Whether you’ve been invited to a panel, traditional, conversational, or multiple mini interview for med school, the key to performing well is to be prepared. In this blog, we’ll provide a step-by-step guide to help you prepare for your medical school interview, from the day you receive your invitation to the interview itself. At the end, we’ll also answer some of the most common questions regarding the medical school interview and its logistics.
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How To Prepare For Med School Interview: Before the Interview
“Preparation is the key to success” as the well-worn cliché goes, and medical school interviews are no exception. One of the most stressful aspects of student life is abiding by often strict or overlapping deadlines, resulting in cramming for tests, all-night essay-writing sessions, and many other unpleasant instances of racing against the clock. Your interview for medical school requires copious preparation, but if you get started early, you can have a pleasant and productive experience that leaves your committee with a clear sense of your fit for their program.
How early is early enough? How long to prepare for a medical school interview? Starting the day you’re invited is certainly good, but earlier than that is even better. Unfortunately, some medical schools will only give you a couple or weeks’ notice, so it’s wise to start preparing for a potential interview shortly after applying. If you do start that early, focus on basic info-gathering like schools’ interview formats, common medical school interview questions, and other more general information. Part of the benefit of starting early is that you won’t have to cram with an immanent deadline hanging over you, so take your time and seek to really understand what you may be heading into.
Once you receive your invitation, it’s time to really get to work.
Check out the ultimate guide to med school interviews and learn tips that will help you make a great impression:
Step 1: Get in touch right away.
The very first thing you need to do in preparing for your medical school interview is respond to your interview requests immediately. No one likes to be kept waiting, and given the volume of students most interview committees need to process, their time is especially short and strained. Assuming you’re grateful for the opportunity when you hear back from medical schools, you owe it to them to be as prompt as possible. If you don't respond promptly, you'll give the impression that you’re not especially interested in the school or program.
It's important to remember that some schools send out more interview invitations than available slots, so in addition to being respectful, your promptness will in some cases make or break your chance to attend the interview at all. It would be devastating to be offered an interview but miss the opportunity because you failed to respond quickly enough. More importantly though, responding right away will allow you to choose an optimal date and time for your schedule, ensuring that you’ll be able to travel to and attend your interview as comfortably as possible.
Step 2: Determine your interview’s format.
The next thing you'll want to find out is what format your interviews will take. You should find out exactly which type of interview you’re facing as well as any specific information about the types of questions.
Types of Medical School Interviews:
To prepare effectively, you need to know which of these interview types is being used by your medical school(s) of choice. Most interview invites will outline this information for you, including both interview format and what to expect on the day of the interview. If the invite does not contain this information, though, don’t panic! There are a few places to obtain this information if it isn’t provided right away.
You should be able to find this information on the school's website, but if not, sign into the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) website and look under “Selection Factors.” This section will give you up-to-date information on the types of interview(s) used by the medical school in question.
The tips in this article are applicable to each of these interview types, but the Multiple Mini Interview is often especially daunting for students. This is why familiarizing yourself with the MMI question types and format is especially important. You can find a lot of informative and detailed blogs on the MMI on our website.
Did you know that in some medical schools, your interview performance counts for 100% of your admissions chances?
Step 3: Practice, practice, practice.
Once you've determined your interview’s format, it's time to start practicing with sample questions and real-life mock interviews.
Practicing for Different Types of Questions
Practice questions, like our MMI questions or medical school interview questions give you the opportunity to prepare for commonly asked questions and will give you an idea of what type of questions you can expect.
Although it’s very important to prepare for the most commonly asked questions, you can’t predict every question you get in your actual interview. You might face weird or intimidating questions, ethical questions, or challenging MMI writing stations. That’s why the key to practicing for your interview is to identify the different types of questions you could be asked and to prepare an answer strategy for each of them. That way, no matter what question you face, you won’t be caught off-guard.
Medical school interview question types:
Note that the exact mix and match of interview types applicable to you will depend on your interview format. For example, if you’re only facing a traditional interview, you most likely won’t face a collaboration or drawing question.
