Health professional schools are quite unique in that they are very interested in meeting and getting to know their candidates through an interview. Only a small percentage of applicants are invited to interview (the actual number varies greatly from school to school) and this is the final phase of the application process. Interviews are absolutely required for admission and students must travel to the medical school to complete this process.
How important is the interview?
Very important! It is important to recognize that each school has its own evaluation system leading to an interview and then to acceptance. Although admissions committees strive to be as equitable and objective as possible, it is not a perfect world and therefore, there is no perfect system. Applicants will be confronted with different types of interviews and these interviews will be weighted differently in the overall evaluation by each school. Most schools will use the interview evaluation in their final admissions decisions.
Getting to the interview stage is definitely a good sign. It usually means that the committee is interested in learning more information about you. But students should not take it too lightly. This is the only aspect of the application that is still within the applicant’s control. Applicants cannot change their MCATs or their GPA, but they can be well- prepared for the interview and make a positive impression.
What is the purpose of the interview?
In general, the purpose of the interview is to assess the applicant’s personal characteristics. The most common characteristics that they are looking for are listed below:
Motivation for/commitment to medicine
Evidence of extracurricular activities
Knowledge of Medical field
Logical thought/Problem Solving
Ability to create rapport
Scheduling the Interview
Applicants can be invited to interview anytime from September through April. Applicants may be invited by phone mail or email. Therefore applicants should maintain a consistent address so that they can be certain to receive notifications. Applicants should also be sure to have a professional sounding voice mail on their phone. Music or silly messages should be erased for the time being. Additionally, applicants should make sure that if they have roommates who are also answering the phone that they answer courteously and take detailed messages.
Health professional schools may assign applicants a particular date or give them a choice of dates. Applicants should try to adhere to the choices and try to schedule their interview earlier rather than later. Remember that most schools are on a rolling admissions process, and therefore, earlier is better.
While most health professional schools discourage students from requesting interviews, in special circumstances it may be appropriate for an applicant to request one. If an applicant is traveling to a distant city for another interview it is appropriate for the applicant to bring this to the attention of the other schools in that city to which s/he has applied and ask if it is possible to be considered for an interview during the time when s/he will be in town. The more advance notice an applicant can provide the better. Many schools will try to accommodate applicants in this situation especially if it is on the opposite coast; however, it is not always possible due to timing of file review, et cetera.
Re-scheduling interviews is discouraged but if an emergency occurs and applicants need to reschedule or cancel an interview, they should communicate with the school courteously. Applicants should contact the school as much in advance as they can so that another candidate may fill the space (this could be another candidate from Columbia!). Those who call a school to change an interview or withdraw from one should, follow-up in writing to confirm this change. This type of communication should not occur via email. Remember that your behavior not only reflects on you as an individual but on Columbia as a whole. Please be professional and courteous.
Travel: When applicants are scheduling their travel, they should plan enough time before and after interview in order to explore the surrounding area and still be on time. If possible, applicants should plan to arrive the night before so that they have an opportunity to relax and get to know the area. Applicants may consider spending the night with a student host to save money. These student hosts will also be able to give applicants a good perspective on student life and what to expect for the interview. This is usually a great opportunity for applicants to learn more about the school.
Costs: Interviewing is expensive. Applicants need to budget for travel, possibly hotel, rental car, a nice suit etc. For travel discounts applicants may call the Health Professions Travel Desk at 800-944-9923.
Dress: Applicants should dress conservatively and comfortably. A solid suit – knee length skirt for women is usually best, as well as shoes that applicants can comfortably walk in. Be careful of excessive jewelry, which can be distracting
What To Expect
Each school handles their interview process somewhat differently, but in general, applicants can expect a whole or half day of events accompanying their interview. Applicants may meet students, get a tour of the campus and/or clinical facilities, sit in on a class, eat lunch etc. Applicants will be a part of a larger group of applicants who are also being interviewed that day.
The interview day may include one or a series of interviews by different individuals. About two-thirds of medical schools have applicants do one interview, about one-third require two interviews and a small number require 3 or more. On average, an interview usually lasts about 45 minutes. It is to applicants’ advantage to find out as much about the interview process before the event as possible. Applicants should speak to their premedical advisors, students at the school, and admissions staff about the format and schedule. Applicants will be more prepared and relaxed if they know what to expect.
In this type of interview, the interviewer has access to the entire application file during and/or before the interview. With an open file interview, applicants should be prepared to talk about any weaknesses in their application (that C in Organic Chem), their extracurricular experiences and whatever they wrote in their personal statement.
