UCSD School of Medicine Secondary Essay Prompts & Examples

May 31, 2024
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/31/24

Writing compelling essays is a great way to stand out in your application to UC San Diego medical school. Keep reading to learn more.

The UCSD secondary essays are your opportunity to make an impression on the admissions committee. UCSD, which is one of the best medical schools in the state, wants to know more about you beyond what's in your primary application. So, let’s break down how you can do this effectively.

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UCSD School of Medicine Program Options

UC San Diego School of Medicine has a range of programs to choose from, including the MD Program, MD/PhD, and the Program in Medical Education - Health Equity (PRIME-HEQ). Let’s take a look at them.

MD Program

At UC San Diego School of Medicine, the MD program is built around an Integrated Scientific Curriculum that combines clinical medicine with medical science. The curriculum focuses on teaching health and disease within the context of human organ systems, providing a solid foundation for clinical practice.

The program structure is quite fixed through the first three years, offering a thorough base in medical sciences. Despite this, there's flexibility with elective courses during the pre-clerkship years, allowing students to pursue areas of interest. In the third year, students choose two clinical electives, and the fourth year broadens the choice with a variety of clerkships to meet graduation requirements.

A key part of the curriculum is the Independent Study Project (ISP). This project emphasizes the development of self-directed learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills necessary for medicine. The ISP is a chance for students to dive deep into a topic of interest under the guidance of a faculty mentor.

Electives form a significant component of the curriculum. In the first two years, students engage in pre-clerkship electives to broaden their medical education, requiring around 135 hours of work. These can include a mix of coursework, lab work, and even courses from outside the School of Medicine.

In the later years, clinical electives focus on ensuring students gain comprehensive direct patient care experience. Requirements include ambulatory, inpatient, and primary care clerkships, along with other elective clerkships, to round out their education.

Overall, the UC San Diego MD program aims to produce well-rounded physicians equipped with the necessary scientific knowledge, clinical skills, and a compassionate approach to healthcare.

MD PhD vs. MD

At UC San Diego, the MD-PhD program, which is part of the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), combines medical training with research. You earn an MD and a PhD. 

This program partners with top research institutions, such as the Scripps Research Institute and the Salk Institute. It typically takes seven to eight years to complete and prepares you for a career in which you can treat patients and conduct research.

The MD program is more straightforward. It focuses on training you to be a doctor and takes about four years to complete. The main goal is patient care, though some research opportunities exist.

If your main interest is working with patients and finishing your training sooner, choose the MD program. If you're excited about research and patient care and don't mind a longer study period, the MD-PhD might be right for you. Your decision depends on what you want to do in the future.

Program in Medical Education – Health Equity (PRIME-HEQ)

The Program in Medical Education - Health Equity (PRIME-HEq) at UC San Diego is a unique MD and master’s program that spans five years. It’s tailored for those looking to serve under-resourced communities in California, aiming to bridge gaps in health equity.

Annually, PRIME-HEq admits 12 students who are ready to tackle a range of medical specialties but share a common drive to work where health disparities are most pronounced. The program values students' community service backgrounds and builds on these experiences.

Faculty members guide students in identifying and understanding populations at risk for health disparities. Students get the chance to work closely with these groups, gaining both training and exposure. This hands-on approach helps students to deepen their understanding and commitment to these communities.

By the program's end, graduates are capable physicians and informed advocates for health equity, equipped to make a real difference in the communities they serve.

Global Health Academic Concentration (GHAC)

The Global Health Academic Concentration (GHAC) at UC San Diego is aimed at medical students interested in global health. This program teaches the complexities of healthcare delivery worldwide, the ethics of global health research, and the causes of health disparities. GHAC prepares you to work with international communities. 

It offers training in global health research and hands-on experience in healthcare delivery abroad. The program also explores the social and structural factors behind health inequalities.

GHAC is great for students passionate about improving global healthcare and pursuing an academic career in this field. 

No prior international experience is needed to apply. If you're up for the challenge and eager to make a difference in global health, GHAC could be the right choice. It equips you with the tools and knowledge to effectively address global health issues.

