How do you start preparing for medical school interviews?
We know medical school interviews can be nerve-wracking, especially when considering that the program you choose will be the place that you spend the next 4 years living near, working in, and meeting people who will be your future colleagues and friends. Below are some of the common medical school interview questions, and tips for how to tackle them. Some of these will pop up again during residency a few years later, however others are more medical school specific.
1. “Tell me a little bit about yourself”
This is almost always the first question in many interviews. You should have a 1-2 minute answer that discusses where you come from and includes a few hobbies. Avoid overly long answers that go into detail about your work experiences, qualifications, etc. The reason for this is that they will absolutely get to your qualifications at some point during the interview, and this question is more geared toward simply getting to know a little bit about you as a person (likes/dislikes, hobbies, and how you otherwise spend your time). In fact, jumping straight into your qualifications when that was not directly the question that was asked can be off-putting to some interviewers.
2. “What are your hobbies/what do you like to do in your spare time?”
You can mention the active things you do with your day such as sports, exercise, social events, music or instruments, and so forth. Avoid only discussing activities where you are staying at home and watching Netflix (i.e. doing something that is not active or social). Remember, they are looking for people who will be active and social members of their medical school class to build culture at that institution.
3. “What do you feel are your greatest strengths as an applicant?”
The common response to this is to start listing off a number of traits, which is a pitfall that you should avoid. The best answers usually include a story that exhibits those traits that you are aiming to display. For instance, you can discuss a volunteer experience in which you coordinated and led multiple groups to achieve a goal that you were passionate about. This demonstrates your abilities as a leader and collaborator, and shows your passion for that topic, all without explicitly saying the words ‘passionate, leader, and collaborator”. The story allows the interviewer to come to this conclusion themselves, and is more memorable, which is a powerful tool to use for many answers on interview day.
4. “Why do you want to go to medical school?”
Once again, many people default to listing off qualities about the profession such as helping others, ability to make a meaningful impact, etc. While these aspects are true, they will be cited by almost every applicant. Choose a STORY that is meaningful to you, and made YOU want to go into medicine. Whether it is a family member who has dealt with a medical issue, or a patient that sticks out in your mind from volunteering in clinic, discuss the problems they went through, what it felt like to be able to help, and how meaningful it was to you to see them receiving the care they need.
5. “Why do you want to go to our medical school specifically?”
Generally, you should include clinical training first and foremost, research interests, opportunities for community involvement, and a positive environment to learn and grow. If you are able to site specific research labs or community programs that the institution you are interviewing with has, that will be an extra bonus as it shows you have already done your research on the medical school and know exactly why you wish to attend.
6. “Tell me something about you that is not on your C.V. or resume”
There are many ways to answer this question well. If you choose a professional story, make sure it is not one you have already written about that they may have read. Outside of work, you can choose a hobby that is interesting but also demonstrates discipline and dedication (triathlon running, playing the piano, and so forth).
7. “If you weren’t able to do medicine at all as a career, what field would you choose and why?”
There are several options to choose from. For instance, it would be completely reasonable to choose teaching due to a love of working with others and spreading knowledge, or engineering if you enjoy coding and using R for statistics software, or going into a research field that you have already demonstrated an interest in by publishing in that area, or working for a non-profit toward a cause that you are passionate about. Remember to center on the qualities that programs are looking for when considering applicants, and highlight as least one of these traits while tying in previous work that you have done which substantiates your history of dedication to that goal.
8. “What do you do to cope with stress?”
Reasonable answers to this question include different forms of exercise, reading, and spending time with friends or family. Programs are looking for someone who has experience handling stress and knows how to deal with this in a healthy manner that will not interfere with work or the success of the program.
9. “What are the areas you think you would most like to improve in?”
This is another form of the “what are your greatest weaknesses as an applicant question”. Pick something real that is relatable, however not a red flag or disqualifying. A good example is ‘Sometimes I take my work home with me and it stays with me for a couple of days when there has been a negative event at work or while volunteering where there was a bad outcome for a patient. I have worked on finding healthy ways to de-stress such as exercise and social events with friends that have really helped me in this realm’. A bad example is ‘I keep my colleagues accountable, and sometimes this has led to many conflicts’ (programs are trying to avoid students who will make big splashes and cause trouble between colleagues in medical school).
10. “What makes you unique as an applicant?”
It is a good strategy to remain humble and start off by saying that the school you are interviewing with is an incredible institution and having met some of the applicants on interview day, there are certainly many amazing applicants to choose from. You should then move on to stating that while clinical and volunteer experience is something you are passionate about, what makes you most unique is that you have led or started _____ program, and that this program has continued at your former institution/place of work after you have left. As an applicant, you wish to continue to start/lead programs like this in the future wherever you go next, because you are passionate about starting programs that will be maintained even after you have graduated. This highlights your leadership abilities, and more importantly draws attention to the fact that you will improve and grow the next organization that you are a part of. Almost everyone will cite volunteer/clinical/research experiences, but making a lasting mark on a place is something any interviewer will be impressed by.
Frequently asked questions
That depends entirely on a number of factors, including your overall GPA, science GPA, MCAT score, letters of recommendation, experiences, personal statement, and secondary application in addition to other factors. The average GPA and MCAT score for accepted students in 2021-2022 was an overall GPA of 3.74, science GPA of 3.67, and mean MCAT score of 511.9.
Since medical schools can receive thousands of applications for very few spots, and many of these applicants all have average or above average GPA and MCAT scores, the personal statement can become and important differentiator.
Extremely important. In fact, many medical schools will weigh this even more heavily than the general application personal statement, because they personally chose the prompt and want to hear why you are a great fit specifically for their medical school.
Absolutely. You should have multiple people review your essays for grammar and spelling errors, transition quality, and overall message. The most polished essays that are application-ready have usually been through at least 2 or 3 revisions prior to submission.
You should start it well before May 1st, with plans to submit your application as soon as you are able to in the beginning of June in the application cycle. Due to rolling admissions, it is a significant advantage to apply early before spots are beginning to fill up. This means that you should also notify your mentors for letters of recommendation before these dates to give them ample time for submission.