How to Survive Your 7-Year Med Program Interview
College admissions is a holistic process, meaning that universities admit students based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to test scores, grades, extracurricular activities, essays, and interviews. While standardized exams and GPA are tools used to gauge your intelligence and critical thinking abilities, the other admission criteria inform colleges about who you are as a person. The interview is perhaps the most direct strategy that admission officers utilize to reveal different aspects of your character, personality, interests, and goals.
While regular alumni interviews are important components of your application portfolio, performing well at a combined medical program interview is especially crucial to your appeal as a candidate. Being offered an alumni interview is nothing out of the ordinary, but being invited to interview for a medical program is the admission committee’s way of telling you that you are academically qualified for the program. Some combined medical programs receive thousands of applications every cycle, so the interview allows admission committees to handpick the most qualified candidates from a manageable pool of already academically qualified students. So to make it all the way and be accepted into the program, you must distinguish yourself through your maturity and firm commitment to medicine, which are, in their eyes, the two biggest differentiating factors.
If you’ve made it all the way to the interview, there is essentially already a spot in the program just waiting to be claimed, but in order to do so, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of how the process works. Unlike alumni interviews, which are usually less formal, medical program interviews are often weekend-long events. The first night consists of student mixers and ice breaking events, which are intended to make sure you feel comfortable and well-acquainted with the campus; the main event is the following day, when you’ll most likely be given a tour of the medical school and then ushered in for your interview.
The interview itself is done a bit differently by each program, but in many cases, you’ll either be interviewed by a medical professional and/or a program director. Interviews conducted by medical professionals (doctors, medical school faculty, etc.) are generally more medicine-oriented. These interviewers seek to determine the strength of your commitment to medicine by asking typical medical school questions, such as “why medicine?” On the other hand, program director interviews are more geared towards your interest in the undergraduate institution and the program itself. Potential questions include “why would you like to attend this college?” and “what makes this particular program more attractive than other medical programs?”
Although these two types of interviews have different focuses, both attempt to assess your maturity as a candidate. In the United States, the average age of a first-year medical student is 24; as a combined medical program candidate, you are most likely 17 or 18 years old, which is why maturity is such an important thing to portray during your interview. Admission committees want to see that you are ready for the trials of premed and medical school not just academically but on a personal level as well.
In light of the importance of this step of the medical program process, here are our top five tips for interview success:
- Be as specific as possible
If a medical professional asks about your initial interest in medicine, don’t respond with vague and non-concrete statements. You want to really convince them of your conviction that medicine is the right field for you, and the best way to do so is by providing memorable examples and stories illustrating your desire to pursue medicine. Always backup your answers with specific evidence. In other words, if you’re asked “How would your best friend describe you,” don’t simply answer “spontaneous.” Tell a story about a time you were spontaneous and how that experience influenced your friend’s perception of you.
- Know your stuff
Make sure that you’re super familiar with the undergraduate institution and medical school with which your particular program is affiliated. Your interviewer(s) is bound to ask you why you would like to attend this specific institution. If you’re interviewing for Northwestern’s HPME, how can you answer this question if you don’t know anything about Northwestern University or the Feinberg School of Medicine? Before you go into the interview, thoroughly surf the school’s website and read up on special tracks, degree programs, details about social life, etc. This way, you’ll be informed enough to also ask questions of your own; doing so will demonstrate your interest in both the school and the program.
- Don’t forget about medicine
Throughout the interview, keep in mind that you’re in the middle of a medical program interview. Thus, the single most important thing to focus on is your desire and commitment to pursuing medicine as a career. These programs would rather not waste precious time and resources on students not completely dedicated to the field. Admission committees use the interview to weed out the students they think are not wholly committed to medicine. Therefore, it is essential to always appear certain about your decision to study medicine. Practice answering the more medicine-oriented interview questions, such as “why medicine?” and “what are your goals in the medical field?”
- Don’t act like a high school senior
The two most important personal qualities to signal during your interview are your strong commitment to medicine, discussed in the previous tip, and your maturity for your age. It’s not enough to simply act like a high school senior; you want to act like a college senior as this is the demographic that medical schools usually interview and admit. Of course, this is easier said than done, but there are a few things you can do to give yourself this appearance of maturity. Assuming an air of confidence helps fight the nerves and allows you to seem calm and collected. Good posture and a strong handshake will go a long way in this respect. In addition, make sure to take natural pauses before you answer questions, rather than quickly rushing into your responses. This brief relapse will help you maintain control over the pace of the interview.
- Practice, practice, practice
Practice really does make perfect. While you’re not supposed to memorize interview responses and recite them like an automaton, you’re not supposed to go in blind either. The best way to prepare is to simulate the actual experience of a medical program interview. CollegeVine offers a combined medical program interview prep program, where one of our interview specialists will run through practice questions with you in a mock interview format.
Medical program interviews are the crucial last step in a long, grueling application process. Although the interview is the final obstacle between you and program acceptance, it’s also arguably the most important. The interview is what program admission officers and medical schools will use to gauge you as both a human being and a potential undergraduate and medical student, so it is imperative that you give off a good impression. While these five tips are by no means a comprehensive guide to interview success, keep them in mind as you prepare and practice for your interview. Best of luck!