Why This Medical School? A Common Medical School Interview Question
Updated: May 17
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.
A Common Medical School Interview Question: "Why did you Apply to our Medical School?"
We're the authors of the books The Medical School Interview and Multiple Mini-Interview. We've analyzed the literature, and we've spoken to many, many medical school applicants and admissions faculty. We've learned a lot about the common medical school interview questions.
This question, it turns out, is one of the most common medical school interview questions out there.
In fact, this question (or some variation thereof) is asked in almost every medical school interview.
What are some other ways to ask this question?
How might schools phrase this question?
There are multiple ways that your interviewer might ask this question. Some variations should be easily recognized. For example, "Why do you want to be a student here?" or "Why this medical school?" or "Why are you interested in this medical school?"
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."
What are some of the common answers that students provide when asked this question?
We've conducted many mock interviews, and we always ask some version of this question. One of the things that consistently surprises us is how often a student's response sounds highly similar to the responses given by other, very different, students.
Here are examples of common responses that we've received.
"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."
"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
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 us to pick out one applicant (from these responses) that really made an impact.
There's nothing here that would really help us remember them. And that represents a wasted opportunity.
How one medical school applicant transformed her decent (yet generic) initial response
into a powerful, compelling answer:
the before and after response
I want to present one of our amazing, dedicated, talented students, and show you how she was able to transform her interview response. 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.
Elena's Background and Why She Was Drawn to a Career in Medicine
Elena had grown up in a medically underserved area with a significant Hispanic population. 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.
The "Before" Answer:
Why a decent, yet generic, response can really weaken your interview performance
In our practice interview I asked, 'Why are you interested in our medical school?'
Here's 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."
In analyzing her answer, first note that this is a solid answer. However, there's nothing here that really stood out about her answer or helped distinguish her from other applicants. She did not really highlight her own strengths in any way. The bottom line is that this response represents a missed opportunity.
We have a saying in interview prep: If your response could have been given by another student, then it's just not strong enough.
How to use a step-by-step framework to strengthen your response
As faculty who have worked with numerous applicants over the years, we've worked hard to develop a step-by-step approach for each and every one of the common medical school interview questions.
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. Our goal was to develop her response to highlight the school, yes, but we also wanted to make sure that her answer wasn't just focused on the medical school itself.
For this particular question, I like a four-part approach.
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.
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 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 need 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.
The "After" Response:
How Elena used this framework to transform her response and provide powerful, compelling reasons for why she would want to attend this medical school
After a great deal of reflection and research on the medical school, Elena was able to transform her response.
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."
This is a powerful answer. This is the type of answer that would not just resonate with your interviewer, but would resonate with other selection committee members in the admissions meeting.
In our other 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 Interviewing 101, the course that teaches students how to ace their interviews. She is also the author of the Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty, the Casper Test Prep Guide, and The Medical School Interview. Dr. Katta is a practicing dermatologist and served as a Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.
Dr. Samir Desai is the author of The Clinician's Guide to Laboratory Medicine, The Medical School Interview, and Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty. He is an Internist, on faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine, and has served on the medical school admissions and residency selection committees at the Baylor College of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.