Questions About Interviews

What are Medical School Interviews Like?
Complicated Interview Questions
Reading About Healthcare


What are Medical School Interviews Like?

Question:  I’ve watched older students stressing out about missing classes for interviews. I’m trying to decide whether or not to apply direct entry or with a glide year. Can you tell me what I could expect during interviews? How much school am I likely to miss? How do students handle it?

Answer: The interview process varies widely for applicants based on a number of factors, including strength of candidacy, timeliness of application, and school choice. Every year, a handful of our applicants receive no interview invitations, a few had one interview invitation and one acceptance (one is all it takes!). On the other extreme, a handful of our applicants attend over a dozen interviews, including some who were applying MD/PhD and thus had two-day interviews at each school.

Generally speaking, an interview day will include a couple of different presentations, a tour of the school, a meal, and the interviews themselves. Interviews may be one-on-one, one applicant with a panel of interviewers, a few applicants interviewed in a group with one or more interviewers, or in multiple mini interview format, where applicants move from room to room spending a short amount of time at each. Some schools employ a combination of these styles in their interview experience. You can read more about your peers’ experiences at interviews on our HPA interview reports. In most cases, you should anticipate being gone for the whole day on an interview day (plus travel time). Some direct entry students choose to take three classes in the fall and schedule so that they have at least one day free, which may facilitate travel to interviews. 

Cancelling Interviews: "Traffic Rules"

Question: I have a quick question. - I received an interview at ---------- School of Medicine, and I accepted it and scheduled one. However, I recently decided to cancel my interview and withdraw my application from that particular school. My interview is scheduled for next week. Is there any advice on the HPA website on how to properly inform them (I couldn't find any)? Should I give them a specific reason? Thanks very much . . .

Answer: I'm so glad you contacted us prior to taking action. Information about cancelling interviews is not readily available on our website because it is not generally recommended, and we don't want to encourage it. An invitation to interview is a privilege that many applicants never have, and the general feeling among medical schools is that interviewees should respect all invitations and show up for all interviews. In addition, we find that students who keep an open mind when going to interviews at schools where they do not originally think they'd like to matriculate are often surprised by what they find on interview day, and often change their minds. That said, there are candidates every year who must cancel an interview on their schedule, but they NEVER do it with less than one week's notice. --------- School of Medicine will be upset with you, most definitely, if you cancel now, as it is highly unlikely that they would be able to fill the slot you would vacate. At this late hour, we would strongly recommend going to the interview and keep an open mind. 

Complicated Interview Questions

"Do you have any questions for me?"

Question: I know that it's a good idea to have questions for my interviewers because it shows interest in the school and learning more about it, but I thought the website was really comprehensive and answered all of my questions. I'm afraid I'll ask things that are on the website and it'll look like I didn't do my homework.

Answer: First, pay attention over the course of the interview -- it's quite possible that something you hear or see will spark a question. Or if you were talking to student hosts if you stayed overnight with current med students, maybe something they said raised a question for you. 

Medical students were surveyed a few years ago to determine what they wished they had asked when they were choosing schools - their list of 35 questions is available online.

If all else fails, keep in mind that you're interviewing with someone who has some role in the school and thus has their own opinions about it, and this perspective may help you better understand the school. Questions like "What do you like best about X School," "How has the medical school student population changed in the time you've been here," "What do you think about xyz recent initiative that X School is undertaking," or "In your opinion, what's the most important thing to know about X School as a prospective student," are all possible ways to learn more about your interviewer's perspective on the school. 

No matter what, be sure to consider your interviewer and their role when thinking about what questions to ask -- you should have some questions in mind for students, faculty, staff, clinicians, alums, and admissions personnel, as you may be interviewed by individuals from any of these constituencies. 

Where Else are You applying?"

Question: In a couple of my medical school interviews so far, my interviewer has asked me what other schools I am applying to. Is this an illegal question or a common one? I have been saying that I am applying to schools on the East Coast in cities such as New York, Philadelphia, etc. without actually naming the schools. However, the interviewers seemed to want me to list all of the schools by name. I thought this was an odd question, and that what schools I apply to should not affect my candidacy at any particular one. Any advice regarding this matter would be greatly appreciated.

Answer:  It isn't easy to assess the schools' motivation in asking this question. In some cases an interviewer may be trying to determine if you are more enthusiastic about schools other than their own; in others, they may just be making what they think is innocent conversation. I tend to look at this question as a chance to point out qualities that you looked for as you put your school list together. So, for example, you could say something like, “I prioritized schools that offer early patient care opportunities that were close to home and my support system” or “I really looked for schools where I could get involved in research early and do some of my clerkships abroad” or whatever it is that you did look for (making sure that the things that you point out are also things you can get at the school where you are interviewing). Sometimes they’ll still push you for specific schools and it’s fine to name a few that fall under the criteria you’ve mentioned. Just be honest in your answer and you should be fine. 

"What's Your Favorite School?"

Question: At my last interview, my interviewer asked me what my top choice school was. What is the appropriate way to respond in this case, should I be asked the same question at a subsequent interview? 

Answer: You want to be diplomatic and truthful. It's okay to say that you're early in interview season and that you don't want to make a firm commitment until you've had a chance to learn more about the schools as you visit them and speak with faculty, staff and students and then reflect on the best fit for you. You can then highlight the aspects of the school you're visiting that appeal to you, or share some of the characteristics that you're looking for in your medical school (e.g., sense of community, global health opportunities, early clinical exposure) and ask a follow up question that might help you learn more about an aspect of the school that you're interested in. 