In this type of interview, the interviewer knows nothing about the applicant beforehand other than his/her name. The idea here is to remove bias based on information in the file. In this type of interview applicants need to be prepared to talk about themselves and establish rapport. This person has not read the personal statement, so applicants will not be able to refer to it. This interview format is usually more open-ended and applicants should not be surprised if you hear “Tell me about yourself.”
Occasionally applicants will be faced with a panel interview in which they are being interviewed by a small group of individuals. The panel may present you with a scenario or each may ask individual questions. This type of interview is less common.
Who are the interviewers?
The interviewers may be clinical faculty, researchers, admissions personnel, and/or medical students. Applicants should know the position of your interviewer so that they may tailor the interview. For example, an applicant would ask different questions of a medical student than they would a clinical faculty member. Or if an applicant knows that the interviewer is on the curriculum committee, they should ask pertinent questions about the curriculum.
Preparing for the Interview
The purpose of preparation is not to prepare “canned” responses to questions that might be asked but rather to do some serious self-reflection. Applicants should think about themselves and how they relate to their chosen career. They should ask themselves what has brought them to this point and why are they are pursuing this application. They should delve into their past and try to understand all the factors that influenced their decisions and goals. How were their attitudes shaped by their experiences? Applicants should be honest with themselves. They should think about their strengths and weaknesses. They should think about how to present these in the most positive light. The purpose of this self-reflection is for applicants to really learn about themselves, to better understand their opinions, motivations and character. They should have a strong sense of who they are and how they differ from the rest of the pack. As applicants begin to think about themselves they should have a pad and pen handy. Writing ideas down will help to organize thoughts and formulate good responses.
Here is a list of sample questions to help you prepare.
Know About a Medical Career and the Required Training
From volunteer and other health-related experiences applicants should have a working knowledge of the field of health and medicine. They should know both the positives and negatives of this career and lifestyle. They should also know what to expect in health professional school and residency training. They should know about the current issues and policy debates affecting the field. Applicants should read relevant journals, newsmagazines, and newspapers , and attend lectures and conferences to increase their knowledge. The more knowledge applicants are able to demonstrate about medicine, the more committed they will seem to the field.
Know School-Specific Information
It is absolutely essential that applicants read and reread all the material that they can find about the school at which they are interviewing. They should peruse Web pages, request catalogs, and know the curriculum and unique programs of schools. It is important that applicants do not ask questions that were clearly stated in the school’s brochures.
Prepare Your Questions
It is important to prepare questions to ask interviewers. These should be questions that are not answered in their written materials. Ask your questions in a way that expresses enthusiasm for the positive answer. Ask straightforward and open-ended questions.
The Night Before
Reread all application materials that were sent to this school
Reread all of the information about the school
Review questions to ask the interviews
Get a good night’s sleep!
The Day of the Interview
Don’t drink too much coffee – a bathroom may not be around when you need it!
Don’t smoke – many physicians have a great sense of smell!
Eat something – growling stomachs are distracting!
YOUR INTERVIEW PERFORMANCE
It is important to remember that every interview is unique and will be affected by the personality and style of the interviewer. Applicants’ own style therefore should change depending on the situation. It is important to try to establish rapport with the interviewer. The interview is a conversation and it is important that applicants listen carefully and answer the questions asked. Applicants should not try to dance around a subject. They should be honest and sincere, and themselves. When asked for their opinion, an applicant should give it. As long as applicants are able to support their arguments and opinions, the interviewer will respect them.
Remember that the interviewer is in charge. Applicants should try not to get flustered if the interviewer cuts you off or changes the subject abruptly. The interviewer may have a list of questions that he/she has to get through in the allotted time. Also if the interview seems to get off task, don’t panic, again let the interviewer take control.
Expect the unexpected. Be ready for criticism. Don’t be surprised if an interviewer is brusque or unfriendly. The interviewer may be testing emotional stability and an ability to deal with difficult people. Remain confident and positive.
Applicants are encouraged to think before they speak. Applicants will undoubtedly be asked questions that they may be unprepared for. It’s okay to ask the interviewer for a few moments to think. It is better to have a few moments of silence rather than giving an unorganized response.
Appear confident. Give a firm handshake, maintain good eye contact and body posture, and a strong voice.
Be pleasant. It is important to be positive and pleasant to everyone that you interact with on the day of the interview (this includes secretaries and receptionists, students and other applicants). Remember that applicants’ actions are being scrutinized all day.