1. They receive them late.
Many medical schools will make their secondary application available to you (by mail or online) within a few weeks of receiving your AMCAS primary application. Submitting a late primary gives you a late start overall. Thanks to the reality of rolling admissions, if you postpone submitting your AMCAS until late summer or early fall, you'll start receiving secondary applications just as the first crop has finished interviewing and is starting to get acceptances. The number of seats available in next year's entering class has begun to drop, and by this time, the number of applicants competing for those seats has swelled.
2. They mail them back late.
Ideally, you want to return the secondary applications to medical schools within a couple of days of receiving them. Yes, you read that correctly! The quicker you return their secondaries, the more obvious your enthusiasm about attending their school. Now, you *could* put pressure on yourself to compose 2-3 pages of thoughtful, specific prose for each school within 24 hours of receiving each application. But clearly, the best way to turn them around immediately is to have your secondary essays practically done before the applications arrive. Fortunately, secondary essay prompts are widely available nowadays-just ask someone who applied to medical school last year, or consult a pre-med advisor.
3. They are late in other ways.
Tardy letters of recommendation can postpone the evaluation of your application indefinitely. If the letters of reference aren't already in your file at the medical schools by the time you mail back your completed secondary application, how can admissions evaluate your complete application and make a decision to offer you an interview? It may be your recommenders' responsibility to write the letters of reference, but the burden of making sure they follow through falls upon your shoulders alone.
4. They don't distinguish themselves in their writing.
Applicants feel that so much is at stake that they are afraid to take risks in their application; as a result, many of the essays we read are very "safe" (translation: unoriginal and not distinctive). The writing that you do for medical schools needs to focus on your unique attributes. Share your passion for medicine and healing with medical school, but be careful of blanket statements that are not backed up with specific experiences. Learn to craft an artful story.
5. They repeat themselves in the wrong way.
At INQUARTA, we advise our clients to create an image of consistency in their secondary applications by revisiting the Core Themes that they laid out in their AMCAS primary application. However, some applicants mistake our advice to accentuate Core Themes as permission to rehash the same stories from their personal statement. Just remember, you're continuing a conversation, not starting from scratch.
6. They miss a crucial opportunity to distinguish themselves.
You will be asked: "Why are you applying to our medical school?" The knee-jerk response of the overwhelming majority of applicants to this question is to list reasons why the med school is convenient for the student. (e.g. "I look forward to taking advantage of your school's ABCD curriculum and EFGH research facility.")
Stop and ask yourself instead: "In what ways will I be able to make a meaningful social, educational and scientific contribution to this medical school community - both the faculty and fellow medical students?" Thinking deeply about this question will help you create an answer that will separate yourself from the pack.
7. They don't proofread.
Applicants cut and paste essays from one medical school's secondary application to another (which is fine)-but then forget to proofread the document for school-specific references (which is NOT fine). Imagine how School X admissions officials might feel as they read an essay assuring them: "School Y is my top choice school!" Remember, the more specifically you tailor one set of application essays for one school, the more references you have to seek out and change as you re-tailor it for another school.
8. They don't do enough research on the medical schools.
Most applicants rely solely on the school's website or prospectus to gather information-and then parrot mission statements back to the medical school as a reason for choosing them (e.g. "I am attracted to School Z because your medical program seeks to improve the human condition through excellence in educating students, physicians and the public.") The laziness of this method is transparently bad. Instead, use your networking skills to uncover insights about the program that aren't available to everyone. Do you know any alumni or current students? And if you don't personally have any contacts, think again: would your friends, relatives, faculty mentors happen to know anybody connected with the school? The "inside information" gained from a quick interview can boost the quality of your responses considerably.