Harvard Medical School Secondary Essays: Tips + Examples

April 25, 2024
8 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

If you’re preparing to write essays for Harvard’s medical school, this article is for you! We’ll give you key tips and provide examples that will help you stand out in your Harvard application. 

The Harvard Medical School secondary essays are a critical make-or-break component of your application. With an acceptance rate of just 3.4%, standing out is absolutely essential. These essays are your opportunity to highlight your journey, experiences, and passion for medicine in a way that admissions statistics alone cannot capture.

Imagine being in the shoes of an admissions officer reading thousands of applications from exceptional students. What will make yours unforgettable? A compelling personal narrative woven throughout your secondary essays. One that paints a vivid picture of who you are, what drives you, and why you belong at Harvard.

In this guide, we'll dissect each prompt, offering expert tips to craft responses that leave a lasting impression. You'll also find annotated examples, proving what works (and what doesn't) when striving to "wow" the admissions committee. By the end, you'll be equipped with the tools to transform your essays from good to extraordinary.

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Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Prompts

Before giving you a few examples of a 2024 Harvard SDN essay, we will go through each prompt and give you tips on how to answer the questions. Though some of the essays are considered optional, you might want to write them all so that Harvard has more than enough to assess your readiness for medical school.

Two prompts require you to write a response no longer than 4,000 characters, so make sure to get as close to the limit as you can without going over. It’s important to be concise and to the point when answering each question, but remember to follow a general essay format. Each essay should have an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a conclusion. 

When talking about your experiences, there should be a logical flow from one to the next. Choose experiences that can be tied back to your decision to become a doctor. By doing this, you will be showcasing your passion for medicine and will be able to demonstrate why going to medical school is so important to you.

Below are the five essay prompts, followed by an explanation of what they are looking for. Read through these explanations and then read through the example essays following.

Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Prompt #1

“If you have already graduated, briefly summarize your activities since graduation. (4000 characters)”

For this secondary essay prompt, it's important to concisely convey your post-graduation activities while providing insight into your current commitments. You don't need to delve into extensive specifics, but rather offer a glimpse of your typical weekly routine. 

Feel free to include a list of your weekly activities, along with the corresponding time commitments for easy reference.

Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Prompt #2

“If there is an important aspect of your personal background or identity, not addressed elsewhere in the application, that you would like to share with the Committee, we invite you to do so here. Many applicants will not need to answer this question. Examples might include significant challenges in access to education, unusual socioeconomic factors, or other aspects of your personal or family background to place your prior academic achievements in context or provide further information about your motivation for a career in medicine or the perspectives you might bring to the medical school community. Many applicants will not need to answer this question. (4000 characters)”

For this prompt, try to be as honest as possible, while still connecting your experiences to how they influenced your decision to apply to medical school. The admissions committee is specifically interested in candidates who have a true passion for the field of medicine. 

As you compose your response, emphasize the link between your personal background or identity and your motivation to pursue a medical career. Demonstrating this passion and its impact on your decision to enter the medical field is pivotal for a compelling essay.

Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Prompt #3

“The Committee on Admissions understands that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted applicants in various ways. If you wish to inform the Committee as to how these events have affected you and have not already done so elsewhere in your application, please use this space to do so. (; the Committee on Admissions will make no judgment based on your decision to provide a statement or not.)”

Though this is an optional essay, you should answer the prompt to the best of your ability. Again, the admissions committee will be looking for you to be as honest as possible, even if that means you have to be a bit vulnerable. 

This question is less about your path toward medical school and more about how you deal with adversity. Everyone was affected by COVID-19 in some way, so even though they say the essay is optional, they are expecting an answer.

That being said, you do not have a character limit for this Harvard secondary essay, but make sure to keep your answer short and sweet.

Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Prompt #4

“The interview season for the 2023-2024 cycle will be held virtually and is anticipated to run from mid-September through January 2024. Please indicate any significant (three or more weeks) restriction on your availability for interviews during this period. If none, please leave this section blank.”

This last prompt is similar to the first one in that it is a straightforward question with a straightforward answer. If you have certain commitments that you would not be able to get out of, simply state them here with dates and what they are. Good examples would be if you have exams during this period or if you will be out of the country. 

Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Examples

Read through the following Harvard Medical School secondary essay examples to have an understanding of what a good 2024 Harvard SDN essay would look like,

Example One

This example essay is in response to prompt number one.

After graduating, I decided to get some real-life experience before going to medical school. I was lucky to have a job lined up after graduation, working in a medical laboratory. I volunteered as I pursued my undergraduate degree and gained professional experience as an office assistant.

The medical laboratory was in a research facility that tested new drugs at various stages of development. I was able to observe how the researchers started their experimental drug trials and shared their disappointment if something had an unexpected result. It felt as though I was on the cutting edge of medical research, and that perhaps one day, I would be prescribing these drugs to my patients.

Though my job was mainly assisting the researchers, I was able to learn a lot about the importance of medical research and how certain drugs, when made available to the public, could change lives. I loved hearing about the different studies that were going on in the laboratory, and it inspired me to do my best.

When I wasn’t working, I was able to volunteer at a local children’s hospital. I spent a lot of time with the patients and gave their parents a much needed break. This volunteer opportunity allowed me to learn a lot about what it is like to be a patient and how difficult it can be when a loved one is in the hospital. 

During my time as a volunteer, I got to know some of the children who were there receiving cancer treatments. One of these patients had a huge impact on my perspective on medical care, including the difficulties our system is currently facing. 

