Questions About Secondary Applications

The "Anything Else?" Essay
Optional Essays
Why Am I Not Receiving Secondaries?
Secondary Timing



Question: A friend of mine who applied to med school told me I need to take the CASPer test. What is it and when should I take it?

Answer: The CASPer (Computer-Based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) test was developed at McMaster Medical School (also the birthplace of the multiple mini-interview, or MMI) and is now used by 20+ medical schools. Like the MMI, it aims to assess non-cognitive competencies associated with success in medicine, such as ethical judgment, interpersonal skills, empathy, and professionalism. You can take CASPer from any computer that meets the system requirements at specified test dates and times (you will register online). You will respond to 8 video-based scenarios and 4 text-based scenarios and scores are sent to medical schools about three weeks after the test is taken. You will not receive your score. You should take CASPer in the summer around the time that you’re completing secondary applications, so that your score will arrive at your schools around the same time that your file will be complete. Familiarize yourself with the test and its format by reading the CASPer webpage and working through the sample scenarios. Many of the same materials you’ll use to prepare for MMIs may also be useful for CASPer since both involve responding to scenarios and ethical situations.

The "Anything Else?" Essay

Question: Some schools have an optional free response, where we can share anything else that we want to about ourselves. I feel like I've said everything I needed to say. What should I do with this space?

Answer: If you haven't done so yet, this is a great place to spend some time talking about why you think you're a good fit for the school, based on its mission, curriculum, or other aspects of it. If you've already done that, reflect on how you've presented yourself and the school's mission, and think of something that you can expand on that speaks to the mission of the school. 

Committee Letter Timing?

Question: Is there a problem if I'm completing secondaries but AMCAS still shows that my committee letter hasn't been received by the school?

Answer: Nope! Hang in there - we're writing as quickly as we can. Even though you can see the status of your primary, MCAT score, and committee letter in AMCAS, they all function independently of each other. Your AMCAS will be verified even if you don't have an MCAT score yet. Schools will send you secondaries even if they don't have your MCAT score and/or committee letter yet. Each of these pieces -- verified primary, completed secondary, (final) MCAT score, and committee letter must be received by the school before your application is considered complete.

We will start sending committee letters around the third week of July -- this is still quite early. It shouldn't hinder your application. The first ones to be sent will be the ones who had their file completion form to us by June 15, who also have all of the other components of their application completed, including verified primary (with a copy emailed to us) and MCAT score reported. 

Optional Essays

Question: Some schools give us an optional essay prompts. When applying to college, I was always told by my college counselor that this option was really mandatory and we had to write something. Would you recommend the same here? If we have the option to write another essay, should we do it? 

Answer: We're agree with your college counselor from high school. If we had to generalize we'd say that medical schools might wonder why you didn't take the time to complete these 'optional' essays, and ultimately you might pass over an opportunity to present yourself in an even fuller light than you have already. 

School Specific Questions

Washington University
Question: For Wash U – Where do I send the Dean’s Certification form?

Answer: Send it to the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and they will be able to coordinate on your behalf. You can email it, or send a hard copy to the office (309 West College). 

Secondary Timing

Receiving Secondaries Before AMCAS is Processed?

Question: My AMCAS isn’t even verified yet – how am I receiving secondaries already? Is it a mistake?

Answer: AMCAS transmits some basic information to your schools as soon as you’ve submitted (it submits similar information to HPA, which is how we know whether you’ve submitted your application or not). Since many schools don’t screen applicants and send secondaries to everyone, as soon as they see that you’ve applied, they’ll send a secondary. 

Why Am I Not Receiving Secondaries?

Question: My AMCAS was verified weeks ago, and I still haven’t received some secondaries. What’s going on?


  1. Check your spam folder and make sure the secondary prompt isn’t there.
  2. Log in to the school's online applicant portal, if the school has one, and be sure the secondary isn’t there.
  3. Check with a few friends who have applied and see if they have received secondaries. Or, if you don’t know anyone applying, try the Student Doctor thread for that particular school.

Once you’ve done that, know that every school handles their processes differently. Put yourself in their shoes: it’s often a staff of a few people handling as many is 11,000 applications. Rest assured they have your information, and are tending to it as best they can. This is especially true of schools that screen – they’ll be looking through each application and deciding whether or not to send secondaries, which can be quite slow (to find out which schools screen, refer to MSAR, Application Deadlines and Requirements, for each school. If you’re really concerned about a certain school, you can call the admissions office and check on the status, or you can reach out to us at HPA and if we’ve heard anything about that specific school, we’ll let you know. 

How Much Time to Spend on Secondaries

Question: How much time can I spend on a secondary? How quickly should I send it back?

Answer: The rule of thumb is to send back within two weeks of receipt of a secondary. Schools date stamp everything in your file, and if you take longer than that, we have heard that it can cause concern that you’re either not that interested in the school, or that you’re managing your time poorly in the application cycle.