Loma Linda University School of Medicine)

Example 2: “How will becoming a Creighton educated physician enable you to achieve your lifetime goals and/or aspirations?” (Creighton University School of Medicine)

"Why Us?" Essay Background

These are everyone’s favorite prompts (I wish my sarcasm could jump through the screen).

The first step to writing an effective “Why us?” essay is to restrain yourself from writing about how great their medical school is or where it's located.

Glad that’s out of the way.

Consider why admissions committees want you to answer this question. After all, they know you’re applying to many other schools and that your GPA and MCAT scores are at least reasonably close to their admission averages (learn Where to Apply to Medical School to Maximize Admissions Odds).

Admissions committees read thousands of essays annually and want to know that you’ve considered them for reasons beyond the obvious (location, prestige, average GPA and MCAT, etc.).

By integrating your qualities, experiences, and aspirations with their specific mission, programs, and resources, you will have a unique opportunity to demonstrate "fit" in your application. Don’t take this for granted!

"Why Us?" Essay Misconception 1: “I should just read a school’s mission statement and research available resources on their website, and then rewrite the same information in essay form.”

The vast majority of students approach the “Why us?” essay this way, so it won’t make your response seem very special.

I basically see the expanded version of the following essay 90+% of the time:

“I want to go to [School Name] because of their wonderful [program name] and incredible [resources]. {Program] cultivates [attribute] that helps their students become great physicians. In addition, [resources] provide support to help students reach their potential.”

You should be able to see how this essay says nothing about why YOU want to go to their school.

Moreover, medical schools already know about all of the programs and resources they offer, so you wouldn’t be providing much value through your writing.

The better approach to this essay would be to look through schools’ websites to find programs and resources that actually interest you and to identify what each school keeps boasting about (e.g., perhaps they mention diversity or early clinical experience multiple times on their homepage). Then, consider:

  • How YOUR experiences fit with their offerings
  • What YOU could contribute
  • How YOU would uniquely benefit from their program

For example, if a school focuses a lot on community service and you have similar experiences, mention that. In addition, let the school know how you want to further focus your skills while there. On the other hand, if you have a more research heavy background and are applying to the same school, you could either focus on research or discuss how community service will make you a more well-rounded physician. The more specific you can be, the better.

"Why Us?" Essay Misconception 2: “There’s no other way to find out information about a medical school than by reading their site.”

Looking at a school’s website and demonstrating fit is certainly a tried-and-true approach to answering "Why us?" essay prompts, but it isn’t the only one.

To really impress admissions committees, you could integrate information from current students or recent alumni into your response. Ask these individuals whether they would be willing to share their experiences attending a particular school, and also whether you would be a good fit there given your background and goals.

How do you find these people? The easiest people to contact are those you know personally or through a mutual acquaintance. Otherwise, you could contact a school’s administrative staff and ask whether they could connect you to a current student. While this requires additional work, it will be well worth it for your top school preferences.

If you have to contact a stranger, use the following email template:

“Dear [Student Name],

I hope this email finds you well. My name is [Your Name}, and I am currently completing my med school applications. I’m especially interested in attending [School Name] and am therefore hoping to get some more information about the program. [School Name]'s admissions committee gave me your email address as someone who could help me out.

I'd really appreciate it if you would spare 15-20 minutes to answer 3-5 quick questions in the upcoming days. If so, please let me know some days and times that are most convenient for you, your time zone, and the best number to reach you. I’ll do my best to accommodate.

Thanks for your time and consideration. Looking forward to hearing from you soon!

Best,

[Your Name]

Sample "Why Us?" Essay

(Note: All identifying details have been changed.)

