How do you grant interviews?
Every student likes to ask this question and it is a question that each admissions officer would respond differently to. Each Medical School has its own unique reputation and style and this affects how we choose students to interview. For example, our school has a good reputation but is not one of the top medical schools in the United States. We have a school of less than 200 students and we are not located in a city. We place a lot of value on the whole picture and we like to think that our faculty is filled with caring, intelligent, and excited individuals. Therefore, we like to chose students who have the same ideals in place. We recognize that MCAT scores and GPA are important considerations in deciding on which students to interview but we also recognize that certain circumstances can cause students to not do as well in a specific area. We like to look at the whole individual when trying to decide. We have many current medical students who may not have done extremely well on their MCAT or GPA but based on their outstanding resume, we decided to take a chance on these students. Some of these students are currently in the top 10 of our medical school class. I have been doing this for a long time and know that what happens before medical school does not predict what will happen in medical school or after.
What makes one applicant different from another?
On the outside, it may seem that each applicant is very similar to other applicants and that we just pick out of a hat the students that we are interested in. Surprisingly enough, this is not the case. Each student sends us a “package” of information regarding their work for the past four years. That package is unique to the applicant. Just like any package you may receive from UPS or USPS, on the outside each package is your garden-variety brown colored package. Some packages immediately seem different with the outside of the package being damaged or a really pristine package sent through first-class mail. This happens with applications as well for us. Most applications seem the same and come in the regular brown UPS package. But there are some applications that at first glance seem like amazing applicants that we would love to interview and other applications that at first glance do not seem like good candidates for our school. However biased we may feel upon initial glance of the applications, we as an admissions team understand the importance of spending time opening the package which is your application and giving it the necessary time in order to better understand you as an applicant.
We have all been fooled not once but many times by an application with a near perfect MCAT and GPA but the resume and personal statement lacked personality. Upon interviewing some of these students we were unanimously unimpressed. Although the package seemed quite promising and very impressive, in the end, the whole package was not what our school was interested in. The other end of the spectrum happens all the time as well. There are certain applications with lower scores but robust resumes that we end up interviewing and all falling in love with these applicants.
You seem to talk a lot about lower scoring and higher scoring applicants but what about the applicants in the middle. How do you decide between those applicants?
This is both my favorite part of the job and the hardest part of my job. Those applicants that are sort of around the mean score-wise are harder to sort through. I do not think any of us have a system that we follow when we are weeding through applications. Like I said earlier, our school has a personality of its own and you can see that personality shine through in each incoming medical school class. Each admissions member is artfully picked based on their own personality and commitment to the motto of the medical school. So although these admissions officers do not have a specific system in place to rank different applicants, each of these admissions officers innately knows the type of person we are looking to add to our school. With most applicants after perusing through their application there is something that draws us to the applicant that makes us want to learn more about them. For many of these middle of our pack applicants it is their personal statement that really draws us to them. For others, it is something significant in their resume that helps to highlight their application more so than other applications. No premed student wants to hear that there is not a system but this is the truth. The only system that exists is no system at all and depending on our admissions officers to rely on their gut feeling.
What would you say is the most important part of an application for medical school?
I think the best way to think about the answer to this question is to use yourself as an example. The first thing we do look at are MCATs and GPAs and that helps us to disperse the files of applications in different stacks. For simplicity sake let us use three different stacks: High, Medium, and Low – meaning high scores, medium scores, and low scores.
- Those with high scores have done well academically and this is a great thing. We look at their resume and personal statements but since their academics are on the stronger side, a slightly weaker resume or personal statement may be overlooked.
- Those students with medium scores show us that they have also worked hard but just were unable to do as well as those with high scores. We are interested in these student’s resumes and personal statements. Many of the students from this group that we chose to interview have robust resumes or interesting personal statements which intrigue the admissions officers.
- Those students with low scores are not immediately discarded from our consideration contrary to common belief. We like to really take into consideration the whole application so we do not dismiss an application because of low scores. For these students we take the time to look for possible reasons for those low scores or ways that they were able to triumph those low scores. The best way to get our attention is to work on your resume and have a strong personal statement. Many of these students show low GPAs but when taking a closer look if we notice improvement in grades through their college career this is viewed in a positive light. Some students have trouble in their first semester or first year of school and we understand that the transition is tough but improvement shows a lot of promise. Improvement is really important because it shows your commitment to pursuing Medicine. Additionally, many low MCAT scorers will take the test again. An initial low score is easily compensated by a higher second score (this may not be the case for all medical schools). The way that we think about it is that taking the MCAT once is a difficult task and requires a lot of hard work. If you decide to take it again and do well on it, that shows us that you are willing to work hard and not let an obstacle -such as not doing well on the MCAT the first time- stop you.
Who is the perfect applicant during an interview?
Honestly there is no such thing as a perfect applicant. We have dozens of faculty who we use as interviewers. Each member of the faculty has a different version of their “perfect” applicant. But each of these faculty interviewers agrees with the other on opinions regarding different applicants. Each of our applicants are interviewed by two or three interviewers who discuss these applicants after the interview. There is no one specific applicant that is the perfect applicant to answer the question. But to really answer the question here are some of the basics of what we look for:
- Professionally dressed: This is part of the first impression. I would say 95% of students we interview are dressed well and we do not have an issue with the way they are dressed. A small number of students however wear something inappropriate for example women who show too much skin or men whose clothing seems disheveled.
- Honest answers to questions: It is completely obvious when a student lies. Their mannerism shifts and the energy in the room is different. I will be having a great conversation with a student and will ask them a hard question. Rather thank taking a second to catch their ground and figure out what they want to say, they will immediately start lying. After doing this for so many years, it is pretty easy to tell when someone is lying. So the best thing I can advise is do not lie just tell us the truth.
- Be open and yourself: Do not try to be someone else because whoever you are acting to be is not you. You are comfortable in your own skin and when you are acting like you are somebody else you seem uncomfortable and not natural.