UCSD Secondary Application Steps

The UC San Diego School of Medicine secondary application process has several important steps:

  1. Invitation: Check your email (including junk mail) for an invitation to submit a secondary application, as it's sent via email from UC San Diego. Be sure to add the UC San Diego domain (ucsd.edu) to your safe list.
  2. Fee Waiver: If you received a fee waiver from AMCAS, you’ll automatically get the fee waived for the secondary application, too. If you didn't get one but think you might qualify, you can request it by emailing somadmissions@ucsd.edu after you've received your invitation.
  3. Required Materials: You’ll need to submit:
  • $135 application fee (unless waived).
  • A biographical sketch, different from your AMCAS personal statement.
  • Statement about any criminal convictions.
  • Personal background information.
  • Details on extracurricular activities, academic, work, and research experiences.
  • Publications, presentations, and fellowships.
  • Medical, clinical, volunteer, and community service experiences.
  1. Letters of Recommendation: Don’t send these directly to UCSD. Instead, use the AMCAS Letters Service. You need at least three letters, or a single "Committee Letter" can suffice. For MD/PhD applicants, make sure one of your letters comes from a research mentor.
  2. Application Outcomes:some text
    • Invited for an Interview: You’ll move to the next step.
    • On Hold: You might still get an interview invite later.
    • Not Invited: You’ll be notified via email that your application will not proceed.
  3. Deadlines: Keep in mind that there are strict deadlines for submitting your secondary application, and UCSD does not extend these.

This process ensures UCSD carefully evaluates each candidate, looking at both your academic records and personal experiences.

UCSD Application Timeline

Here’s the application timeline for UC San Diego first-year students in a straightforward table format:

Date Event
August 1 UC Application opens for the next fall term. Start prepping your application!
October 1 – November 30 This is your window to submit the UC Application. Don’t miss the November 30 deadline!
December Once you submit, you'll get an email with login details for the Applicant Portal. Check all your email folders so you don’t miss it.
FAFSA and California Dream Act open this month. U.S. citizens and permanent residents fill out FAFSA. Non-U.S. citizens fitting specific criteria should complete the California Dream Act Application.
By Mid–March Check the Applicant Portal for your admission decision.
By March 29 If not admitted and you have new info that might change things, you can appeal through the Applicant Portal by this date.
April 15 If invited, you need to opt into the waitlist by 11:59 pm. Remember, being on the waitlist doesn’t guarantee admission.
By May 2 For priority financial aid, make sure your FAFSA or California Dream Act Application is submitted by this date. Include UC San Diego’s school code 001317.
May 15 If you’ve been admitted, confirm your acceptance by this date through the Applicant Portal.
July 1 Deadline for your final, official transcripts. Make sure everything’s submitted!
July 15 Last day to send in your AP and IB exam results. Make sure UC San Diego gets them.

Make sure you stick to the deadlines—it shows you're organized and serious about joining UCSD. Use the timeline to plan when to write and polish your essays. This helps make them really impactful. Connect your personal stories to UCSD’s values in your essays to make them stand out. 

If you can, submit early drafts to get feedback and improve. Also, keep an eye on any timeline updates to stay adaptable. This approach will help your application and essays effectively communicate your eagerness and fit for UCSD.

UCSD Essay Topics

At UCSD's School of Medicine, your essays matter. They're your chance to tell your story and highlight why you're perfect for a career in medicine. It's not just paperwork—it's your chance to connect with the admissions team.

Autobiographical Sketch

Your main essay is essentially a detailed autobiography in 6,000 characters. Begin with your roots—where you grew up and the kind of family environment you had. 

Move through your educational timeline, from early schooling up through college, pinpointing moments or achievements that sparked your interest in medicine or shaped your personal growth.

If you’ve taken any steps beyond your undergraduate studies, such as working, researching, or volunteering, those experiences are crucial to mention, too.

This essay is also your space to discuss challenges. Whether it’s personal hardships, academic obstacles, or unique family dynamics, explain how these experiences have prepared you for a medical career. It’s not just about what you’ve achieved but what you’ve overcome to get there.

For MD/PhD Applicants

Applicants to the MD/PhD program need to go a step further. Why UCSD? Which aspects of their dual-degree program excite you? 

Discuss specific research opportunities, labs, or faculty members at UCSD that align with your ambitions. This part of your essay should illustrate your commitment to blending patient care with scientific research.

UCSD Secondary Required Essays

Secondary essays are an extension of your application. UCSD uses these to dig deeper into your specific interests and career aspirations in medicine. It’s about using the UCSD essay prompts to fit your narrative into the UCSD community and showing how your goals align with their offerings.

Career Pathway Selection

Here, you will choose a pathway that reflects your current interests in the medical field. Whether you see yourself in academic medicine, primary care, public health, or another specialty, select the path that truly resonates with your career vision. 

