2021 Medical School Interview Guide

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Congratulations, you made it to the medical school interview! This means medical schools find you compelling enough on paper that they want to meet you in person to see if you would be a good fit.

Our medical school interview guide covers a range of topics, including common interview questions, preparation advice, what to wear, and mistakes to avoid. Here’s what to expect:

  • Where interviews fit in the application process
  • When to expect medical school interviews
  • How to schedule medical school interviews
  • Common medical school interview questions
  • How to prepare for medical school interview questions
  • What to wear for medical school interviews
  • What to do on the day of your interview
  • Medical school interview mistakes to avoid
  • What happens after your interview

Medical School Interview Guide

 

Where Interviews Fit in the Application Process

Medical school interviews are the final step in the application process, following taking the MCAT, submitting your primary application (including a personal statement, letters of recommendation, etc.,) and submitting your secondary applications.

In other words, interviews follow a great deal of hard, tedious, and demanding work. Applying to medical school is a long process, and it’s easy for applicants to burn out by this point. Interviews are the home stretch, but you’re not out of the woods yet. Not by a long shot. No matter how glowing your letters of recommendation are, and regardless of whether you scored a perfect 528 on your MCAT, a bad interview can break your entire application.

While interviews are the final step on your journey to med school acceptance, it’s vital that you prepare for them throughout the entire process.

 

When to Expect Medical School Interviews

The final deadline for applications and secondary materials does not represent the timeline you should follow. Applying early is one of the most important medical school admission strategies. Apply as soon as applications open for your best chance of acceptance.

Medical School Application Timeline

For more information about ideal scheduling, read our Medical School Application Timeline Guide.

Some medical schools will automatically invite you for an interview if you meet certain GPA and MCAT cutoffs—without even reviewing the rest of your application. These schools could send you an invitation as early as August, but most schools won’t start sending out interview invitations until September.

While interviews could begin as early as the summer, they will continue until the spring of the following year, concluding in April or sometimes as late as May.

You will likely receive an email inviting you to interview at a particular program, and they will generally provide you with a list of dates to choose from. Don’t procrastinate. Respond as quickly as possible, as your preferred interview date may fill up fast.

Due to rolling admissions, it’s a good idea to schedule an interview earlier in the process. Rolling admissions mean medical schools review applications as they are submitted on a continuous (rolling) basis. Offers are only made while spots are available, so the longer you wait, the worse your chances of acceptance.

 

How to Schedule Medical School Interviews

It’s important to be strategic about how you schedule your interviews. But first things first: ensure you have a relatively open schedule during interview season. For example, don’t book any trips or buy non-refundable concert tickets. Explain to your friends, family, and employers that you need to be flexible with your commitments during this time.

While it’s important to schedule your interviews as early as possible, it’s not a good idea to schedule interviews at the schools you’re most excited to attend first. Get some experience with the interview process by scheduling interviews at a few schools you’re less interested in. This way, you can familiarize yourself with the process and understand what to expect. You can then enter the interviews at your top schools with fewer nerves and more confidence.

That said, don’t schedule them too late either. Scheduling your top interviews too late could cause you to run out of steam and burn out on the process, and there are rolling admissions to consider as well. Schedule interviews at your top schools toward the middle of the process to maximize your confidence level and maintain your enthusiasm.

Read our Ideal Strategy for How to Schedule Medical School Interviews.

 

Common Medical School Interview Questions

You can’t completely predict the questions you will be asked, but there are some common themes you can expect on interview day. Prepare answers to common questions in advance and practice answering them alone in front of a mirror, in front of other people you trust, and in mock interviews.

Some of the most common questions or requests you’ll hear include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to become a doctor?
  • Why do you want to attend this medical school?
  • What are you looking for in a medical school?
  • What makes you a good fit for this medical school?
  • Which area of medicine interests you most?
  • How will your experiences contribute to the diversity of our school?
  • What interest do you have in research?
  • What specialty are you interested in?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • What makes you stand out?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What is the last book you read?
  • What do you think about (insert current event here)?
  • Why should we choose you over other candidates?
  • How does our mission statement align with your personal values?
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

 

How to Prepare for Medical School Interview Questions

1 | Prepare Answers for Common Questions

Use the common questions listed above to prepare your answers and responses. Don’t create a script to memorize and repeat verbatim during the interview, but build a foundational response that you can customize and adjust based on the interviewer.

You applied to the school for a reason. What is it? Do your research on the program. Why does the campus and mission statement speak to you? Why do you want to be a doctor, and what qualifies you to pursue that vocation?

Don’t overcomplicate things. These are all questions you have likely already answered with your primary and secondary applications. Review your application materials, as every personal anecdote, research experience, and extracurricular is fair game to be asked about.

Be confident in your abilities. At this point in the application process, you know how to sell yourself and present your accomplishments in the best possible light.

