Choosing the Right School

Applying to International Medical Schools
Letters of Evaluation
The Interview
Common Interview
In the event
Follow Up
Financial Considerations
Minority and Underrepresented Students

Medical schools, like individuals, are very different-- their philosophies, faculties, program of study and the type of students they attract. Selecting the “best” medical school for you can be challenging. Choosing a medical school requires research into a number of factors. After these factors have been obtained, they must then be prioritized to ensure that the school of your choice meets with your criteria.

Initially, consider whether or not the medical school is a private or public institution. If a public institution, there is usually a state residency requirement and in most cases, there is a limit as to the number of out-of-state residents accepted for admission.

Additionally, the amount of tuition and fees may also be impacted. As an in-state resident of the public institution to which you are accepted, your cost is considerably lower. However, if you are a resident of Illinois and you plan to attend the University of Maryland or Penn State University, the tuition may be as high as that of a private school.

The geographic location of the school may also impact your decision. Is it in a large city with every possible amenity or is it in a small town where social and cultural activities are miles away and if so, how important will that be to you while you are in school?

You may also obtain information by contacting the medical schools and speaking directly with their admissions personnel (dean, director or counselor) and with financial aid personnel. Future students should also speak with practicing physicians who are alumni of these medical schools. This will provide a historical point of view as well as an insight into the medical community.

Finally, you may elect to gather information on the Internet to obtain more detailed information on the schools of your choice.

Applying to International Medical Schools

Of the hundreds of medical schools around the world, only those in Canada, Mexico, the West Indies and several specially affiliated schools of some foreign countries are accredited for the licensing procedures of U.S. schools. Therefore, students planning to study at an international medical school should be cautioned that they cannot be licensed to practice in the U.S. except under special circumstances.

When studying at an international medical school, you should attempt to complete your medical education in the U.S., thereby avoiding licensing obstacles. By this we mean that, upon completion of one or two years of international study, you should apply to a U.S. school for admission after taking and passing the basic science examination, Part I, of the National Board of Medical Examiners.

Be sure to check the following:

  1. Quality of education
  2. Number of graduates who pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE)
  3. Accreditation
  4. Chances of transferring to U.S. medical schools
  5. Language differences and cultural adjustments
  6. Problems of entering the U.S. to practice: licensing and residencies

Letters of Evaluation

We advise you to obtain five or six Letters of Evaluation for your application file. Per your request, copies of these letters are forwarded along with your advisor’s letter to all professional schools for which you have completed applications. Of these letters, at least two should be from science faculty and two from non-science faculty. Letters of Evaluation may also be requested from academic advisors, research supervisors, volunteer coordinators or personal acquaintances. Individual schools may have variations from this, so be sure to examine all supplemental application materials from each professional school for directions as to the number and type of letters required.

Letters of Evaluation should be requested well in advance, because this will grant those writing the letters adequate time to write thoughtful and detailed letters. We recommend that you solicit these Letters of Evaluation as soon as possible, and certainly no later than
March 1, in the year in which you apply.

The Interview

The interview requested by the selections committee is probably the most important step in admittance to a given professional school. The interview is an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to the given field. It is also an opportunity for you to see the school in person. You have passed through the initial screening process, and the result of your interview will determine whether or not you will be accepted. Therefore, the interview should be taken very seriously.

Before the day of your interview, review both your standardized and the secondary application for that school. Reexamine the material the school has sent you and be prepared to discuss why you are specifically interested in their program. If you are offered an interview, take the first available appointment and make plans to keep this date. Canceling an interview or not showing up causes great problems for a professional school and for our future applicants to that school. In the event of an emergency, contact the premed advisor immediately to discuss the issues and the appropriate measures to take.

Usually after the interview, or even before it, you are taken on a brief tour of the medical school and (if nearby) the hospital facilities. This is your opportunity to give the committee an insight into your personal and intellectual capabilities. Demonstrate positively your initiative, your aptitude, your inquisitiveness by commenting upon and asking questions about various facets of the school, hospital facilities, research projects, faculty, methodology, teaching, etc.

Before arriving at the interview, you should have your closing planned and memorized. This is a brief, two- to three-sentence summary that captures the key characteristics, values and strengths that you would bring to the program if accepted. The interviewer will ask you either for a closing or if you have anything else to say at the end of the interview. This is the time to give a strong closing statement. Interviewers won’t remember everything a candidate says, but they will remember how they felt when the student spoke. This is why a strong closing that includes a plan, summary of points, a tie-in with the entire interview and a solid delivery is recommended. With a strong closing, you finish by leaving the interviewer with a solid idea of who you are.