Once you've picked a pathway, it's time to nail down your future career goals in just 400 characters. Keep it short but powerful—clearly outline your ambitions and how you'll reach them.

Writing Tips

  • Be Specific: Details make your essay vivid. Use specific instances from your past that directly relate to your choice of career path.
  • Keep It Short and Sweet: With a strict character limit, every word needs to serve a purpose. Be concise but thorough.
  • Get Feedback: Never underestimate the power of revision. Have mentors, peers, or advisors review your essays. Their insights can help refine your narrative and clarify your points.
  • Stay True: Authenticity resonates. Ensure your essays reflect your true self and professional ambitions.

Aditya, Senior Admissions Expert at Duke University, says:

These secondaries are a good exercise in refining your story for interview season, so don't put off this part of the application. Give it your all and give it 100% effort because it'll pay dividends down the road."

UCSD Secondary Essay Samples

Check out some UC San Diego secondary essay samples to get a clear idea of what they're looking for in applicants.

Autobiographical Sketch

“I grew up in a small rural town in Wyoming, where I first noticed the challenges our community faced in accessing healthcare. My interest in medicine began as I watched local doctors tirelessly serve under these conditions. 

During my undergraduate studies at the University of Denver, I majored in biology and volunteered at a local clinic helping homeless populations. This experience exposed me to urban health disparities and solidified my desire to pursue a career in medicine.

In my final year of college, I researched infectious diseases, resulting in a publication in the university's student journal. This project underscored the importance of research in advancing medical knowledge. After graduating, I worked as a research assistant, focusing on public health initiatives that aim to improve community health outcomes. These experiences prepared me for a medical career that combines clinical practice with public health advocacy.

I’ve learned to balance a rigorous academic schedule with extensive volunteer work, which taught me resilience and effective time management—key skills for any medical professional. I aspire to be a physician who not only treats patients but also contributes to broader public health solutions.”

Potential Career Pathway

“Early in my life, I was motivated to integrate clinical practice with public health due to the healthcare disparities I observed in my community. At UCSD, I look forward to joining initiatives that focus on preventive care and policy-making to improve access to healthcare for underserved populations.

I aim to work in a public health department where I can leverage my clinical background to influence health policies. I believe that by focusing on preventive measures and effective health policies, we can achieve better health outcomes at the community level.

These sample essays provide a clear template for discussing your experiences and goals in a manner that aligns with UCSD's expectations. Be sure to detail how your personal background and professional experiences have led you to pursue a career in medicine and how you envision contributing to the field in the future.”

The 2023-2024 Medical School Secondary Essay Prompt Database is a useful resource for medical school applicants. It collects essay prompts from different schools in one place and updates them annually, helping students tailor their responses effectively.


Let’s take a closer look at UCSD secondary essays.

1. How Do You Answer UCSD Secondaries?

When answering UCSD's secondary essays for medical school, especially the autobiographical sketch, aim to present a coherent story that connects your life and academic experiences to your aspirations in the medical field.

Make sure to end your essays by explaining how UCSD's specific resources and opportunities are well-suited to help you achieve your goals as a future physician. This approach will help keep your responses targeted, personal, and relevant to what UCSD can provide.

2. How Hard Is It to Get into UCSD Medical School?

Getting into UCSD Medical School is challenging. The acceptance rate is only 1.72% overall. For students from California, the rate is a bit higher at 2.65%, but it drops to 0.53% for out-of-state students and to 0.32% for international students. 

The average GPA of accepted students is 3.83, with a science GPA of 3.81, indicating that high academic performance is essential.

3. Are There Program-Specific Secondary Essay Prompts at UCSD?

Yes, UCSD School of Medicine has special essay questions for different programs like MD/PhD, PRIME-HEq, and Global Health. Each question is designed to learn more about your interests and experience in these specific areas.

4. How Long Should My Responses to UCSD’s Secondary Essays Be?

For the UCSD medical school application, write up to 6,000 characters for the autobiographical sketch. This is about 1,000 words. 

Final Thoughts

Applying to UC San Diego's School of Medicine might seem complex, but a good grasp of the process can improve your odds. 

Your UCSD supplemental essays should show not only your academic abilities but also how your unique experiences make you a good fit for a career in medicine. Remember, meeting deadlines and writing clear, concise essays are key. 

Properly prepping and clearly expressing why UCSD is the right place for you can significantly strengthen your application.

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