Here are some examples of specific questions:
- “Teach me something that most people don’t know how to do” — This is an example of a personal or “quirky” question. This question and others like it are expressly not about teaching a seasoned medical professional some arcane way of intubating a patient. Rather, it’s about taking the opportunity to be engaging and show your individuality. Tell them how to say a phrase in another language, or a dance or gesture from another culture. Be engaging and try to have fun while remaining professional.
- “Is it ethical for doctors to strike? If so, under what conditions?” — Policy-based ethical dilemmas like this are also regular question types. You could always just say “No” and leave it at that, but what this question is really asking for is evidence of you understanding the moral complexity of being a medical professional on both the side of patient care and as a worker within an institution. The MCAT tests critical analysis and reasoning skills, and you should use a question like this to show these same abilities, aimed at a coherent and concise answer to a rather complicated prompt.
- “Your 5 year-old nephew asks you, ‘Why is the sky blue?" How would you answer him using a series of simple scientific experiments?” — This scenario-based question is asking for you to use your reasoning abilities to make a complicated thing concise. However, it also requires a mastery of basic scientific concepts and the ability to curate your communication to your audience (in this case, a child). Situational questions like this can allow you to show empathy and understanding of your hypothetical nephew’s novice-at-best understanding of the world, and can even be a springboard for showing how keen you are to one day contribute to educating young scientists and medical professionals. Don’t try to say too much—just talk to your nephew—but in the practice phase it’s good to play out all the different potential parts of an answer like this, and then settle on what feels natural and sincere.
Check out some questions to practice with:
Practice questions are certainly a good start, but the most valuable practice is to go through real-life mock interviews. Mock interviews provide the closest experience you can get to the actual interview and are therefore the best at bringing forth the real emotions you will experience including stress, anxiety, fear, and uncertainty. The goal is to get these emotions under control through preparation, as well as familiarize yourself with the format and get personalized feedback on what to work on.
For instance, if you're nervous driving on the highway and only do it once every year, then you'll probably always be nervous driving on the highway. But if you slowly introduce yourself to highway driving, increasing the frequency and duration over time, you’ll likely overcome the stress and anxiety you initially experienced. Practice and repetition normalize stressful experiences like this.
A lot of the fear and anxiety that students experience during an interview comes from the unknown: not knowing what to expect, not knowing what questions they'll be asked, and not knowing if they'll perform well. Mock interviews with expert feedback can reduce or eliminate these fears and unknowns. Excellent realistic mock medical school interview with expert, personalized feedback from a medical school advisor will let you know exactly how you come across and give you insight into the strength and quality of your responses.
This feedback can help identify weaknesses, help you structure your answers, and most importantly provide you with an adaptable strategy for nearly any type of question. This kind of adaptability is key: it's not about memorizing tons of answers or trying to guess exactly which questions you will be asked. It's about mastering a flexible technique to calmly and confidently answer any type of question that's thrown at you. Confidence can't be taught but it can be developed, and the right kind of medical school interview preparation can significantly accelerate this development. The right medical school interview prep or an MMI interview prep course can really make the difference between acceptance and rejection. If you don't believe us, check out some students' stories about how proper interview preparation help can aid in your journey to medical school.
Want to see what a virtual MMI interview is like? Check out our mock interview below:
Important Tip: Don't memorize your answers.
Students sometimes think that the best way to prepare for an interview is to memorize their answers. They think that when they’re asked a question for which they’re copiously prepared, they can (re-)state a well-memorized response and dazzle their interviewers. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are two main problems with relying on a catalog of memorized responses:
Instead of memorization, the best strategy is to think of a few important points or experiences you'd like to discuss and practice your answers including these points. But note that your response will likely differ slightly each time you answer a given question, which is a good thing. Explore the ways your answers come up when asked a question—pay attention to the surrounding ideas and contexts that make your answer your own.
You may even want to consider a daily meditation or mindfulness practice to gain confidence and understanding in plumbing the depths of your thoughts and motivations. Given that medical school is incredibly stressful and fast-paced, heading into it with a better sense of your own mental “center” can be extremely helpful, both in interviews and throughout your medical career.
