The Lowdown on the BS/MD Undergraduate Interview

The interview process for BS/MD programs consists of two main interviews: the undergraduate interview and the medical school interview. Both have different formats and unique aims, so it’s smart to prepare for both on an individual basis. Today, I’ve explained the best way to approach the undergraduate interview and what to expect from one.

Though this interview is likely going to be more laid-back than your medical school interview, don’t take it lightly though. Schools that require two interview rounds will probably make a large cut after this interview (such as the Baylor^2 program, which first interviews ~100 students at the undergraduate school and only ~15 students for the second interview at the medical school), so it’s critical for you to make a strong impression. To prepare for this interview, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind:

Be ready to start with the question “Tell me about yourself”

In this interview, the interviewer is genuinely trying to get to know more about you and why you would be a good match for the undergraduate school. The conversation is going to head in the direction that you gear it towards, so be strategic in how you answer this question. For example, one of the qualities that I wanted to emphasize about myself was my dual interest in both science and art and how my experience in both has influenced my decision to go into medicine. Thus, in my response to “Tell me about yourself”, I prepared a short intro about me that mentioned my involvement in both scientific and artistic endeavors and how I was looking to grow those throughout my undergraduate years. If you, like me, have a specific quality about you that you want to believe is of great importance to your application, then it is probably important to mention it from the very start with this question. Don’t feel obligated to mention the specific details of your interest in medicine. It will probably come up anyways (since that is what you’re looking to demonstrate to the application committee), but a brief mention of why or how your interest was sparked is plenty. There will be ample time with follow up questions to go more in depth on your medical experience and aspirations, so there is no need to cover all that simply with the first question. Keep your response to this question slightly casual, yet still informative.

Talk about why you’re interested in the undergraduate school

Unfortunately, the reality with these programs is that a lot of students apply to certain undergraduate schools simply to gain acceptance to medical school, not because they are genuinely interested in attending the undergraduate school and see the medical school as an added bonus. And while there is some logic behind this reasoning, faculty of the undergraduate school don’t see it that way. They want students who are just as committed and excited about joining the undergraduate school as they are about gaining conditional acceptance to the medical school. So in your interview, it is important to emphasize aspects of the undergraduate school that you find most appealing and are most interested in getting involved with. You can offer to share your medical interests, but it’s quite possible that this topic isn’t even touched upon during the entirety of the interview. I’ve both heard of and have myself attended undergraduate interviews in which the interviewer has no relationship at all whatsoever to any science or medicine-related field. Undergraduate interviewers can be history teachers, counselors, or pretty much anyone from the school’s faculty. The reason for having such types of interviewers is because these programs are trying to seek out your interests outside of medicine. You can’t really talk about the technicalities of your lab research with, say, a literature teacher, and thus you’re forced to talk about what draws you to the undergraduate school as opposed to your interest in medicine. The undergraduate interview, in many ways, it a test of your authenticity, so if you’re asked to talk about something completely unrelated to medicine or about specifics of the undergraduate school as opposed to the medical school, don’t be caught off guard!

Be flexible in your conversation and ask lots of questions

The best way to approach an undergraduate interview is with an open mind and a flexible attitude. Don’t feel obligated to always hit on certain points if it doesn’t seem as if they fit the flow of the conversation. With this interview, the selection committee is trying to get to know more about your personality, so approach it as a conversation. There will always be the possibility that you get a strict interviewer and have a more formal interview, but don’t be too surprised if that’s not the case (since most people expect all their interviews to be extremely formal and medicine-oriented). In one of my undergraduate interviews, I started up talking to my interviewer about my interest in food and baking and we ended up going on a slight tangent about all the local restaurants in the area. If this happens, don’t push away from it! It’ll show the interviewer a more human side.

So much of what people say in these interviews can come off as seeming staged and fake, so showing off your human side is great because it makes you seem more personable and authentic. The best way to do so is by finding common ground between you and your interviewer and continuing a conversation based on that. And to do that, you must make sure to ask them a lot of questions! Like I said earlier, approach this interview as a conversation. And what makes up a good conversation? A strong balance of back and forth. Sure, they’re probably going to be doing more of the asking and you more of the telling, but don’t be afraid every now and then to interject and ask your own questions about whatever topic you may be discussing. That is actually how my interviewer and I ended up talking about food at such great length. His tone and interest in my baking experience indicated to me that he too was probably interested in food, so I decided to further explore that haunch by asking him questions about any connection he had to cooking and baking. Not surprisingly, he admitted to be a self-proclaimed foodie! The interview then naturally turned into a conversation about some great local eateries and ended up lasting a lot longer than the allotted time.

The purpose of undergraduate interviews is to show that you are capable of building human connections and that there’s more to you than a list of resume activities, so do whatever it takes to show that!

Talk in “lay terms” about research and other technical experiences

If the topic of your research is brought up during your undergraduate interview, then start off describing it in lay terms. Your interviewer may or may not have any prior experience in the field of your research, so it could be difficult for them to keep up with any technical details that you mention. If they show further interest after you’ve given your brief synopsis, then you can consider that the “go ahead” signal and expand your simple explanation to include technical details. If they don’t show any interest, though, then don’t risk confusing them by adding in any technical details. In general, it’s always smart to start simple and adjust your answer based on your interviewer’s reaction. If they ask follow up questions, then feel free to go more in depth on your experiences. But if not, then a simple explanation should suffice.

Sometimes, your lab research may not be discussed at all simply because the interviewer didn’t find time to talk about it or because they didn’t find the need to address it. If that’s the situation, don’t panic! Again, feel out the conversation and follow it’s natural flow. Before you leave at the end, you can offer them your research report and just quickly say “We didn’t get to talk in depth about my research but here’s a report I wrote on it in case you’d like to further read about what I did.” Saying something along those lines allows you to mention your research without having to force it into the conversation, which is exactly what you want.

In our next article in this installment, we’ll cover what you need to know for medical school interviews.

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