Guide to Committee Interviews

Portfolio Reviews

All GS Postbac and undergraduate premeds intending to apply with committee support to medical, dental, or veterinary school for the application cycle that commences at the end of the academic year are required to undergo a portfolio review before applying. 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 threefold: (1) to consolidate the committee's understanding of the students to whom it will provide committee support in the coming application cycle; (2) to ensure that students understand the application process and are staying on top of all its constituent tasks; and (3) to help the candidate transmute the content of the internal application into an interesting, cogent, and effective portfolio. 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.

Mock Interviews

The mock interview is an optional exercise intended to help applicants 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.

After a GS prehealth student has been invited to interview, it is recommended that they schedule one or more mock interviews in the interview format used by the school where they will interview. Mock interviews are conducted primarily by the four advisors in the GS Prehealth Office. They typically run about an hour, including an interview simulation and a feedback session. A goal of the 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 mock 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.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, medical schools overwhelmingly preferred to interview candidates on the premises of the medical school. With the onset of the pandemic in spring 2020, medical schools took recourse to virtual interviewing and found that it has certain advantages. In particular, because it eliminates the expense of travel, it is a win for the cause of equity in admissions. Consequently, even though the pandemic is behind us, most medical schools continue to conduct their interviews online. We recommend that you request that your mock interview be conducted in the modality (in-person or virtual) in which your actual interview will take place.

Interview Formats

The prehealth advisors conduct mock interviews in the two formats primarily used by medical schools: the so-called “traditional” interview and the Multi Mini Interview. We will briefly discuss these in turn.

The Traditional Interview

The traditional interview is a one-on-one interview where the interviewer may follow an interview protocol established by the medical school, be free to ask questions spontaneously, or merely seek to engage the applicant in a conversation about a subject of shared interest. While (generally) medical school admissions committees believe that the interviewer will learn the most about applicants if they are put at ease, sometimes interviewers may press students or ask questions that are uncomfortable. Your mock interviewer may ask such questions, too, in the belief that you should come to your interview prepared to answer them.

Some medical school interviews are "closed file" and others are “open file.” This information is indicated in the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) and will probably also be communicated to you by the medical school when it extends the invitation to interview. A closed file interview is one in which the interviewer has been given the applicant’s name and perhaps personal statement, but nothing more (i.e., no grades or MCAT score). 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 have the opposite premise: the interviewer may know a lot about the applicant on paper and seek confirmation of their 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.

Interview Process

Students 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 their 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.
  • Adversities 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. If asked about shaky academic performance, they should avoid becoming defensive and rather try to assume responsibility for their shortcomings, as well as provide evidence of having overcome them.
  • 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 a given medical school by inviting many judges to form an estimate of your candidacy. Several dozen medical schools have adopted this approach to interviewing. Information about which schools use the MMI can be found in the MSAR.

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, or through the spaces of a virtual meeting platform. At many schools, the applicant will arrive at each station where they will find a prompt. They will be given two minutes to read and ponder the prompt and at the end of two minutes, they will discuss the prompt before their interviewer. While prompts may assume a variety of forms, many concern real life quandaries or ethical dilemmas; some may be tests of your communication skills or aptitude for empathy. Some schools may even have you participate in a group exercise with peer applicants.

For a comparison of traditional and MMI interviewing, see “Comparison Chart: Conventional Interview v. the MMI.” For an in depth discussion of MMI interviewing, see: “A Guide to the MMI.”

Interview Tips

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
  • Send a thank-you note to the interviewer within 24 hours of the mock interview

Also, if they maintained a journal of their experiences in the clinical setting, students should review their entries so that they will be better prepared to discuss memorable interactions with patients.