Step 4: Refine Your Communication Style
As you’re practicing, it’s crucial that you’re aware of the way you speak and work towards improving your overall eloquence and coherence. The best way to do this is, as we said above, by practicing with sample questions and completing mock interviews with personalized feedback from experts. You can also record yourself as you practice to note down your areas of improvement and work towards improving them. This self-improvement can’t happen overnight – you might have to practice for a few weeks before your communication skills get to where they need to be. That’s one of the reasons we recommend starting your interview prep early. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you work on your communication style:
- Avoid filler words and over-used phrases: Pay attention to your usage of words like like ah, um, like, so, honestly, literally, stuff, you know, thing, etc. These words are often over-used in our daily language and can muddy up your answers. Try to speak succinctly and without too many fillers, delivering your point in coherent, well-constructed sentences.
- Avoid negative phrases and thinking: Don’t speak ill of others. Work on being positive and taking a positive approach all the time, and try ending each answer on a positive note, with a positive evaluation or hope. This will help to create an uplifting vibe in your interview and leave a good impression in your interviews’ mind.
- Support your points with examples: Your answers should always include examples to support each argument you make. Practice getting into this mode of thinking when faced with any question.
Step 5: Review your application thoroughly.
Preparing for your interview takes a lot of self-reflection. You have to understand yourself, your choices, and your motivations in order to share them with others, which is exactly what you'll do in your interview. You can expect to be asked questions like “Why medicine?” “Why do you want to be a doctor?” and the dreaded “Tell me about yourself.” These questions are not easily answered on the spot—they need ample brainstorming and thoughtful reflection in order to have an earnest and believable response.
If you find it difficult to identify why you do what you do, or where your passions come from, it can be helpful to speak with friends and family. The people closest to you can often see qualities, traits, and passions that you haven't been able to identify in yourself. To paraphrase a common saying in psychotherapy, it’s impossible to see the back of your own head! To understand yourself in the completest sense possible, you need to know how others understand you too.
In addition to knowing yourself, you need to know your application components inside and out, including your medical school personal statement and extracurriculars. Depending on whether your interview is open or closed (or “blind”), your evaluators may have access to your application. If they do, be prepared to answer some specific questions. For example, if you contributed to a research paper, no matter how small your contribution, you may be asked questions surrounding the research.
Make sure you revisit your application regularly to familiarize yourself with its contents. In so doing, you’ll be able to speak about your experiences far more confidently than if you simply dump everything into the AMCAS work and activities section and forget about it. You should know your application inside and out so you're prepared for any personal questions that come your way.
Step 6: Stay informed and read endlessly.
If you're somehow not a big reader, become one immediately. To effectively prepare for your med school interview, you need to read and retain a lot of information, and this kind of emotionally-charged research is a lot harder if you’re out of practice.
First, you need to learn about the school. Review their mission statement, their core values, their research opportunities, interesting developments, and important stories in the school's news section. Like the previous strategy though, the goal is not purely robotic memorization. You want to gain a general understanding of what a school stands for, what's important to them, and what upcoming projects, research opportunities, facilities, etc. are important to you.
During your research, you should always seek to connect this information to your own goals and interests, as these will be great talking points during your interview. It will even help you answer the common “Why our school?” prompt, which often trips students up not out of total ignorance but out of having too general an idea of why they’ve chosen it. Admissions committees know their school’s reputation, standing, and general place in the medical education ecosystem, so seek to address points beyond these superficial facts.
Other than learning about the school you'll be interviewing at, you also need to be in the know about hot topics and current events in the field of medicine.
Relevant Topics in Medicine:
Make an effort to keep up to date on these issues and topics as you'll likely be asked to share your opinion on specific policies or events. Read newspapers and articles, watch debates, and keep yourself informed about various viewpoints.
You can also review our blog to learn how to ace policy type questions.
Are you preparing for an MMI interview? Check out the different MMI question types:
Step 7: Familiarize Yourself With Medical Ethics.
You’ll face many questions that test your understanding of ethical ideas and principles that you should have naturally developed over time. You should prepare for these types of questions by increasing your awareness of professional and medical ethics and analyzing how to apply them in various real-life situations. You can boost your understanding by reading a few books on this topic. We recommend:
- Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics by Mike W. Martin
- Doing Right: A Practical Guide to Ethics for Medical Trainees and Physicians by Philip C Herbert
The ethical questions you face will most likely be centered around these common principles used in medical ethics:
Make sure you understand these ethical principles and how to apply them to deal with real-life situations. The best way to do this is to cultivate an ethical mindset over a period of time – evaluate each situation you face in your daily life to assess the moral implications and the ethical outcomes. Practice your answers to ethical questions from previous years’ interviews to test how your ethical understanding has developed. This will prepare you to tackle the ethical situations and scenarios you may encounter in your final interview, even if you’ve never faced it before.
