How to Ace Your Columbia Secondaries

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

front building of Columbia University with female statue at the very center

How to Ace Your Columbia Secondaries

The journey through medical school applications is indeed a complex one, and Columbia secondaries stand as one of the key milestones in this academic odyssey. As you prepare to navigate this pivotal stage of the admissions process, it’s essential to understand the nuances and expectations that Columbia University‘s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons places on its secondary application essays.

This article is designed to provide you with the resources, insights, and strategies necessary to not only navigate these secondary essays successfully but to genuinely shine through your responses, thus inching you closer to achieving your dream of attending one of the world’s premier medical institutions.

Understanding Columbia Medical School’s Secondary Application Process

Before diving into the tips and strategies for acing the secondaries, it’s essential to understand the process and timeline. Secondary applications are sent only to applicants who meet Columbia’s minimum academic requirements and who are deemed competitive based on the primary application.

medical students wearing scrubs looking at the camera

The secondary application consists of a series of essay prompts that are designed to elicit more information about the candidate’s personal and academic background, experiences, interests, and values. These essays provide the admissions committee with a more holistic view of the applicant and help to determine whether he or she is a good fit for Columbia Medical School.

Importance of Secondaries in the Admissions Process

It’s crucial to note that secondaries play a significant role in the admissions process. They are a critical part of the entire application package that Columbia Medical School uses to evaluate applicants. Therefore, it’s essential to approach them with the same level of diligence and attention that you gave to your primaries.

One reason that secondaries are so important is that they allow the admissions committee to get to know you on a more personal level. While your primary application provides a broad overview of your academic and extracurricular achievements, the secondary essays give you the opportunity to showcase your personality, values, and unique qualities.

Another reason that secondaries are crucial is that they allow you to demonstrate your fit with the school. The university’s medical school is looking for applicants who are not only academically qualified but who also share the school’s values and mission. By carefully crafting your essays in your Columbia secondaries, you can demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are a good fit for the school and that you are committed to its mission of excellence in medical education, research, and patient care.

Timeline for Submitting Secondaries

After receiving your secondary application, you’ll typically have four weeks to complete and submit your essays. This may vary depending on the school, so be sure to check the specific timeline. While four weeks may seem ample time, it’s important to allocate sufficient time to research, brainstorm, write, and revise. You don’t want to rush through the process and submit subpar essays.

It’s a good idea to start working on your secondary essays as soon as possible after receiving them. This will give you plenty of time to carefully consider each prompt, brainstorm ideas, and craft well-written responses. It’s also a good idea to seek feedback from others, such as advisors, mentors, or friends, to ensure that your essays are clear, concise, and compelling.

Columbia Medical School’s Unique Approach to Secondaries

Columbia Medical School takes a unique approach to its secondary application essays. Instead of using generic essay prompts, Columbia provides specific questions that allow applicants to delve more deeply into their life experiences and how they relate to medicine. This approach allows the admissions committee to obtain a more significant insight into each applicant’s unique qualities, experiences, and aspirations.

One of the benefits of this approach is that it allows applicants to demonstrate their creativity and individuality. By answering specific questions, you can showcase your unique experiences and perspectives, which can help you stand out from other applicants. It’s important to remember, however, that while creativity is important, it’s also essential to answer the question directly and provide clear and concise responses.

Another benefit of Columbia’s unique approach to secondaries is that it allows applicants to demonstrate their interest in the school and its mission. By carefully considering each question and crafting thoughtful responses, you can show the admissions committee that you have a deep understanding of the school’s values and that you are committed to its mission. This can help you stand out from other applicants and increase your chances of being accepted.

Tips for Writing Compelling Secondary Essays

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into some tips on how to write compelling essays for your Columbia secondaries.

Researching Columbia Medical School’s Mission and Values

Before diving into the essays, take the time to learn about Columbia Medical School’s mission and values. This research will help you tailor your essays to Columbia’s specific culture and values. You can gather information on the school’s website, virtual tours, podcasts, and social media channels.

a medicine student wearing a blue scrub suit and looking at the camera

For instance, Columbia Medical School’s mission is to train future leaders in medicine who will advance knowledge and improve health through innovative, patient-centered, and socially responsible care. The school values diversity, excellence, integrity, respect, and teamwork. By understanding Columbia’s values and mission, you can demonstrate that you are not only a great candidate for the school but also someone who deeply understands what it means to be a student and citizen of Columbia Medical School.

