• Samir Desai

Why Are You Interested in Our Medical School?

Updated: Jun 12

This question (or variations of this question) are one of the most commonly asked questions in the medical school interview. Unfortunately, we've found that while the vast majority of applicants provide decent responses, those responses also tend to be pretty generic.

That's a big mistake.

Why This Medical School Interview Question is So Important

This question is a fantastic chance to make a great impression on your interviewer. It offers the opportunity to really highlight how your interests, strengths, and goals are a great fit with the school's mission, offerings, and goals.

In this post, we're going to walk you through our step-by-step approach to crafting a powerful answer to this common question.

If you'd prefer to listen, please check out this podcast episode.

Why did you Apply to our Medical School?

Dr. Desai: I'm Dr. Samir Desai and I'm here today with my partner and co-author, Dr. Rajani Katta. Dr. Katta and I are the authors of the books Medical School Interview and Multiple Mini-Interview. I wanted to jump right in and start with one of the most common questions that applicants are going to be asked.

"Why did you apply to our school?". Rajani, can you give us your take on this question?

Dr. Katta: Absolutely. That is such a common question. I'd have to say that some variation of this question is asked in almost every medical school interview.

How do schools phrase this question?

Dr. Desai: You and I have talked a lot about this question and how important it is and how schools have different ways of phrasing this question. What are some other ways that schools might ask it?

Dr. Katta: Well, there's kind of the standard ones that I think students would recognize. For example, "Why do you want to be a student here?".

But there are also other ways of asking this question. For example, medical schools might ask:

  • "Describe your ideal medical school"

  • "What qualities are you looking for in a school?"

  • "What two or three things are important to you in a medical school?"

Or even questions such as:

  • "What interests you most about our school?"

  • "Tell me what you know about our school."

So, a lot of different ways of asking the same question.

What are some of the common answers that students provide when asked this question?

Dr. Desai: I want to talk about how students should best answer this very important question. I do a lot of mock interviews, and when I work with my mentees, I always ask this question. And one of the things that I'm surprised by is how often the answer sounds the same. Here's an example of a common answer that I receive.

"I'll get a great education here. There are so many research opportunities, and students really seem to love the school. Also, the faculty is very involved with the students and having all the affiliated hospitals that you have is really great."

Dr. Katta: That is a good solid answer. I'm going to give you a few more answers that I've heard from students whom I've worked with.

"I'm really looking for two things. First, a program that really integrates the clinical with the basic sciences. And my impression is that your school does a good job with that. The second thing is the breadth of opportunities here. All of the research that's going on. I can't imagine that it would be difficult to find many people that I would be interested in working with."

Why generic answers are a major missed opportunity to stand out in your medical school interview

Dr. Desai: As our listeners are hearing these common answers, what is it that you want them to take away from the content of these answers? In other words, what really strikes you about these answers?

Dr. Katta: I think if you're an applicant listening to this, these do sound like solid, good answers. And they are. But there's really nothing that stands out about them.

Imagine yourself on the other side of the interviewer desk. If you're doing interviews and speaking to, let's say, 10 applicants in one day, it would be hard for me to pick out one applicant (from these responses) that really made an impact. There's nothing here that would really help me remember them. And that to me represents a wasted opportunity.

Dr. Desai: I agree with you 100%. And I would say that this question really is an opportunity for medical school applicant to shine. So can you give us an example from one of the students that you've worked with and tell us how that student was able to improve their answer?

How one medical school applicant transformed her

decent (yet generic) initial response

into a powerful, compelling answer:

the before and after response

Dr. Katta: Between you and I, we've worked with hundreds of applicants. I mean, some really strong, amazing applicants. And I want to present one of those applicants, but I do want to make a point that I've changed all identifying details. But the underlying story here is a great example.

This was a medical school applicant named 'Elena'.

When I met with her in an unofficial capacity, I was just really blown away by her motivation and her drive and all of the activities that she had already been able to work on and been able to complete. This was a young woman who was really on a mission and she had been working for years to accomplish her goals. I was just really impressed with her.

Dr. Desai: It really sounds like she had done some wonderful things and had a lot to offer. Can you tell us a bit more about her?

Dr. Katta: Elena had grown up in a medically underserved area with a significant Hispanic population. And in her community, there were relatively few primary care physicians and even fewer specialists. Unfortunately, several of her relatives had passed away from cancer and so Elena developed an early interest in oncology. Her goal was to complete medical school and then pursue residency training in internal medicine, followed by fellowship training in oncology. Her ultimate plan was to go back to her home community and practice oncology, where she would be one of only two oncologists serving a four-county area.

In order to be prepared, Elena had worked in college with Dr. Garcia, a dermatology faculty member at the local medical school. They had developed an instructional module to help primary care physicians distinguish benign skin lesions from cancerous skin lesions. Their goal with this project was to provide a resource for primary care physicians who were practicing in parts of the state that lacked access to dermatologists.

Elena was also involved in organizing and implementing skin cancer screenings in these

underserved areas. So really just an amazing applicant who had already done so much.

Dr. Desai: Absolutely. I'm wondering: what question did you ask her and how did she respond?