Step 8: Prepare Your Questions for the Interviewer
Always have questions prepared to ask the interviewer in case they ask you “do you have any questions for me?”. This is critical to show that you’ve done your research about the school, program, faculty, and curriculum, and you are committed to their program. This is actually an excellent opportunity to find out more about the program.
Make sure you don’t ask questions which can easily be answered by doing some basic internet research or checking the schools’ websites. Instead, ask them tailored questions about aspects of their programs that align with your skills, research interests, future career ambitions, and so on. You could even ask them for advice about the medical school application process, medical school, your future career, and so on. If you have time left, you could choose to ask a more fun, personal question. For example, if you’re facing an alumni, you could ask them about their favorite on-campus extracurricular, their biggest regret or something they wished they had done differently in medical school, and so on.
Also, make sure that the questions you ask are appropriate for the interviewers – for example, a student experience question could be more suitable for a senior student or an alumni, and a faculty member might not be able to answer this one.
Check out the different types of questions you can ask your interviewer:
Here are a few examples:
- Based on your experience, what are the non-academic qualities demonstrated by students who are accepted into your program?
- In your experience, what is the biggest mistake first-year medical students make? What more can they do to take advantage of the resources you offer?
- As an alumni, what role do you think this medical school played in your success? What is your favorite memory of your time on campus?
- As a current student, what’s it like being a part of this campus? What’s your favorite social activity to do on-campus?
How To Prepare For Med School Interview: Day of the Interview
The big day is here, but don’t panic! Provided you’ve maintained a smart and consistent preparation schedule up to this point, there are only a few more things to keep in mind, and the interview itself should feel natural or even illuminating for both you and your committee.
Step 9: Be keen and arrive early.
The last thing you need on your interview day is more stress, which is inevitable if you don't give yourself enough time and end up running late. In general, you should arrive at the location the day before your interview. This gives you plenty of time to familiarize yourself with your new surroundings, especially if this is an interview you've flown in for. You want to have the opportunity to explore the campus and find your exact interview room, so that on the day of your interview you can feel confident and comfortable, knowing exactly where to go (and what awaits you inside).
Arriving the day before also allows you to relax, settle in, and get a good night's sleep. Few things feel worse than knowing you bombed an interview simply because your brain was fried from insomnia. As a general rule, you should try to arrive roughly 20-30 minutes before registration on the day of your interview. If you're driving yourself, give yourself more time to allow for navigation and parking. This will give you a chance to grab something to eat, have a drink, or use the restrooms before you begin. You can even meditate or at least sit quietly and settle your breathing, avoiding heading into the interview visibly rushed or uncomfortable. Plus, arriving early gives you some wiggle room in case of traffic on route to the interview location. Be prepared, and give yourself at least a little more time than you need.
Step 10: Dress appropriately.
To dress appropriately means to dress professionally. Remember, your evaluators will be assessing if you’re suitable for the profession, so look like a professional! If you show up in loungewear or jeans, it signals that you don't really care about the interview or even providing a basic sense of composure. You may be on a university campus, but you don’t want to blend in with the students who’ve been guzzling energy drinks and pretzels in the library for 20 hours straight. Our medical school interview attire blog is an in-depth guide that will tell you exactly what you should and shouldn't wear to your medical school interviews.
Step 11: Be friendly and respectful to everyone you meet.
There are eyes and ears everywhere on campus, and owners of those eyes and ears often know each other pretty well regardless of position. That person you ran into without apologizing, or that person you rudely ordered a coffee, may relay your discourteous or unprofessional behavior to someone directly involved with your interview. Always put your best self forward: smile, introduce yourself, say please and thank you, and do all the little niceties you’ve been taught since childhood.
