For many applicants to medical school, sending off their applications is just the beginning.
Applying to medical school is an 18-month process that begins, for most students, the summer before their senior year with primary applications and enters the next phase in the fall with interviews.
According to Lee Ann Michelson '77, the health career advisor at Harvard's Office of Career Services (OCS) says that while many students find the interview process intimidating, she encourages them to look at it with a more positive attitude.
"Students do get very anxious about interviews," she says. "They need to be reminded that this can be a positive experience. If they don't look at this in a competitive way, they can see that they have a chance to project an image of themselves that does not come across on paper."
Eileen L. Horwath '98, who says she has already received three requests for interviews--two of which are scheduled for next weekend--says that the process is daunting, but applying from Harvard makes a difference.
"I guess everyone is afraid of not getting in, but I can't think of a better institution from which to apply," she says. "That boosts my confidence the most."
A senior in Winthrop House, who did not want to be identified and is currently applying to medical school, says that the process is not so much intimidating as it is "time consuming."
The student, who has already had two interviews, says that the format varies.
"Sometimes you get some guy who talks a lot about himself or asks you motivational questions about why you want to go to medical school," he says.
Horwath says that her anxiety has been alleviated by the resources that OCS provides, including group workshops and binders providing information on current health care topics.
In an attempt to alleviate their fears, Michelson constantly tries to remind students that "interviewing is on a subject that they know best. It is their chance to tell their story. They forget that it can be fun."
Michelson runs workshops to prepare students for the types of questions they might encounter during interviews. She says she gives students advice on how to dress for the interview and how to follow it up.
The application process for most school begins with filling out the centralized application system, AMCAS--which gathers and processes all of the applications and then forwards them to the appropriate schools, Michelson says.
And while each school has its own criteria for judging these applications, Michelson says that most schools balance MCAT scores, grade point average, recommendations, experiences and the personal statements as the primary evaluative measures. From those criteria, the school then chooses a select portion of students to interview.
According to Michelson, the number of students who get an interview at a particular medical school varies greatly. Most state schools, for example, will interview all of the candidates who are permanent residents of that state.
And many universities will give an interview to all of its candidates who were undergraduates at that institution. Harvard Medical School, however, does not give extra weight to its undergraduates, she says.
Interviews for the following academic year can take place any time in the 12 months preceding matriculation. The interviews can start as early as late summer and end as late as the following summer, Michelson says.
Most students only have one interview per school, but some schools require more. An applicant applying to an M.D./Ph.D program can have up to eight interviews at any given school, she says.
According to Michelson, many students become concerned if they do not receive an interview early in the year. But she says that is not indicative of an outright rejection.
If students do not get an early interview, Michelson says that it simply means that they are not in the first group of applicants being considered. Because the interview process lasts so long, Michelson says students should not get discouraged.
But, she adds that the longer an applicant has to wait for an interview, the less likely their chances of getting accepted.
According to Michelson, most interviews are in the form of a 30 to 45 minute conversation between the candidate and a faculty member of the medical school. However, she says that some schools have a panel of faculty members question the student while others bring groups of students together for a communal interview.
Michelson says that the faculty members who interview the candidates are often physicians who are used to taking patient histories, so she encourages students to answer questions as honestly and openly as possible.
"The lack of integrity in that setting means you won't get in," she says.
Michelson says the interviews are an important opportunity for students to prove that they have the qualities to be a successful doctor.
"If they relax, students can enjoy the opportunity because it gives them a chance to tell their story and not be constrained by the limits of the application form," she says.
In order to prepare for the interview, Michelson advises students to research the school beforehand so they can demonstrate that they are sincerely interested in that school.
"The interviewer wants to know that the student is really interested in their school," she says. "They don't want to accept them if they will turn them down."
While Horwath says she is concerned, she says that the process gets easier as it goes.
"After one or two interviews you get into a groove," she says. "You know what to expect. You can anticipate questions and learn the process of directing the interview to emphasize your best points."