2 | Evaluate Your Own Body Language

Practice answering questions in front of the mirror and record your responses so you can watch them back. If you’re not used to being on stage, speaking in front of people, or being on camera, this may be a bit of a challenge for you. Nevertheless, you will be on full display the moment you step on campus and during your interview. You need to evaluate your body language to determine how you come across.

It’s important that your body language during the interview reflects confidence and composure. You want to present a balance of confidence—not too timid and not too intimidating.

Practice standing and sitting up straight with your shoulders back in the mirror. To stand or sit up straight, keep your hands apart and lift them up toward the ceiling. Roll your shoulders back and allow your arms to gently fall behind you to each side. If your chest feels unnaturally puffed out, don’t worry—this is actually correct posture, and it will project confidence.

Practice being animated and using hand gestures when you answer questions, and vary your tone of voice so that you don’t come across as dull or apathetic. Breathing diaphragmatically will help you speak clearly and with more confidence. Practice demonstrating active listening—nod your head and smile, and say ‘mmhmm’ and ‘uh-huh’ intermittently.

To warm up before practice interviews and on the day of, do face yoga in the mirror to alleviate any tension, stress, or worry. Open up your mouth and eyes extremely wide, as if you’re surprised, then squish up your face in your best impression of a raisin. Repeating these actions several times will relax the muscles in your face, making you appear more comfortable and animated than you would otherwise.

4 | Practice Mouth Exercises and Vocal Warm Ups

Before you hit the gym to lift weights and exercise, you first need to warm up your muscles to avoid strain and to execute movements smoothly and correctly. The same is true of speaking. How many times have you found yourself tongue-tied?

Tripping over your words or speaking too quickly will make you appear nervous.

Get in the habit of warming up your mouth and vocal cords. Quickly repeat phrases like “red leather, yellow leather,” “the tip of the tongue, the teeth, and the lips,” and “the lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue,” as clearly and articulately as possible. Focus on enunciating every vowel and consonant. Chew the words like you would a sandwich and exaggerate the movements of your mouth.

Performing these exercises will loosen up your mouth and help you enunciate properly, aiding your ability to answer questions confidently.

5 | Participate in Mock Interviews

Mock interviews are the most effective preparation method, as they’re a lot closer to the real thing than being interviewed by your roommates or parents. Participate in as many of these as you need to in order to become comfortable with the interview process.

Practice mirroring your interviewer’s movements, tone of voice, and posture, as this is an effective way to build rapport and make someone positively predisposed to you. Psychologists call mirroring someone’s posture, mannerisms, and way of speaking the Chameleon Effect, and it’s an excellent, natural way to make yourself likable to someone. It will also suggest to the interviewer that you will fit in on campus.

 

What to Wear for Medical School Interviews

Regardless of your gender, the name of the game here is conservative. Your med school interviews are not an opportunity to play with style and color. Dress in dark, neutral tones, such as navy, charcoal, dark grey, or possibly black, and don’t wear flashy or attention-grabbing ties.

Don’t focus on buying the most expensive suit—focus on buying one that fits. It’s better to buy a cheap suit and have it tailored than it is to buy an expensive suit that fits you poorly.

If you plan to wear a skirt instead of suit pants, ensure it is at least knee length and combine it with a matching suit jacket. Don’t choose heels that are too high, as you will be doing a lot of walking while on tours, and you want to be as comfortable as possible.

Ensure your hair is neat and tidy and you’re well groomed. Jewelry, accessories, and makeup should be professional and subtle.

 

What to Do on the Day of Your Interview

1 | Be Courteous and Treat Everyone With Respect

Always treating people with respect is a great rule for life in general, but it’s especially important to remain courteous and respectful throughout your entire application process and on interview day. You never know who you could be crossing paths with. Be polite, kind, and courteous no matter where you are—in the airport, in the taxi, on campus, or waiting in line at Starbucks. Treat every single person as if they could be the program coordinator or serve on the admissions committee.

The night before the interview, many schools offer an optional social event. Attendance isn’t required, but it is definitely advisable that you attend if possible. Be professional and polite, as faculty and students attending the pre-interview social will be keeping note of you and watching for red flags. Many students fall into the trap of only believing they need to be on their best behavior on the day of the interview. Any negative impression you make will be noted and used against you, and it could ruin your chances of acceptance.

2 | Ready Your Body and Mind

Before your interview, find a secluded area to warm up your body, face, mouth, and vocal cords. If you can’t find a secluded area, well, now is the time to be brave. Don’t sacrifice the success of your interview for fear of looking strange. If anything, your fellow applicants should be following your example.

Complete a few face yoga exercises, and repeat tongue twisters until you can enunciate every vowel and consonant clearly. This will help you to not trip over your answers and get tongue-tied in front of the interviewer.

