Guide to Committee Interviews
A portfolio review is an hour-long meeting with the student's assigned prehealth advisor to review select parts of the portfolio or internal application, to verify the student's application plans, and to discuss the application process. The review's purpose is twofold: (1) to consolidate the committee's understanding of the students to whom it will provide committee support in the coming application cycle; and (2) to ensure that students understand the application process and are staying on top of all its constituent tasks. This meeting is mandatory. A candidate who has not had a portfolio review is ineligible for committee support in the coming application cycle. A revision of the personal statement draft must be sent to the advisor one week before the scheduled portfolio review. Students are not expected to dress in business attire for the portfolio review, and it requires no special preparation other than a willingness to speak candidly.
The mock interview is an optional exercise intended to help applicants and prospective applicants to healthcare professional schools prepare for the interviews they may have during the process of applying to medical, dentistry, or veterinary school. Its primary purpose it to give students a chance to practice the difficult art of answering questions—pointed, nebulous, profound, and inane—on the fly.
Sometimes students are nervous about the mock interview, feeling concerned that if they do not present themselves well, this may count against them. This is not the case. The mock interview is not a graded exercise (we will, however, provide feedback). One goal of this simulation is to permit students to make mistakes in a safe environment so they can learn from them and then avoid them when it truly counts. In short, the interview doesn't have to be perfect. All we ask is that students make an effort to prepare for it and take this exercise seriously.
The committee interview is intended to loosely simulate a medical school interview. Toward that end, we ask that students schedule the mock interview with a prehealth advisor other than the one to whom they are assigned. Talking with someone who isn't personally familiar with you (or is at least less so than your advisor) increases the value of the exercise.
It has been our observation that (generally) medical school admissions committees believe that the interviewer will learn the most about applicants if they are put at ease. Our mock interviews follow suit. Nonetheless, at times interviewers may press students or ask questions that are uncomfortable. Interviewers do this in the belief that such questions are ones the student should be prepared to answer.
Some medical school interviews are "closed file," which means the interviewer has been given the student's name and perhaps personal statement, but nothing more. In this case, the idea is for the interviewer to come in with few preconceptions and to develop impressions of the student based almost exclusively on the interview.
"Open file" interviews presumably have the opposite premise: the interviewer knows a lot about the student on paper and seeks confirmation of his or her written self-representation during the course of the interview. While open file interviews may sometimes work this way, it is also not unusual to find that interviewers have not always found an opportunity to review the student's file; in such cases, the interview is in effect a closed file interview.
Given the uncertainties of interviewing out in the "real world," we recommend that students prepare themselves for the mock interview on the assumption that it is a closed file interview. Generally speaking, this means being reasonably explicit about one's activities and achievements, anchoring them in time and place.
Before the Interview
Part of the purpose of the mock interview is to simulate a medical school interview. Students should:
- Be on time, and allow for travel delays
- Dress professionally, as if for a medical school interview
Students will be interviewed by an "unassigned" prehealth advisor, and should be prepared for questions that may address the following issues:
- Tell us about yourself: Students should know where to begin with this question, and in what direction to guide the answer. They should also think about the person hearing their answer, and how to share significant information from the start.
- Motivation: Students should explain why they want to become a doctor (dentist, veterinarian, etc.). Many careers entail helping people. Students should be able to explain why medicine, instead of another branch of the health professions, is the right fit for them, and be able to defend this answer.
- Logical thought: Students should demonstrate their ability to understand more than one side of a problem, and should support their opinions with facts as they discuss issues.
- Extracurricular activities: Students should be able to describe what they have done besides study and what they learned from these activities that will make them a good physician/dentist/vet. If students have volunteered abroad, they should be able to explain their reasons, considering there are people in need just a few blocks away from Columbia.
- Maturity: Students should be able to describe what they learned along their circuitous route to a health professional school. Students who entered the Postbac Premed Program directly after college should be able to explain why they did not pursue premedical studies as an undergraduate. Students who entered the Postbac Premed Program after pursuing a different career path should be able to explain why they are leaving one career for another, and how they know their commitment to a career in health care will be long-lasting.
- Adversity faced and overcome: Medical school and the medical profession are demanding in every conceivable way. What evidence is there in the candidate's life that they are resilient and will keep going when things are tough or when they face setbacks?
- Knowledge of the field: Medicine has as many challenges as it has rewards. Students should be ready to discuss what they know about them as well as recent events and current issues in the profession. Example: "What would you say is the number one issue affecting the medical profession today, and how would you address it?" In taking a position on an issue, students should be prepared to defend it, while being respectful to contrary points of view. Students whose parents are physicians should be ready to discuss their own journey without sounding as though they plan to join the "family business."
- Experience in the field: All GS prehealth students are expected to devote time to working in appropriate healthcare settings. In their interviews, students should, of course, be prepared to explain the work they have done. It is equally important, however, to explain how it has shaped their understanding of health care and confirmed their fit for the field. Because a critical part of health care involves face-to-face interaction with patients from all walks of life, students should be prepared to discuss particular meaningful interactions they have had with patients and others in the clinical setting.
- Red flags: "I see you got an A in the first semester of chemistry, and a B in the second semester. What happened?"; "There is a gap of 6 months in your academic timeline. What were you doing during that time?"; "Why did you transfer to another college after your freshman year?"; "Why did you drop calculus?" Students should read their own academic histories with a critical eye and look for possible areas about which they may be questioned.
- School choices: Students may be asked which school is their top choice to attend and why. Students may be asked if they have any questions prepared for this school, should they find themselves in an interview there.
- Examples: Students should support their answers with concrete examples from their experience. The ideal answer will disclose details that are not obvious from viewing a transcript or personal statement. Students should also be prepared to answer at least two follow-up questions for every response they give. Schools may dig deeper into answers to take students out of their comfort zones.
The Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)
The MMI is a screening technique that purports to scientifically assess your suitability for the medical profession by inviting many judges to form an estimate of your character.
In the MMI process, speed rules the day. Instead of inviting you to converse at length with a single interviewer (as the conventional interview does), the MMI gives you the chance to speak briefly, with many different interlocutors about many distinct subjects. It places you before a succession of examiners, one at a time, as you pass among the adjoining rooms in a classroom building or clinic.
A number of American medical schools have adopted the MMI format for their interviews. Currently, schools that utilize the MMI include:
- Central Michigan University College of Medicine
- Duke University School of Medicine
- Michigan State University College of Medicine
- New York Medical College
- Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine
- Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (Rutgers)
- Stanford University School of Medicine
- University of Arizona at Phoenix
- University of Arizona at Tucson
- University of California at Davis
- University of California at Los Angeles
- University of California at Riverside
- University of Cincinnati College of Medicine
- Upstate Medical University (SUNY)
- Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
- Western Michigan University School of Medicine