This child was often left alone in the hospital, as their parents both had to work in order to pay for the treatments. I was at the hospital once a week and would always check in on my little friend during their six-week stay. 

Though we mainly played video games, I knew my visits had a great impact on their mental health; they were often left alone for long periods of time. Their parents did  everything they could to get them excellent care, but the hardship of their condition was still palpable.

Having the time to see what patients and their families go through when disease strikes made my resolve to become the best doctor I can even stronger. I don’t think I will ever forget the children I met during this experience. It will always remind me to put the care of the patient at the forefront of everything I do. 

As a medical school hopeful, I was also able to spend some time shadowing a local family doctor, Dr. Alice Richardson. Dr. Richardson was a friend of my parents and offered me this opportunity when she found out I was applying to medical school. 

The clinic she works in is located in the suburbs and is multidisciplinary; she works with other general practitioners, as well as two chiropractors and an osteopath. They try to work as a team and often refer clients to each other, if there is a need for consultation.

Dr. Richardson was very patient with me. I asked many questions about her experience and passion for medicine. I learned that working in a multidisciplinary practice can be both challenging and rewarding. I could see that she worked hard at making sure that her patients got the best care, no matter what type of specialist they may need. She always went the extra mile to make sure her patients were healthy.

My time between graduating and today has been very valuable. I have learned a lot about the medical profession, and I look forward to continuing to learn and grow within medical school and beyond.

Why Was This Essay Successful?

This essay was successful because the writer talked about the experiences that influenced their decision to attend medical school. They clearly convey their passion for medicine and their intention for their future career, while answering the question. 

Example Two

This example essay is in response to prompt number three.

Growing up in a rural community, it was not hard to tell my family didn’t fit in. Almost all of my peers came from farming families that had lived in the area for hundreds of years. Most considered the high school diploma was the pinnacle of higher education. 

Many of them were cousins or their parents had been playing Euchre together since they were teenagers. My family was the first of South Asian descent to settle in this small town. It was as if everyone was part of a secret group that I knew nothing about, except that I knew I did not belong.

Being the only non-white family also didn’t help. Though they would never mention the difference in the color of our skin and insults were not said to my face, I knew they judged me for it. Whispers were common, and people constantly stared.

The differences first became apparent to me on the playground. No one wanted to play with me; I spent most of my time on my own. I was lucky to have learned to read at a very young age, I was able to find solace in books. The library became my favorite spot. I would spend hours a day reading, and during most recesses, I would sneak off to look for something new to read.

Mrs. Caldwell, the librarian, was very sweet to me. She knew that I didn’t quite fit in with my peers and she let me browse the shelves almost every day. She would even suggest new books for me to try from time to time.

By the time I was in middle school, my fascination with science, in particular biology, had become my new obsession. Mrs. Caldwell brought out a book on human anatomy. It had colorful illustrations and in-depth descriptions that I read over and over again until I could recite the entire book by heart. With Mrs. Caldwell’s encouragement, I studied human biology. I knew in my gut that one day, I would become a doctor. 

Despite this solace, school was still very difficult. Sure, I was very popular in the teacher’s lounge, but my fellow students didn’t give me time of day. I had no friends, was always picked last in gym class, and people only seemed to acknowledge my existence when they wanted to copy my notes from class.

It is through this experience, though, that I learned just how strong I am. Growing up may not always be easy, but if you can find something to hold on to, something you’re passionate about, then you can make it through anything. I didn’t feel all that lonely when I had my books at my side.

When it came time to apply for college, my teachers helped me every step of the way. They believed in me wholeheartedly, and that allowed me to push through. Finding a good academic reference for my applications was easy, and I was able to get into a very prestigious undergraduate program.

When I think back on my childhood, I actually think I am rather lucky. I had a loving family and a great education from people who actually cared. They encouraged me to just be myself, which has led me to medical school, where I can finally put all that knowledge of human biology to good use.

As a step into this next adventure, I hope to learn and grow in ways I cannot even begin to expect. I will always have a passion for knowledge and attending this school will serve me well on my path to becoming a doctor.

Why Was This Essay Successful?

This essay is successful as the writer skillfully ties their experiences back to their love of science. Their response shows just how dedicated the student is to becoming a doctor and their ability to thrive in the face of adversity.

The above examples should give you a good idea of what a successful essay looks like. Make sure to always get a trusted friend or family member to edit your essay before submitting it as a small mistake or unclear sentence can make a huge difference. 

FAQs: Harvard Medical School Essays

If you’re still confused about how to write your medical essays, refer to our below FAQ section for all you need to know.

1. Should I Write the Harvard Medical School Optional Essays?

Yes, you should write all of the Harvard Medical School essays, including the optional ones. This gives the admissions committee more opportunities to learn about your achievements, experiences, and passion for medicine.

2. How Long Should Harvard Optional Essays Be?

Harvard optional essays should be around 200-300 words or approximately 750 characters. This length allows you to provide a substantive response while remaining concise.

3. How Do You Answer Harvard Medical School Secondary Essays?

Answer Harvard secondary essays honestly and use a conversational, storytelling tone. Don't be afraid to show vulnerability. Avoid slang or offensive language. Craft your responses like compelling narratives to leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Final Thoughts

Writing the Harvard Medical School secondary essays might not be easy, but following our advice should make the process easier. Give yourself enough time to think about the essays and what you will say so that you are not rushing to get them in by the application deadline. 

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