Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

The Interview: Part 1

Slavena Salve Nissan

My interview days were some of the best days in the entire med school admissions process. They were exhilarating, exhausting, nerve-racking, and wonderful all at once. Since interview season is now coming to an end, I thought I would reflect on the whole process: everything from the invitation to what kinds of questions were asked to what happened afterwards. In this first post of two, I’ll focus on everything that I thought, felt, and did before the actual interview day.

I was lucky to receive my first invitation early in the season. This was after more than two months of drowning in secondary applications and nearly three months after submitting my AMCAS (oh what a wonderful day that was). Although the invitation was to a school that wasn’t in my top 5, it served as a message that my application was good enough for a school to want to get to know me further. And that was a major thing.

I had spent months crafting my application—or maybe it’s more accurate to say years. During those years, there have been both moments that have motivated me (doing well in Orgo after struggling for months) to moments of doubt and exhaustion (having difficulty balancing personal and academic responsibilities). But I held on through it all and pushed myself forward. And thankfully, I didn’t have to face completing my application all alone. There were my advisors who helped me hone my voice, my parents who encouraged me, and my friends who said “Slavena, why are you even worried? You will definitely get in.”

But as hard as I’ve worked all of these years, I was worried. There are many great applicants who deserve to go to med school as much as I do. Was my MCAT score good enough? Was I able to convey who I was in an authentic way? Was I even ready for all of this? And then, there were the stories of people who didn’t get in. Horror stories of going through the cycle without receiving a single acceptance, interview mishaps, and countless warnings about how difficult it all was. I internalized that insidious fear that so often permeates the pre-med experience until I finally regained my confidence and told myself that I was a well-prepared and competitive applicant who would succeed in med school.

So there I was with all of this circulating in my mind and my first interview invitation up on my glowing computer screen. I was incredibly fortunate; this turned out to be the first of several invitations that I received. I was ecstatic to say the least.

At first I accepted interview invitations to almost every school that sent me one just so that I would have options. But then as I received invitations to my “dream” schools, I contacted the other schools weeks in advance to let them know to give the spot to another applicant. Yes, I took a huge risk by saying no to those interviews since I had no guarantee that the schools that I wanted to go to would actually accept me, but I chose to believe in myself and in my ability to convey my passion to the schools where I was interviewing. It was scary but also incredibly liberating.

Now for the logistics. How did I pick interview times? Sometimes, I was assigned a date and time, and other times, I had a choice. I picked dates that went with my schedule so that I wouldn’t have to miss too many days of work. As for the time of day, I did both morning and afternoon interviews, which each had their own advantages.

As you’ll hear more about in my next post, morning interviews were great because I was able to finish my interview early and then enjoy the tour and lunch without worrying about what was coming later. However, there were good things about afternoon interviews, too. By having the tour and lunch first, I was able to get a better idea of the culture of the school prior to my interview. Bringing this knowledge into the interview helped me formulate better, more specific questions for the interviewer.

Then, there was the business of preparing for the interviews. A few days before each interview, I would go through the school’s website, taking in as much as I could. I read about student life, watched videos of Match Day (which always made me cry), and came up with questions on topics I was interested in. I had an individual document for each school highlighting various features and then a larger document named “Interview Prep,” which had all of my experiences from my primary application listed as well as potential interview questions that I thought I might be asked. I made sure I could speak clearly about all of my experiences in a concise and genuine way. This was no guarantee that I would be able to replicate what I’d practiced during the actual interview, but it helped me become more comfortable talking about myself.

Now for the hard part—interview day itself. I needed to be confident, yet not arrogant, put-together, yet relaxed, and most important of all, as every successful person will tell you, I needed to be myself.

And not only would I need to be myself, I also needed to talk about myself, which was a lot harder than I expected. Thirty minutes to an hour all about me, my life experiences, and what I want for my future, all conveyed to someone who would tell the committee what I was really like outside of the application. Those hours were anxiety-inducing but also enlightening in what I was able to learn about myself. Outside of those interview rooms were more revelations and surprises: my incredible fellow applicants, getting lost in the northern Bronx, clothing mishaps, nausea on the train, and more all in Part 2.

About Slavena Salve Nissan

Nissan, Slavena Salve HeadshotSlavena Salve Nissan was born in Baku, Azerbaijan (a former USSR republic) and comes from an ethnic minority known as the Mountain Jews. She moved to Brooklyn, New York when she was 6-years-old and graduated with a major in biology from the Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College in 2015. She’s planning to start medical school in 2016 and in the meantime, is working as a medical receptionist. She has a lifelong love of both the sciences and the arts and dabbles in cooking, interior design, photography, genealogy, women’s rights, and poetry.


6 thoughts on “The Interview: Part 1

  1. Congratulations on your successful journey. As a current applicant, I can totally relate to everything you wrote about. I wish I could have read this last year before applying; this story is informative and inspirational for applicants who are just beginning the application process. Thank you for sharing.

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