This also goes for MMI acting or collaboration stations. An actor in your scenario may be portraying a belligerent character, or you may have to work with a difficult student or evaluator in a collaboration station. Keep your cool and respect the thoughts and opinions of others, even if you don't agree with them. Check out our blog for tips to ace MMI collaboration/acting stations.
Step 12: Make excellent first and last impressions.
First and last impressions are valuable because they stick—it's simply the way our brains work. Barging into the room late and out of breath is not going to get you anywhere, and it’s incredibly hard to recover from a bad first impression. Don’t put yourself in the position of having to dig yourself out of a pit throughout your interview because you started it on the wrong foot. Introduce yourself politely when you first arrive: make eye contact, smile, and try to remember your evaluator's names.
Of course, don't panic if you're terrible with names and have a hard time holding onto them—the important thing is that you were friendly and introduced yourself (they may even empathize given the volume of names they have to navigate during interview season). Similarly, when you leave, don't forget to thank your interviewers for their time with another round of eye contact, a smile, and one last handshake, and making eye contact. Leave with your head held high (but not arrogantly!).
Important Tip: Ask for clarification.
This is something that a lot of students wish they did but were too nervous to actually do. If you are presented with a question and you don't understand it, ask for more information. Even if you feel silly asking, it’s much better to do so than to wobble through an entire answer and then have the interviewer point out that wasn't what they asked, or that you failed to grasp the context of the question or discussion. As the old saying goes, he who asks a question is a fool for a minute, but he who does not ask a question is a fool for life.
Be engaged! Don't let nerves glue your mouth shut. You're the focus of the interview, so feel encouraged to actively participate in it. Be conversational and try to let go of all that's riding on this interview, and instead engage in an actual dialogue. If your interest in medicine and the school you're interviewing with is sincere, you should be able to let this emotional attachment guide you to ask relevant questions in order to fully respond.
Step 13: Behave Appropriately
How to Prepare for Med School Interview: Video Interview
Many medical schools are now opting to provide a “virtual interview” option for the convenience of students. While this does offer certain logistical benefits, such as no travel costs, it’s important to keep in mind that virtual interviews come with their own set of challenges. If you’re facing a virtual interview, you should make sure you tailor your prep for this unique format, in addition to following the general interview preparation steps we’ve outlined above.
You can check out our Ultimate Guide to Video Interviews for extensive discussion of the points below.
- Find out the interview format, technical requirements, and other relevant details.
- Set up a quiet, well-lit area with a strong internet connection to take your video interview.
- Set up your computer with the required software, a well-functioning microphone and speaker, good internet connection, and other technical requirements.
- Practice at least a few mock interviews in the area you’ve set up, in a mock-realistic interview environment, to ensure everything is functioning correctly.
- Hone your “on-camera” communication skills to iron out any awkwardness, and get into the habit of speaking clearly, and directly into the camera.
- Have a contingency plan in place in case of technical difficulties.
- Notify your housemates or family members to avoid getting disturbed during the interview.
- Maintain the same professional etiquette in a virtual interview as you would in an in-person interview and dress formally.
Snapshot by Altus
Also a part of the Altus Suite, Snapshot by Altus is a short, one-way video interview format used by medical schools to find out more about you personally. Snapshot responses are made available to all programs to which you've made your test results available, so it makes sense to plan for it as a necessary part of the overall process and plan accordingly.
The questions on this interview fall into three main categories: quirky questions, personal experience-based questions, and big-picture "why do you want to become a doctor?" questions. Although these types all focus on you personally, you should strive to provide answers that discuss specific examples and details that make your stories relatable and illuminating. Show, don't tell! Try to paint vivid pictures of the scenarios or experiences you've had that have shaped you. CASPer Snapshot allows you to take the test at any time you see fit.
For both CASPer and Snapshot interviews, you need to dress and speak professionally, and spend some time studying common medical school interview questions. Consider if you need to reach out to discuss strategy and receive expert feedback. Having an admissions expert dig into the details with you will produce far better results than simply grinding through hundreds of practice questions in a confusing format by yourself.
For more information on the Snapshot by Altus, check out our video guide:
1. Will I be asked about an area of poor academic performance?
This completely depends on the style of the interview and whether the interview is open or closed book. In an open book interview, the interviewers will have access to your application, including any academic lapses or breaks, so yes it is likely you'll be asked about them. Be honest about the circumstances that led to poor performance and be sure to take responsibility without making excuses or acting defensive.