Why a decent, yet generic, response can really weaken your interview performance

Dr. Katta: In our practice interview I asked, 'Why are you interested in our medical school?'

And I'm going to go ahead and give you a re-enactment of what she said.

BEFORE: "I first heard about your school from my faculty mentor, Dr. Garcia. Your school has an excellent reputation and she spoke very highly of the education you offer. You're also well known for quality of teaching and diversity of patients which I value. I also would love to live in Dallas and I have family in the Fort Worth area."

Dr. Desai: I have to say that this is a solid answer but it did seem a bit generic.

Dr. Katta: That's exactly what I discussed with Elena. In analyzing her answer, what I noticed was that there was nothing that really stood out about her answer or helped distinguish her from other applicants. And she really did not highlight her own strengths in any way. The bottom line is that it was a missed opportunity.

How to use a step-by-step framework to strengthen your response

Dr. Desai: You and I have talked a lot about how we can help students really create a compelling answer. One that does justice to all the wonderful things that they've been a part of. And you've developed a framework to guide students in creating that type of answer. What's the process that you teach to your mentees?

Dr. Katta: For every one of the common medical school interview questions, you and I have worked really hard to develop a step-by-step approach for each and every one of these questions.

And for Elena, I really wanted to help not only improve her response, but also give the medical school application committee a much better sense of her mission, her drive, and her hard work, so that the answer wasn't just focused on the medical school itself.

For this particular question, I like a four-part approach.

Step 1:

Reflection on your accomplishments, mission, drive, and values is key to crafting a powerful interview response

Step 1 is reflection. I really wanted Elena to sit down and write out what she had already accomplished in her career to date. And not just her accomplishments, but also her mission, her drive, her values. What had led her towards certain organizations or towards certain projects. It was important to really reflect back on what she had already done.

Step 2:

In-depth research of the medical school is an important facet of creating a powerful, customized response

Step 2 is research. And by research, I mean really go in-depth and research this particular medical school. It it starts with going over the website of the school and it goes on from there to speaking with current medical students, talking to alumni, talking to physicians in the community, and finding out what the school is known for.

Essentially, what you're researching is:

  • What is the school's mission?

  • What is the school's focus and values?

  • What are some of the initiatives that the school is working on?

  • What are some of the projects that are going on there?

  • What are some of the things that they are known for?

  • What is in the news about the school?

  • What can you find out about the curriculum?

There's really a lot that you can research about the school to find out what makes it unique, what makes it valuable, and really, overall, why you would want to attend this school.

You want to find out what makes this school such a great place to train.

Step 3: Areas of commonality between your strengths and goals and

the school's strengths and mission

can highlight why you would be a perfect candidate for this school

Step 3 is tying it together. You're really looking for areas of commonality.

  • What do you have in your background that ties in with what the school is known for? Or what the school is aiming for?

  • As a simple example, what do you value and what does the school value?

  • What have you worked on that ties into what the school is working on?

Step 4: The last step

Tying it back to your future goals

The last step is to really bring it back to your future goals. These qualities and these strengths of the medical school--how can those help you in your own future career?

It's really important that a student steps back and really thinks about these four steps in the process.

How Elena used this framework to transform her "after" response and provide powerful, compelling reasons for why she would want to attend this medical school

Dr. Desai: That's a great framework and a great process, and I'm very curious about what happened when you introduced that to Elena. Was she able to use that to transform her answer?

Dr. Katta: She did fantastic. Here is her "after" answer:

AFTER: "I first learned about your school through my faculty mentor. Dr. Garcia is a graduate of your school and she's always spoken highly of the training she received. I would love to be a medical student at your school for a number of reasons. In shadowing physicians, I've learned that it's important to go to a school that places an emphasis on clinical skills. Your school has a reputation for being a leader in clinical skills development. The early patient contact, frequent observation of skills, followed by regular feedback and simulation lab, are particularly appealing to me. It's also important to me that I develop a strong foundation for the practice of high-quality care, with patient safety in mind. That's why I'm really excited about your unique patient safety curriculum.
And finally, I know that your school has a track for the underserved and I could really see myself thriving in this track. In college, some of my most rewarding experiences occurred when I was involved in organizing and implementing health fairs for rural communities. Receiving education and caring for an underserved population would be fantastic because I would like to make this an important part of my future career in medicine. I grew up in a medically underserved area and would love to return to my hometown as an oncologist.
On a personal note, I do have family in the Fort Worth area and training in Dallas would allow me to spend time with family."

Dr. Desai: I have to say that that is a very powerful answer. I have interviewed hundreds of applicants for medical school and I can tell you that this type of answer would not just resonate with me, but having sat in on so many medical school admissions committee meetings, it's an answer that would resonate with my colleagues as well.

In our next posts, we'll continue to explore how to craft the most compelling interview responses possible, so that you can become the unforgettable applicant.

Dr. Rajani Katta is the creator of Medical School Interviews 101, the course that teaches students how to ace their interviews. She is also the author of the best-selling book The Medical School Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty, and served as Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.

Dr. Samir Desai is the author of The Medical School Interview and Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty. He has served on the medical school admissions and residency selection committees at the Baylor College of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

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