Thousands of people apply to medical school every year.They all have similar GPA’s, MCAT scores, extracurricular activities, volunteer hours, and shadowing hours. They all write a personal statement that somehow discusses their passion for medicine and helping others. Because everyone is so similarly ambitious, well-rounded, and intelligent, how do admissions committees ultimately decide who gets in, and who doesn’t?
I am no certified expert on the subject, but I am a seasoned veteran of many interviews throughout my young life, including two medical school interviews. I’ll share some of my tips with you below:
Schedule the earliest interview date possible. Both of the schools I interviewed with allowed me to schedule my interview date according to their availability. The available interviews listed were weeks, even months, apart. Increase your chances of acceptance by scheduling the earliest date possible. For every interview that occurs, there are less seats available in the class and more people are either added to the wait list or rejected.
Notify professors/employer of interview date. Applying to medical school does not put your current life on pause. Make sure you are in communication with your professors or employer about your medical school interviews so you are able to reschedule exams/assignments or get someone else to take your shift. Most likely, your interview will be out of town, and you will need to at least take a couple of days off from school and/or work.
Know your application like the back of your hand. You told your story on paper, and now an admissions committee wants to learn more about you. They will most likely ask you some questions specifically tailored to your application in order to get to know you better, so be sure you remember why a certain volunteer experience you raved about in your application was so impactful. Anything you mention in your application is up for grabs by your interviewers. I was asked about a research experience I had that only lasted for 1 semester, during which all I pretty much did was remove 2 different types of invasive species from the forest floor by hand (a.k.a. pulling weeds). I was asked how my outside interests, such as the fact that I wanted to be an actress for the longest time (as mentioned in my personal statement), could be used to my advantage on my journey to becoming a doctor. Think hard about your interests and your background, and reflect on how and why they make you who you are, and you should be able to answer any question that comes your way.
Research the school. As much as the schools are checking you out, they also want to know you are serious about them. This involves a little research… A good first place to start is the school website. Click around, and see specifically what it is that you like about a particular school. Google the school and see what articles you can find about what students are doing in the community, and read about possible expansions and new programs the school will have in the near future. If you can, find someone who attended the school and get the inside scoop.
*Take a very close look at the school’s mission statement*, and picture exactly how you will fulfill their mission. When it comes to this piece of advice, there is no room for generalizations. Think as specifically as possible about how you will fulfill the school’s mission, as if you are already a student there. If you can’t see how you will fit in at a particular school, chances are the admissions committee will not see it either.
Practice your interview. Even if you are outgoing or if you’ve had several interviews before, PRACTICE! This is one of the most important interviews of your life, the gateway to your dream finally coming true! As dramatic as that sounds, take it seriously because (hopefully) this is something you truly want. Research practice medical school interviews online. See what resources your university offers for practice interviews either through your pre-health advisor or through career services. Practice eye contact, calming your nerves, and saying what you want to say with confidence.
Wear a suit. Everyone in both of my medical school interviews wore a suit, both ladies and gentlemen. Ladies, either a pantsuit or a skirt suit is fine! I wore the outfit in the picture above 🙂 It doesn’t have to be fancy, but a nice interview suit is always worth the investment. Wearing a watch is also a nice touch.
Extra notes for the ladies: Step it up a notch and wear panty hose. Also, be mindful of possible slits in skirts, and wear a very conservative top underneath your blazer. I chose to wear a solid color button down (as pictured above). Simple jewelry and makeup is the way to go. Either remove your nail polish or paint your nails a classic shade so your hands look perfectly neat for a solid handshake :).
Wear comfortable shoes. Med school interviews are usually an all-day affair, starting early in the morning and ending in the middle of the afternoon. There will be a lot of walking to interviews, tours, etc. Heels, although they look nice, are not ideal. Do not wear them unless you are comfortable walking in them all day long. Gents, be sure to wear actual dress shoes (no boat shoes!).
Ensure your comfort the night before the interview. Eat well. Treat yourself. Glance over your application and information about the school one more time. Get that beauty sleep so you can think clearly the next day. Stay with a friend or family member, stay in a hotel, but make sure wherever you are staying will help you be the most comfortable and calm and not hurt you in preparing for your interview the next morning.
Arrive early. The medical field greatly values timeliness (contrary to what patients may believe!). Showing up early is a standard to which you must adjust. Make sure you know where you are going, and budget some time in case you get lost. If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.
Be friendly and polite. Everyone will be paying attention to what you are doing from the time you arrive until you pull out of the parking lot. They will notice if you seem disengaged, tired, bored, or in a bad mood. Remember to smile throughout the day. Hold doors, say “please” and “thank you”, have solid handshakes, maintain good eye contact, be kind and courteous to all staff, and remember the names of those you meet. Your actions speak just as loudly, if not more so, than what you say during interview day.
Be mindful of what you say. Everyone will be paying attention to what you say. Save any complaints and gossip to yourself. Have a positive attitude, and may positive words radiate from you 🙂
Ask questions. As I mentioned earlier, the school wants to know you are interested in them as much as they are interested in you. Use questions that popped into your head while researching the school. Hopefully, you will have written those down and brought them with you to the interview. You can also come up with a standard mental list of questions you wish to ask every school. Make sure those questions are not easily answered online, and try not to ask them if they are already answered during your interview day.
Be yourself. This is the most important tip I can give you. Be authentically yourself. YOU are the only you among the thousands. That is the only thing that will make you unique and stand out among the rest. YOU are going to have to endure medical school, not the person you pretend to be on interview day.
Send thank you notes. Know who interviewed you so you can send thank you notes or thank you e-mails! Schools usually say this doesn’t matter, but it never hurts to be extra polite and show you truly appreciated attending interview day.