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Tips for impressing your medical school interviewers

By Daisy Kim, MD

Phew… you let out a sigh of relief. After all those hours of MCAT and application prep, you are thrilled to realize you have somehow reached the final round. After a short while of euphoria, you find yourself growing anxious about the interview day. “What exactly are they looking for?”

You wonder. “I guess they have some faith in me (on paper), but how do I convince them I am worthy of their investment amongst a sea of applicants?” Well say no more – here come some tips from someone who has been on both sides of the interviewing table.

Do: relax and smile.

As cliché as this sounds, it is true. Positive aura is infectious, and you can work the halo effect to your advantage. It is obvious from even the initial exchange of hellos how comfortable you appear, and this quite powerfully affects the mood of your interviewer during interview, better yet when they type up your evaluation. The most pleasantly memorable applicants are always the ones who are engaged in the conversations all the while keeping their cool.

Unchanged: Showing that you can remain relaxed in this high stress situation is a strength. Of course, don’t be too comfortable – no slouching on the chair or using overly casual language. If you find yourself nervous during the interview, and maybe even making some verbal mistakes, it is actually okay to say “sorry, I am nervous!” When I heard this confession from some applicants, I thought they were honest and even endearing.

Don’t: recite your application verbatim.

You will be encouraged by interviewers to elaborate on some of the experiences listed on your application. Be prepared to talk about it from the experience itself, beyond the literal words you used to write those paragraphs. Never use grammatic sentences identical from your written submissions to provide a summary. When this happens, you risk sounding rehearsed and the interviewer’s mind begins to wander.

Do: weave together different parts of your application.

You may have 1000 experiences listed on your primary application. That is wonderful. But after the interview is over, all that the interview may remember is ~3 most memorable things. So how do you not let the 997 impressive facts about you not go to waste? By connecting the dots for the interviewer.

For example, you may have volunteered to become the big brother/big sister of a student with special needs…which began your interest in developmental psychology…so you studied it in college, and even got to publish a journal article…you babysit which earns you money but also allows you to confirm your interest in studying/caring for children. With this kind of narrative that connects your “menial” job (babysitting) to academic accomplishment (publication) to college background (psychology major), you are creating a story that paints you as one cohesive person as opposed to a compartmentalized body/brain.

Don’t: get hung up on non-positive feedback during the interview.

Interviewers do not always have poker face (or mouth). As a result, you may or may not be subject to negative verbal/nonverbal feedback right then and there during the interview. Like, “you spent a lot of time researching but not so much volunteering. How come?” “Your application sounds as though you are on a PhD route. Why MD?”

When you confront unexpected criticisms/doubts about your application, your heart may drop and begin to feel hopeless. Stop and check yourself. Forget the past and move on to the continued positive encounter. Of course, you can take a few minutes to address that feedback. But when you are done, move on.

The Ultimate Do: enjoy the interview, and be curious.

Besides the whole being “judged” by a complete stranger aspect of medical school interviewing, this is the best opportunity for you to grow your interest in that medical school. Imagine what it would actually feel like to be a student there… is the student body diverse enough for you to survive four years of medical school with? Is it close/far enough from your parents? Is the neighborhood affordable? Don’t be shy and ask away: politely but honestly.