Giving Thanks

Question: I know we're supposed to send thank-you notes to med schools after interviews. I just got back from my first interview at ------- and was wondering exactly how to go about sending a thank-you note. Who does it go to, and should it be typed or is handwritten OK?

Answer: Interview thank-you notes should be sent to any individuals you met who interviewed you in a traditional interview format -- usually just one or two people at most med schools. You do not need to thank a dean who welcomed you at the start of your interview day, or a financial aid officer who provided information, or a med student who gave you a tour unless you made a specific, direct connection with them and want to follow up with your thanks. It's widely acceptable to send email or handwritten notes; some schools will specifically request that you follow a certain procedure (if they don't mention it, you're welcome to ask). Send the note(s) within a few days of your interview. If you have any doubt about the spelling of an individual's name, check the school's website. If that fails, it is acceptable to call the Admissions Office and explain what you're trying to do, and ask for a complete spelling (and the recipient's contact information if need be). In the note, you might express your pleasure at being able to see the med school and meet the faculty and students. You can also reiterate any points that you discussed in the interview and expand on anything you'd like, as long as it's brief. Generally, thank-you notes are short and sweet.  

Thank You Notes

Question: I was wondering if there is a template for "Thank you cards" post-interview. If there are no templates on our site, do you know of any sites that might give samples/examples of this type of thank you note? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: There are no such sites that we know of, but it is a simple matter to prepare such a note, and one should be sent immediately after each medical school interview. Such notes are usually hand written on note cards and may be quite brief. They thank the interviewer for his/her time spent with you, express your pleasure at being able to see the medical school, and reiterate points that you discussed in the interview, especially any that distinguish you from other candidates. It's a chance for you both to thank the interviewer for his/her time and also for you to remind him/her once again of your strengths as a candidate. Good luck!  

Interviewing While Abroad

Question: Dear HPA, All of the fellowships abroad are really attractive to me, but I’m applying to medical school this summer and I’m worried about the logistics of interviewing from abroad. Does this realistically work for applicants? Can you give me some examples of success stories?

Answer: Last year, we had applicants in Nicaragua, Warsaw, Cambridge, and Prague, all of whom are now in medical school. There is definitely some stress coordinating interviews, but they all made it work by applying early, communicating with their schools, and planning carefully. Choosing your abroad experience with your application cycle in mind can help: opportunities with flexibility in time off or built-in vacation in December, those that start in mid-October (so that you may be able to interview before you leave), or those that allow you to set your own schedule (like Princeton’s Labouisse and ReachOut fellowships) may be particularly attractive to allow more time for interviews. Some students have chosen to take two years off so that they could be abroad for a year and then return to the US for their interview/application year. Another option is to stay state-side during the interview season (roughly September to January/February) and seek shorter term opportunities abroad.

Our glide year opportunities list of sample activities provides specific examples of opportunities abroad that our applicants pursued. Princeton in Africa also created a tip sheet for students applying from abroad that may be of help.  

Missing Class for Interviews

Question: I have a few interviews scheduled for the fall semester and I'm going to have to miss class for them. What's the proper way to let my faculty know?

Answer: You can handle this the same way you would for other commitments that you have had that conflicted with classes. We'd recommend waiting until you've at least met the professor by attending a class or two, but don't wait until the last minute to let them know. Asking in person is probably best, especially if it's a faculty member you don't already know well, so that you can be sure that your tone is coming across professionally and accurately (which can be hard via email). Try to get to know a couple of classmates so that you have someone to ask for notes or other things that you missed, and then follow up with the professor if anything isn't clear after going over the material. Try to schedule your interviews so you aren't always missing the same classes, and so that you don't schedule on important deadlines. 

Multiple Mini-Interviews (MMIs)

Question:  Hello,  I know there are books with sample questions, scenarios, and case studies for consulting and tech interviews.  Do you know of any resources like that for MMI questions?  What should I expect at an MMI interview as opposed to a regular one?  Thanks!

Answer:  There are a few articles regarding the MMI and its efficacy in our Coursesites resource for applicants (if you're an alum and would like access, please be in touch), including the AAMC resources. Recent interviewees have recommended a book of scenarios written by Samir Desai, MD.  

Reading About Healthcare

Question:  I'm getting ready for a medical school interview and want to read more about health care but I don't want to spend a lot of money on subscriptions to medical journals or anything like that.  Do you know where I can find good articles to read about health care?  Thank you.

Answer:  Come by Health Professions Advising.  At any stage of your "pre-med" development you will benefit from some focused reading about health care, medicine, medical school, and the like, and we keep our modest library up-to-date with the latest books. You're welcome to check books out for a short period.  Titles include Larry Savett's "The Human Side of Medicine," "This Side of Doctoring: Reflections from Women in Medicine" edited by Eliza Lo Chin, MD, "What I Learned in Medical School: Personal Stories of Young Doctors," "A Life in Medicine: A Literary Anthology," and "The Pre-Dental Guide:  A Guide for Successfully Getting into Dental School."

A number of articles are available in the Articles of Interest section of our virtual library, as well. Current students can gain access with their netID, alumni can contact HPA for a password.

Read the health content of your favorite news sources, like CNN Health, New York Times Health News, and NPR Health.

There are a number of recent pieces that are taught through a Coursera course via U Penn that might be of interest – I haven’t read any of them, though, so I’m not sure how applicable they will be:

A current applicant also recommends The Health Care Handbook, written by two current medical students, which has earned strong reviews, including this one in the NY Times.

Lastly, check out an online journal called "New Physician", produced by the American Medical Student Association, which is geared toward new and prospective health care practitioners.