Social science research has shown that practicing power poses for two minutes before your interview, such as in the elevator or bathroom, can increase your confidence and significantly decrease your stress levels. When waiting for your interview to begin, don’t slouch or frantically read through your notes. Stand up straight, project confidence, and focus on taking deep breaths to steady your heart rate. This will alleviate your anxiety and shape your brain for success.

3 | Make the Interview a Conversation

Don’t be a robot. In order to leave a lasting impression, turn the interview into an organic conversation. It’s very important to practice your answers beforehand, but not at the expense of sounding robotic and uncomfortable.

Memorize answer prompts, not a complete script, as you may not be asked all of the questions you expect, and you don’t want to be thrown off. Ensure the interview flows naturally by asking questions, engaging with the interviewer, and adapting to the environment.

4 | Adjust Based on the Interviewer

Every interviewer is different. Pay attention to the tone and tempo of the conversation and expand or contract the length of your answers as needed. Adjust as you go based on the responses you receive.

In order to accomplish this, you must know your content inside and out. By the time interviews roll around, you should be at the point where you’re quite comfortable speaking about all aspects of yourself as well as everything included in your application—that means every research project or extracurricular you participated in, even if it was several years ago. Anything you included in your application is fair game to be asked about.

5 | Elicit Positive Emotions in Your Interviewer

Keep in mind that it’s a crowded field. Many of your fellow applicants will have similar stories, research experiences, and values to your own. To be memorable, it’s important to elicit positive emotions in your interviewer and build rapport.

Treat the interview like a normal conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the interviewer and discover some shared interests. Focus on getting along with them, not just impressing them with your list of accomplishments.

6 | Be Calm and Collected

Deliver a firm, confident handshake, and make strong eye contact without overdoing it. Be confident and comfortable, yet humble. If you can’t already tell, it’s a delicate balancing act. Overcompensating and being bombastic with your confidence is just as much of a turn off to an admissions committee as being timid and nervous.

Remaining calm, cool, and collected during your interview demonstrates your ability to handle the high pressure that comes with being a physician, which will inspire the admissions committee to have confidence in you.

If you struggle to convey confidence, remember that acting confident comes with intentional practice. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It may be a tired old adage, but it’s true: fake it till you make it. Practice your answers in front of the mirror, record yourself and play back the footage, participate in mock interviews, and schedule interviews at your lower tier schools first to build your confidence.

 

Medical School Interview Mistakes to Avoid

There are a number of things you want to avoid before, during, and after a medical school interview. Think of all of the things you wouldn’t do during a regular job interview, and amplify it.

What to avoid before, during, and after your med school interview:

  • Don’t be rude to staff or students.
  • Don’t walk through the halls with your head down.
  • Don’t scroll social media while on campus.
  • Don’t dress inappropriately.
  • Don’t wear strong cologne or perfume.
  • Don’t cross your arms.
  • Don’t be late.
  • Don’t be negative or sarcastic.
  • Don’t swear during the interview.
  • Don’t forget to silence or turn off your phone.
  • Don’t chew gum during the interview.
  • Don’t sound too rehearsed.
  • Don’t ramble or go off topic.
  • Don’t offer bland or generic answers.
  • Don’t lie about your skills or experience.
  • Don’t gossip about other medical schools or other applicants.
  • Don’t list your impressive qualities without also providing evidence from your past.
  • Don’t fail to ask informed questions about the school and program.
  • Don’t ask simple questions that can be answered on the school’s website.
  • Don’t forget to send a thank you email after the interview.

It’s important to remember that as soon as you set foot on campus, you need to be ‘on’. Be kind, polite, and courteous to everyone and actively engage with your surroundings. Don’t take the opportunity to document your experience on social media. Assume you’re being constantly watched and evaluated. Taking selfies or having your nose in your phone while you are touring campus is a very bad look, and it will be noticed.

 

What Happens After Your Interview?

1 | Send Thank You Emails

After your interview, send a thank you email within a few days. Do not wait too long, as the interviewer may begin to forget about you, diminishing the positive effect of the email. When it comes time to discuss you at the admissions committee meeting, interviewers will be more likely to remember you and feel positive about you.

Keep the email brief and appreciative. Creating a simple, customizable template for yourself that you can reuse will allow you to approach the process efficiently and with a personal touch.

2 | Letters of Interest and Intent

Letters of interest and letters of intent are sent after the medical school interview.

A letter of interest lets the admissions committee know that you’re interested in attending their program. It can be sent to multiple schools since you’re not making a commitment—you’re just declaring a high level of interest.

A letter of intent signifies your commitment to attend the program if you should be accepted. A letter of intent should only be sent to one school.

 

Ace Your Medical School Interviews

Med School Insiders offers a course on How to Ace the Medical School Interview that provides thorough and thoughtful training to prepare you for the entire interview process. The course covers all of the details, from what precisely to pack to making a cheat sheet to common pitfalls to how to address the most common questions.

Check out our library of free resources covering MCAT study strategies, primary applications, secondaries, and everything in between.

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