What I learned during the first-ever virtual medical school interviews

covid-19 interview prep medical school admissions

During the 2020-2021 medical school admissions cycle, interviews were conducted on a virtual platform for the first time ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021-2022 used the same virtual format, and many medical school admissions interviews are likely to remain virtual, or have a virtual component or option, in the foreseeable future.

After navigating in the inaugural virtual interview cycle myself, here are some interview tips that I would like to share with future applicant classes.

Try not to schedule back-to-back interviews

During previous in-person interview cycles, it was nearly impossible for an applicant to schedule interviews at different programs on back-to-back days due to the need to travel in between interviews. Now, applicants can schedule virtual interviews without needing to consider travel time. While you might be tempted to schedule every virtual interview at the earliest date offered, you should try to avoid scheduling interviews for separate programs on back-to-back days. Zoom interviews are exhausting, and you’ll be grateful for the extra rest time between interviews to ensure that you are performing at your best for each interview. 

During my MD-PhD interview cycle, I once interviewed four days in a row – I thought I would be able to get through the interviews just fine, but I didn’t anticipate the significant mental toll caused by Zoom interviews. By the third consecutive day of interviewing, I was exhausted and could not think as clearly as I would have liked. I also did not have time to do the appropriate pre-interview research on each institution, and I found myself confusing facts about the programs before and after the interviews. Additionally, the two programs’ Zoom social events with current students overlapped in between interviews. I could not meet the students at both programs, and missing the social events hindered my ability to assess the culture and fit of each program. Trust me, your likelihood of being accepted to a program will not be affected if you schedule your interviews later in the season to avoid consecutive interview days. You would much rather be well-rested and well-prepared than schedule back-to-back interviews early in the season.

It is okay to turn down interview invitations

Previously, many medical school applicants were limited in the number of interviews they could accept due to the cost and time associated with traveling to programs across the country. However, restrictions posed by travel do not apply to the virtual interview model. Many applicants accept more virtual interviews than they could have accepted with in-person interviews. While it’s great that travel cost is no longer a limitation for applicants, you should still be conscientious and try not to schedule too many interviews if you are fortunate enough to receive plenty of invitations. Scheduling too many interviews not only is mentally and physically taxing, but it also takes interview spots away from other deserving applicants at programs that you might not seriously be considering. Once you have an acceptance at a program that you like, you should start turning down interview invitations from programs that you would not seriously consider. This is best for you and the other applicants!

Waitlist movement is very likely

Because applicants are attending more virtual interviews as mentioned above, many exceptional applicants receive more acceptances than they would have received in an in-person interview cycle. As such, other applicants might find themselves on multiple waitlists, waiting for applicants with multiple acceptances to narrow their choices. So, if you find yourself on with many waitlist decisions at the end of a virtual interview cycle, you should feel confident that at least one of those waitlist decisions will turn into an acceptance!

You can control your environment

I found that one of the biggest advantages of virtual interviews is that you can control your environment and feel comfortable interviewing in your own home. You should consider adjusting your lighting, camera angle, and background such that you look professional on Zoom. I used a ring light and elevated my laptop such that the camera was level with my face. You can also sit facing a window or mount an external webcam to ensure that your lighting and camera angle are great! Additionally, make sure that there is nothing distracting in your background – sit in front of a blank wall or a pleasant painting. At the very minimum, make sure that you don’t have dirty clothes or a messy room in your camera view! Most programs are okay with pets – they understand that you are in your home – but you might want to consider keeping your pets in a different room if you expect they will be disruptive during your interviews. One thing you might not be able to control is your Wi-Fi quality, but you should consider using an ethernet cable to connect your computer directly to your Wi-Fi router to maximize your connection.

Have snacks and meals readily available for breaks

Most programs are great about giving you breaks to eat or use the restroom. Take full advantage of these breaks by having your snacks, meals, drinks, and caffeine readily available! You want to be able to refuel yourself during breaks to prevent fatigue, and you never know when the Zoom fatigue might hit!

Attend the optional social events with current students

One of the disadvantages of virtual interviews is that you can’t see programs’ campuses, facilities, or cities or get a sense for the differences in culture between programs in-person. With virtual interviews, the ability to speak with current students is the best resource for understanding a program’s culture and assessing whether the program would be a good fit for you.

Michaela is an MD/PhD at Harvard-MIT. She holds a BS in Biochemistry with minors in Philosophy and Biomedical Engineering from the University of Colorado (summa cum laude), where she was an NCAA Division I, All-American track athlete.

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