After the interview, whether you have been interviewed by a single individual or by a committee of two or more, be sure to remember their names and titles (if you were so informed or if you can, pick up business cards of those who interviewed you). It is a good idea to write a brief note of thanks to each interviewer for having been given the opportunity to meet.

Common Interview Questions

In practically every interview an applicant is asked certain basic questions, so be prepared, not with “basic” answers, but with thoughtful ones. When asked a question around a complex issue, do not simply answer “yes” or “no” but give the interviewer insight into how you have arrived at that decision. Never assume that there is a “right” answer to every question; it may be that there are several alternative answers that you could suggest. Furthermore, if you do not know the answer, say so, because inventing answers can only indicate your ignorance of the topic.

Some typical questions may be:

    1. Why do you want to be a physician?

    1. Why do you want to work with sick people?

    1. Why do you want to attend this school?

  1. What will you do if you are not admitted into professional school?

This last question is one of the most critical, and your answer must demonstrate your determination to achieve your objective of becoming a health professional against all odds.

Come to the interview well prepared. Know all of the facts about the past, present and future objectives of the school. You will usually be given an opportunity to ask questions about the school. Ask questions on subjects that are important to you and your education. For example:

    1. Is the hospital a teaching hospital?

    1. What is the student attrition rate?

    1. Does the school interest itself in research physicians or practicing physicians?

    1. Is there special consideration or special support programs for women, for minorities, for combined degree (MD/PHD) applicants?

  1. What additional information is available regarding the school and its facilities and the faculty and their publications?

It would be helpful to be aware of the strong points of a school’s program, and its compatibility with your interests. Such information may be gleaned from The AAMC Curriculum Directory, the professional school admissions requirements handbook, the school’s web page, and school catalogs which are available in the Premedical Education office.

Most interviews are positive experiences and quite routine in nature. Interviewers understand that you are in a stressful situation and usually do not take advantage of your uneasiness.

In the event that you were not asked to appear for an interview, you should…

Although medical schools normally contact you for an interview, there is no law that prohibits you from requesting a personal interview. If you feel that you have a strong case for admission, by all means request an interview. Be prepared to present your best to the interviewer. If the school is located near you, make an appointment to discuss this matter personally with the administrative assistant of the admissions committee. Be aware of the fact that the administrative assistant can have a tremendous influence on the committees; their advice and recommendations can be important. Do not wait passively to be asked to appear for an interview. Go after it with vigor and enthusiasm. If you do not, that much-needed interview may never come to pass.

Follow up

Keep your records organized for all schools to which you have applied; devise a file system for each professional school (keeping separate folders) with a checklist for each of the items, which you are expected to supply schools. Professional schools send you complete information regarding supporting documents they require; these items should be marked off as they are sent. Photocopy documents that are difficult to replace. Most professional schools send written confirmations that the application file is complete. If such notice is not received, you may contact the school’s admissions office to inquire as to the status of your file.

It is your responsibility to ensure that your file is complete at each professional school to which you applied. Supplementary materials differ for each school, but in general include evaluations from faculty. It is suggested that you supply the number of letters requested and do not inundate the admission committees with too many.

Financial Considerations

Where is the money coming from? Scholarships, loans, grants – what types and how many does the school offer?

Government sources: Keep in mind that the availability of government supported financial aid and scholarship programs is frequently in a state of flux. This is because of the frequent changes in federal and state legislation that regulates these programs. Start scholarship searches via the Internet (http:/www.studentservices.com) or (http:/www.college-scholarships.com). Once your financial aid package is arranged and you know your level of indebtedness, make sure you seek proper counseling so that you develop a sound plan for repayment of any monies owed.

Don’t overlook the possibility of a military scholarship, which pays tuition and provides a stipend while you are in medical school in exchange for an equivalent number of years service in the military as an officer and physician.

Minority and Underrepresented Students

The initial commitment of medical schools to seek the enrollment of minority/underrepresented medical students is being continued; there is still a lack of minority health professionals who are committed to serving their community.

A number of resources are accessible to assist you in attaining your objective. The Medical Minority Applicant Registry (Med-MAR) program allows a student to have basic biographical information circulated at no cost to admissions offices of all U.S. medical schools. Students may participate in Med-MAR by identifying themselves (on a questionnaire completed after taking the MCAT) as coming from a low-income family or from any group traditionally underrepresented in medicine. Upon receipt of Med-MAR lists, medical schools will contact those students from whom they desire more detailed information.

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