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Throughout my undergrad years, I’ve found that working hard to involve myself with others and their unique perspectives is one of the most productive ways in which I can learn. For example, I used to believe that illnesses were just a set of tangible symptoms that resulted solely from maladaptive genes. However, after working closely with families in Boston's inner city, I have come to realize how racial, physical, and social factors, such as a lack of access to fresh produce or primary health services, can influence the likelihood of disease. As I obtained a broader understanding of the many factors that contribute to health, I find myself asking new questions and wanting to learn more. How can we properly assess a community’s needs and design appropriate solutions? How can an understanding of sociocultural factors be used to heal current patients and prevent new ones? I believe that the answers to these questions and others will come from the Community Health Program at the University of Washington (UW). The year-round lecture series on topics, such as “Health Disparities: An Unequal World's Biggest Challenge,” will allow me to engage closely with faculty and students to work towards developing holistic community-based solutions. Furthermore, the UW PEERS clinic and Friends of UW provide an opportunity to work closely with urban Seattle neighborhoods similar to those I have worked with in Boston. Having connected with a range of Boston families, varying in age, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity, I have improved my sense of self-awareness and cultural sensitivity, attributes I hope to continue developing with the surrounding Seattle community. I am confident that UW and the Community Health Program can further prepare me to be a physician who not only improves the lives of individual patients, but also addresses the needs of entire communities.

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Final Thoughts

Secondary applications will likely be one of the most time-consuming, stressful, and exhausting parts of your application process (the other is the medical school admission interview circuit if you’re fortunate to receive multiple invitations).

Nevertheless, you should give yourself some breaks to recharge so that you never rush submissions for the sake of rolling admissions and sacrifice quality.

Like every other piece of written material you submit, aim not only to answer the prompt, but also to give admissions committees deeper insights into what makes YOU so great for their school specifically.

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There is no rest for the medical school applicant! A few weeks after you submit your AMCAS application, med schools will start mailing secondary applications, composed primarily of a short list of essay questions. Here's how to tackle them.

Who receives Secondary Applications?

Most schools indiscriminately send secondary applications, meaning that every living, breathing candidate who submitted a primary application will likely get a secondary one, regardless of their chances for admission. There are, however, a few student-friendly schools that will review GPA and MCAT scores to be sure you meet their minimum admissions standards before they send a secondary application. In many cases, schools betray what type of student they are looking for in the type of secondary question they ask. If you have strong answers for their questions, it is possible you have the characteristics they are most looking for in an applicant.

Writing the Secondary Essay

Check out our top strategies for writing your secondary essays and relieve some med school application stress.

1. Answer the Question Being Asked

Unlike primary applications, secondary applications ask specific questions about your goals, experiences, and your personal views on a range of topics, including your decision to go to medical school. Your secondaries will be read to see how they complement what you have said in your primary application. At the most basic level, your secondary application is another test to see whether you can adequately understand directions (this time, the school’s specific directions), and focus yourself to answer the question that was asked.

2. Focus on New Material

If you are willing to put in a little effort, secondaries are a great time to elaborate on elements that received less attention in your primary application. For example, if you write in your personal statement about a primary care experience, you may want to point out some research experience in your secondary applications. A discussion of how research broadened or deepened your interest would show that you are an even broader applicant than your initial application suggested.  

3. Every Word Counts

If you are given enough room on certain questions, you may want to follow the thesis, body, and conclusion structure that you would use for a longer essay. Don’t, however, try to squeeze in extra words by using a font more than a point smaller than your AMCAS application. That approach always appears forced, and you come across as a rule bender—not an ideal image to portray to med schools.

4. Know What To Expect

Secondary questions run the gamut from personal to political to pointless. If you want to see what a school’s secondary application entails ahead of time, many premed advisors keep a file with the previous year’s secondary applications. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are a few questions from recent applications.

  • "What do you consider to be the role of the physician in the community?" (Emory University)
  • "What personal accomplishment are you most proud of and why? " (University of California, Irvine)
  • "What has been your most humbling experience and how will that experience affect your interactions with your peers and patients? " (Duke University)
  • "Tell us about a difficult or challenging situation you have encountered and how you dealt with it ." (University of Chicago)
  • "Where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why? " (New York University)

5. Make a Game Plan

As you begin to receive secondary applications, you will have a few potential approaches.

Strategy 1:

Focus your energy first on the schools that you would most like to attend.

Strategy 2:

Hold off sending secondaries to the more competitive schools until you’ve sent out a few to the less competitive ones. For many students, their last secondaries will be better written than their first.

Strategy 3:

Reply first to schools whose secondaries ask questions to which you can easily give solid answers. This allows you to work your way up to the more difficult applications.

Strategy 4:

Practice writing secondary statements even before you get your first ones, so that you can send out well-written, personalized responses to your top choices first.

Only you can know which approach will work best for you! Check out more tips about writing the personal statement for medical school.


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