Tailoring Your Essays to Columbia’s Specific Prompts

Columbia Medical School’s secondary application prompts are specific and require you to provide answers that are relevant to the school’s values. Make sure you address the prompts directly and don’t waste word count on tangents or unrelated topics. For example, one of the prompts asks you to describe a significant challenge you faced and how you overcame it. Another prompt asks you to discuss how you have contributed to your community and what you have learned from those experiences.

When addressing these prompts, make sure you provide specific examples that highlight your skills, values, and experiences. Show, don’t tell, how you have demonstrated leadership, empathy, teamwork, or resilience. Use anecdotes, stories, or personal reflections to make your essays engaging and memorable.

Demonstrating Your Fit with Columbia Medical School

To stand out from the crowd, you must demonstrate your fit with Columbia Medical School. Highlight experiences and accomplishments in your essays that align with the school’s values and mission. Use concrete examples to demonstrate how your past experiences have prepared you for a career in medicine, and how Columbia can help you achieve your goals.

For instance, if you have worked in a healthcare setting, you can describe how that experience has exposed you to the challenges and rewards of patient care. You can also discuss how you have developed skills such as communication, teamwork, or problem-solving that are essential for a successful career in medicine. Moreover, you can explain how Columbia Medical School’s curriculum, faculty, or research opportunities align with your interests and career goals.

Addressing Gaps or Weaknesses in Your Application

If you have any significant gaps or weaknesses in your application, use the Columbia secondaries to address them head-on. Be transparent about any obstacles you have overcome and how you have grown from those experiences. Demonstrate your resilience and perseverance, and show how these experiences have prepared you for a career in medicine.

For example, if you have a lower GPA or MCAT score, you can explain the reasons for those challenges and how you have improved your academic skills or study habits. You can also discuss any personal or family circumstances that may have affected your academic performance and how you have coped with those challenges. Additionally, you can highlight any extracurricular activities, volunteer work, or research experiences that demonstrate your commitment to medicine and your potential as a future physician.

Tackling Common Columbia Medical School Secondary Prompts

Now let’s talk about common prompts in Columbia secondaries. Here are some examples:

“Why Columbia?” Essay

As a top-tier medical school, Columbia Medical School offers a unique and enriching experience for its students. The school’s commitment to innovation, research, and patient-centered care aligns with my values and career goals. I am particularly drawn to the school’s renowned faculty members who are leading experts in their respective fields. Their dedication to teaching and mentorship will undoubtedly help me develop into a well-rounded physician.

Furthermore, Columbia Medical School’s location in New York City provides unparalleled opportunities for clinical experience and exposure to diverse patient populations. As a student, I am excited to immerse myself in the city’s vibrant healthcare community and gain hands-on experience in a variety of settings. Additionally, the school’s emphasis on interprofessional collaboration and teamwork aligns with my belief that healthcare is a collaborative effort that requires a multidisciplinary approach.

Diversity and Inclusion Essay

I am committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of my life, and I am excited to continue this work as a student at Columbia Medical School. As an undergraduate, I was actively involved in a student organization that focused on promoting diversity and inclusion on campus. Through this experience, I learned the importance of creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all individuals, regardless of their background.

Two students talking in a table.

As a future physician, I understand the importance of cultural competency and the need to provide equitable care to all patients. I plan to use my experiences and skills to promote diversity and inclusion within the Columbia Medical School community. This includes actively engaging with student organizations and initiatives that promote diversity and advocating for policies that support underrepresented groups.

Adversity and Resilience Essay

One of the biggest challenges I have faced in my life was the unexpected loss of a close family member. This experience was incredibly difficult, but it taught me the importance of resilience and perseverance. Through this experience, I learned how to cope with grief and how to channel my emotions into positive action.

As a future physician, I know that I will face many challenges and obstacles in my career. However, I am confident that my experience with adversity has prepared me for these challenges. I have developed strong coping mechanisms and the ability to remain focused and motivated in the face of adversity. I am excited to bring these skills to Columbia Medical School and use them to become a compassionate and resilient physician.

The Research and Clinical Experience Essay in Columbia Secondaries

As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to participate in several research projects that focused on improving healthcare outcomes for underserved populations. Through these experiences, I developed a passion for research and a deep appreciation for the impact that it can have on patient care.

In addition to my research experience, I have also had the opportunity to gain clinical experience through volunteering at a local hospital. This experience allowed me to work alongside healthcare professionals and gain a firsthand understanding of the challenges and rewards of patient care.

