December 7, 2016

You Won’t Believe the Amount of Pages You’ll Need to Write for Medical School

By: Ryan Kelly

“I want this to be perfect.”

Every year, we hear pre-med students say this about their medical school personal statements. And we don’t blame them. The personal statement is the largest essay of the primary application, and it certainly carries a lot of weight.

But consider this: did you know that medical schools will read your work and activities section first? Yep. That means three 1325-character most meaningful essays, along with up to 15 activity descriptions (700 characters each), all before they even glance at your personal statement. Let’s do some quick calculations, shall we?


characters with spaces500
pages single spaced


characters with spaces
(1325 x 3)375
pages single spaced


characters with spaces
(700 x 15)991
pages single spaced


characters with spaces1364
pages single spaced

Even if you only have, let’s say, eight 700-character descriptions (as opposed to the full 15), the work and activities section is still nearly twice as long as the personal statement.

So, your perfectionism and anxiety surrounding the personal statement can be detrimental if it stifles your progress on other essays. In a way, your personal statement is like the headliner at a music festival. Sure, it’s a big deal, but it also works in harmony with the many other musicians and performances throughout the festival. Don’t put all your effort into the grand finale if it means losing sight of the bigger picture.

Speaking of big picture, the primary application pales in comparison to the pages and pages of secondary essays you’ll need to write. Many students play the numbers game and apply to upwards of 40 schools, but let’s just say you only choose 25.

Every school’s secondary is created differently. A school like UC Riverside will ask about 10 250-word questions:

characters with spaces2500
(250 x 10)7.5
pages single spaced

On the shorter end of the spectrum, a school like Rosalind Franklin will only ask two 100-word questions:

characters with spaces200
(100 x 2)0.6
pages single spaced

So, roughly, we could average these two extremes and arrive at a typical amount of secondary writing:

characters with spaces1350
pages single spaced

If you multiply that by your 25 schools, you’ll have over 100 pages of secondary essays!

According to our data, the average medical school asks 3.56 essay questions, so for 25 applications, you’re looking at 89 essays. No wonder it takes 100 pages.

Yes, 100+ pages, which dwarfs the measly 5.5 of the primary application. It’s important to note that you can reuse material for different schools’ secondary prompts. This is helpful, no doubt, but it still often requires tweaking, cutting, repurposing, or adding to an existing essay, which can be cumbersome tasks in of themselves. This doesn’t include the pages of notes you’ll take while researching each school and compiling information that matches your background or interests.

So, what’s the point? Are we just trying to scare you into not applying? Of course not. There are two major lessons to be drawn from these statistics.

One is that the personal statement is not the end-all-be-all of the application process. You cannot afford to settle for junk, but you also cannot afford to dawdle on one part of the application in hopes of achieving perfection. More often than not, this quest for perfection results in a hyper-dissection of the essay, and before you know it, a once-solid draft is totally dismantled.

Rather than trying to cram everything into a “perfect” personal statement, shoot for quality writing throughout the whole application. Remember the harmony of the music festival! Yes, you want Coldplay as your headliner, but not if it means surrounding them with the Insane Clown Posse.

The second lesson is to never underestimate the secondary writing process. It’s long and grueling, and it will make the primary application seem like a cakewalk. It’s critical to work ahead on the primary, so that you can get a big head start on prewriting your secondaries. A good strategy is locate the secondary prompts from the previous year, since they usually don’t change that much from year to year.

Full List of Medical School Secondary Essays

This allows you to slowly fine-tune your drafts and strategize about how to use them across your schools. It also gives you more time to research schools, which can sometimes be a cryptic and overwhelming endeavor. And if schools do happen to change their prompts, you’ll be organized and calm enough to find or create appropriate material.

The numbers don’t lie. There is A LOT of writing for medical school applications, which extends far beyond that perfect personal statement of your dreams. Don’t be lax and shortsighted, or you’ll find yourself drowning in pages of unfinished drafts.

Tough love, kid. You’ve been warned.    

Do you have questions about the essay writing process? Want to know how many pages you should expect? Comment below and we’ll help you calculate your future journey.

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