2. Who will my interview be with?
Depending on the interview type, you could be meeting with faculty members or practicing professionals that may or may not have a background in the medical field. You could also be meeting with alumni, members of the student body, or with upper-year medical students. Remain courteous and professional with anyone you meet, no matter how casual or expressionless they may appear.
3. How should I schedule my interviews?
It's a good idea to schedule the interviews that are near the bottom of your list first. You're likely going to be nervous at the start of the interview cycle, so placing interviews that you're not as worried about at the beginning will help you get through some of the initial jitters and nerves that the process brings. If you make mistakes or feel that your performance wasn't as strong as it could have been, you still have the opportunity to improve in time for your other, more important interviews. For this reason, place the interviews that are at the top of your list in the middle. As mentioned above, you don't want to place these very important, pressure-heavy interviews at the beginning. You also don't want to place them at the end because the interview process can be exhausting, especially as you near the end. You want to make sure that you stay fresh and upbeat, and the same can be said for the interviewers who can also experience fatigue near the end of the interview cycle.
4. How much will my interviews cost?
It is important to consider the cost of interviews when you estimate how much medical school costs. Determining the cost of your interviews will vary greatly depending on where the interviews are located, and how many of them you have. While most students apply to 16 medical schools, they might not receive interviews at all of them or any of them. Check out our blog, “how many medical schools should I apply to?” to learn about our expert strategy for applying to medical school.
If you're interviewing in your home state or province for example, the costs will be much lower as you won't have to factor in airfare. If the interviews are close to your home or close to friends or other family member's homes, you can also save money on accommodation and transport. If on the other hand, your interviews are across your state or province or are in another state or province, the costs will be significantly higher. Be sure you factor in airfare, transportation, accommodation, and food when assessing how much your interviews will cost.
If you’re participating in mostly virtual interviews, your interview costs will be much lower. However, you may still have to spend some money to ensure you have the right technical set-up for the interview. For example, you may have to upgrade your internet connection, get a better laptop, buy a new mic, etc.
5. How much weight is placed on the interview?
Some schools will make their admissions breakdown readily available on their websites while others do not specify the exact weight that is placed on the interview or other areas of the application. It's not uncommon for schools to place one-third of the weight on interview performance, nor is it uncommon for schools to place 50% of weight on interview performance. There are even some schools where the interview accounts for 100% of the admission formula. The truth is, the interview is extremely important and can make or break your chance of admission. Whatever you do, make sure you are well prepared.
6. How can I prepare for the MMI? Is it even possible to prepare for this type of medical school interview?
Yes, absolutely! In fact, it’s essential that you prepare in advance for the MMI interview format to ensure that you’re comfortable with the specific requirements. You’ll have to do some additional interview prep beyond practicing answers for the MMI – you’ll have to practice for the different types of stations you’ll face, which could include traditional interview stations or interactive stations such as drawing, acting, etc. We recommend practicing by participating in multiple mock MMI interviews that simulate the actual MMI format. It’s also a good idea to consult with interview experts who can provide personalized feedback about how you can improve your performance in the different stations.
7. How will I know which type of interview I am facing?
Most medical schools provide this information on their website. You can also check MSAR, which is AAMC’s official resource for information about medical schools in the US and Canada. They provide details of the interview format at each medical school. If you want more information, you can always write to the medical schools admissions email (provided on their website) to find out further details about the interview format.
8. How can I prepare for virtual medical school interviews?
As virtual interviews are becoming more common, it’s important to recognize that you need to follow some additional steps as you prepare for them. Make sure you complete the general interview preparation steps we’ve outlined above, but also incorporate time to set up your computer, download the necessary interview software, check your audio/video settings, and do a test run before the interview. Always have a contingency plan in place in case of technical emergencies, and make sure you find a quiet, comfortable, well-lit corner to take your interview, where you won’t be disturbed but will have strong internet connection.
While practicing for the interview, make sure you practice your on-camera communication skills. You should record yourself so you can observe your communication style and correct any obvious weaknesses.
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