As a student at Columbia Medical School, I plan to continue pursuing my passion for research and clinical experience. I am excited to work alongside renowned faculty members and to gain hands-on experience in a variety of clinical settings. I am confident that these experiences will help me develop the skills and knowledge I need to become an effective and compassionate physician.

Strategies for Editing and Revising Your Secondaries

According to our research team, these are the best strategies for editing your Columbia secondaries.

Seeking Feedback from Trusted Sources

Before submitting your essays, have others review and offer feedback on your work. Seek out trusted friends, family members, or advisors who can provide you with constructive criticism that will help you improve.

It’s important to choose people who will be honest with you and provide constructive feedback. You don’t want to waste your time getting feedback from someone who will just tell you what you want to hear. Look for someone who has experience with the medical school application process and can offer insight into what admissions committees are looking for.

When you receive feedback, take it seriously and consider making changes to your essay. Remember, the goal is to make your essay the best it can be, not to defend your original work.

Ensuring Clarity and Conciseness

Be sure to edit your work for clarity and conciseness. Use precise language and avoid any unnecessary words or phrases that don’t add value to your essay.

One way to ensure clarity is to read your essay out loud. This will help you identify any awkward or confusing sentences. You can also ask someone else to read your essay and provide feedback on its clarity.

Students taking an exam on their desks in a classroom.

Conciseness is also important. Admissions committees are reading hundreds, if not thousands, of essays. They don’t have time to read long, rambling essays. Make sure every sentence in your essay serves a purpose and adds value to your overall message.

Avoiding Common Mistakes and Clichés

Be sure to avoid common mistakes and clichés, like stating that you “want to help people” or referring to medicine as your “calling.” Use specific examples and stories to demonstrate your unique qualities and experiences.

Admissions committees are looking for applicants who stand out from the crowd. Using clichés and generic statements will not help you achieve that goal. Instead, think about what makes you unique and highlight those qualities in your essay.

It’s also important to avoid common mistakes, like typos and grammatical errors. Make sure you proofread your essay carefully and consider having someone else review it as well.

Maintaining Consistency with Your Primary Application

Be sure your essays in Columbia secondaries are consistent with your primary application. Showcase your unique qualities and accomplishments, and verify that your essays complement the rest of your application.

When writing your secondary essays, it’s important to keep in mind the overall message you’re trying to convey to admissions committees. Your essays should complement your primary application and provide additional insight into who you are as a person and a potential medical student.

Make sure you’re not repeating information from your primary application in your secondary essays. Instead, use your secondary essays to showcase different aspects of your personality and experiences.

By following these strategies, you can ensure that your secondary essays are the best they can be and increase your chances of being accepted into medical school.


The Columbia secondaries can be just as challenging as the primary applications, but with the tips and strategies outlined in this article, you’ll be able to master the process and improve your chances of being accepted into Columbia Medical School.

Remember to allocate sufficient time to research, write, and revise your essays, and tailor them to Columbia Medical School’s values and prompts. By doing so, you’ll be sure to stand out from the crowd and demonstrate why you are an excellent fit for Columbia Medical School.

How AdmissionSight can help you with college admissions

AdmissionSight is a college consulting firm that provides personalized assistance to students throughout the college admissions process. Here are some ways that AdmissionSight can help you:

Admissions strategy: AdmissionSight can help you develop a strategic plan for your college application process. Our professional consultants can assist with identifying schools that are a good fit for your academic, extracurricular, and personal goals and help you plan and prioritize your application strategy.

Students sitting on the bench.

Application review: AdmissionSight can review your application and provide feedback on how to improve it. We can offer suggestions on how to make your application stand out and highlight your strengths and unique qualities.

Essay coaching: AdmissionSight can help you craft compelling essays that showcase your personality, goals, and achievements. We can guide you through the essay writing process and provide feedback on your drafts to help you refine your writing.

Interview preparation: AdmissionSight can provide interview coaching to help you feel confident and prepared for your college interviews. Our experts can offer tips on how to present yourself professionally and how to answer common interview questions.

Extracurricular planning: AdmissionSight can help you plan and develop your extracurricular activities to make them more impactful and meaningful. We can suggest activities that align with your interests and goals and provide guidance on how to demonstrate your leadership and initiative.

Overall, AdmissionSight can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the college admissions process to help you maximize your chances of getting accepted into the college of your choice.

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