So you’ve finally submitted your AMCAS primary application. You’ve made your list of medical schools, including everything from a good number of “safety” schools to your dream medical institutions.

You feel the relief of being done with the monstrous MCAT exam, and you’ve turned in your finely crafted personal statement. Now, it’s time to get to work on those secondary applications. Depending on the number of schools that you chose to send your primary application to in the first place, you may or may not wish to actually spend the time and money to submit secondary applications to all of your primary application schools. Taking a wise approach to secondary applications can save you a good sum of money and good amount of energy in the long run.

The Statistics

Even though you’ve already taken the time to choose all of the schools that you wished to send your primary application to in the first place, a careful consideration of statistics is still probably a good idea when working on your secondary applications. This is important because, despite what many premedical students think, getting offered the opportunity to submit a secondary application to a medical school does not necessarily mean that the school is actually interested in you. Sadly, there is a good chance that they are simply interested in your money, and at around $100 per application, the financial burden associated with submitting an impressive number of applications quickly adds up. While some schools are noble enough to automatically send rejection responses to any applicants who they already know don’t fit their minimal requirements for entrance interviews, the frustrating truth is that most will not; most schools, on the other hand, will wait until you’ve taken the time to submit your secondary application (and its accompanying fee) before letting you know that you don’t fit their ideal applicant standards.

Because of this, taking the time to reconsider some of the schools that you’ve chosen to apply to in the first place is a wise decision. Current admission statistics can never tell you with absolute certainty whether or not you will be offered an interview at a particular medical school, but they certainly can give you a good idea of what your chances of getting offered such an interview even are. If there are a lot of factors working against you for a particular school (out of state residency, lower than average MCAT, lower than average GPA, etc.), you may want to reconsider whether submitting a secondary application to that school is really worth it. Completing secondary applications can easily consume your time, energy, and money; if your chances of getting accepted into any certain school are particularly slim, you may wish to choose to not submit a secondary to that institution, even if they have invited you to do so.

The Specifics

Another important consideration regarding secondary applications that may save you much headache in the long run is that of the specific requirements of each school. Finding out the application deadline is easy, but in order for your secondary applications to actually be worth your time, you will need to do much more research into the specific requirements of each and every school that you have been invited to submit an application to.

Specifically, you’ll need to make sure that you are well aware of both the premed admission requirements and the application requirements for every school. While there are the general, standardized courses that all premedical students have to take in order to have the knowledge necessary for the MCAT, there are also often premedical admission requirements specific to each school. For instance, some schools might require the equivalent of one more course in humanities than others do; some schools might have certain math course requirements as part of their premedical standards also. Again, a school can easily be sending you an invitation to submit a secondary application simply because you included them on your list of primary application recipients and not because you actually meet all of their admissions requirements. Doing your research regarding the specifics of these requirements is definitely to your benefit.

As mentioned above, in addition to the premedical student admissions requirements, the specifics of each school’s application requirements also must be considered. Some schools might require a certain number of hours to have been spent “shadowing” a practicing physician. Many schools have very specific requirements regarding letters of recommendation; be sure to know which schools require which letters, and make sure that these letters are submitted accordingly.

The Essays and Interviews

Of course, completing and submitting your secondary applications is just part of the entire medical school application process. There is still work to be done in your interviews. However, you can make your time interviewing easier if you do all of your difficult research for each school at the time that you are filling out your secondary applications. Most secondary applications include mini essay sections, and these sections often include questions about why you wish to attend that particular medical school and why you think that you would be a good candidate for their class of 20__.

Having an extremely generic answer to these questions might save you time, since doing so will enable you to submit multiple secondary applications with minimal effort. However, a generic answer can easily be spotted by admissions committees and will not showcase any strong desire on your part to attend any particular school. Therefore, it is a much wiser plan to spend the time to research some of the unique factors of a certain medical school at the time that you are compiling these secondary application essays. Does the school have a strong emphasis on medical outreach in its local community? Are graduates of the medical school known for their disaster relief work overseas? Is research a strong emphasis of the institution? Is having a diverse student body something that they pride themselves in? Do your research to find a particular aspect of the school that resonates with your own personal desire to pursue medicine, and base your secondary application’s essays upon accordingly.

Doing your research for these essays should be the only instance you need to spend dedicated time researching the school. This is because you can save yourself time when it comes to your interviews by reviewing all of the information that you submitted in each secondary application to each school; not only will this help you save time when it’s time to prepare for your interview, but it also will help you be prepared if an interviewer asks you a specific question about an item in your application. (Some schools do not allow you to access your application material once you submit it. Save a separate copy of all information that you plan on submitting to a school prior to submitting it, just in case this is that school’s policy.)

The Decision

Finally, after all of your hard work is finished—after you’ve done your research, submitted your secondary applications, and dominated your medical school interviews—it may very well be time for you to start actually choosing which school to attend. For some premeds, this “problem” of having to choose between multiple medical schools won’t come around; getting into “just” one medical school is inarguably a huge accomplishment in and of itself. However, for those talented few who find themselves with more than one medical school acceptance letter to consider, making that final decision of where to pursue a medical education can be easier if they have chosen to be proactive about the process the entire time.

One way to do this is to force yourself to write down reflections on each school immediately after you complete your interview process for it. Memories can easily get distorted with time and emotions, and this often causes us to remember things differently than they actually occurred. Taking the time to write down an honest opinion on your experience at each school that you might possibly receive a letter of acceptance from is an important way to ensure that your final medical school selection decision is done as factually as possible. Factors to consider include the overall feeling of the interviews (Did you leave your interviews feeling encouraged? How did you feel that you were treated by the faculty with whom you interacted?) and your overall impression of the medical institution (If you were given a tour of the school, what was your impression of the lecture and lab facilities?) Keep in mind that most schools tend to showcase their very best to potential students; if things already seem less than ideal while you are there for your interview, you might want to jot down a quick note to yourself so that you don’t forget your impression when you are making your final acceptance decision!

Completing secondary applications is definitely a monumental task. Do yourself a favor and don’t take any shortcuts in the process. While taking the “long road” and doing complete research on each medical school prior to submitting your secondary application will take your time initially, doing so could save you hours in the long run when it’s time for interviews and final admissions decisions.