Harvard Medical School Secondary Essays: Tips + Examples

September 5, 2023


Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/13/22

If you’re preparing to write the Harvard Medical School secondary essays, 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 can be difficult to write because it can be hard to tell exactly what the admissions committee is looking for. These essays are a great way to tell your story from your own perspective and demonstrate you would be successful in medical school.

In this article, we will outline tips for answering each prompt for the Harvard Medical School essays. We’ll also give you two examples to use as a guide and point out. By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to write your own successful Harvard Medical School secondary essays. Let’s get started!

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Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Prompts

Before giving you a few examples of a Harvard Medical School 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.

There are two prompts that 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 Harvard Medical School secondary 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

“On average how many hours per week did you devote to employment during the academic year?”

For this secondary essay prompt, you will want to be succinct with your answer but also tell them a bit about what keeps you busy. You do not have too many specific details but give them an idea of what your typical week looks like. 

You can also provide a list of weekly activities and the hours you spend at each so they can see the exact numbers easily.

Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Prompt #2

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


When answering this Harvard Medical School essay prompt, make sure to talk about activities that are relevant to your pursuit of attending medical school. You can also write this essay if you haven’t graduated yet by talking in more detail about the different extracurricular activities that might enhance your application.

Also, if you have any plans for the summer that would be relevant to medical school, make sure to talk about them here. For example, if you will be volunteering at a hospital over the summer, you can mention this opportunity and what you are hoping to learn from it.

Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Prompt #3

“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, identification with a minority culture, religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity. Briefly explain how such factors have influenced your motivation for a career in medicine (4000 character maximum).”


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 will be looking for people who have a passion for the medical profession, so being able to show this passion within your answer will be key to a successful essay.

Harvard Medical School Secondary Essay Prompt #4

“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. (This is an optional essay; 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 #5

The interview season for the 2022-2023 cycle will be held virtually and is anticipated to run from mid-September through January 2023. 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 time 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 a good understanding of what a good essay would look like,

Example One

This example essay is in response to prompt number two.

"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 Harvard Medical School essay resembles and how it should be written. 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

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the Harvard Medical School essays.

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

The best practice would be to write all of the Harvard Medical School essays, even the optional ones. You want to give Harvard every chance to see your achievements and hear how your experiences shaped you. By writing the optional essays, you will give them ample opportunities to see your passion for medicine.

2. How Long Should Harvard Optional Essays Be?

Essays should be around 200-300 words which is around 750 characters. You want to be efficient in your answers but also give yourself enough time to shine.

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

Answer the Harvard essays honestly and do not be afraid of being a bit vulnerable. Talk about your experiences in a more relaxed tone, without using slang or language that might offend. Try writing your essays as if you are telling a story to have 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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