Getting to Know You: The Purpose of Medical School Interviews

by Caroline Wilky, Associate Director

Congratulations on your medical school interview! To secure an interview, you have likely devoted countless hours to study and preparation. With the goal you have been working towards for so long so close, you might be tempted to over-prepare.

Over-preparing, however, is more often than not counterproductive because medical school interviewers truly want to get to know you as a person. If you have been invited to interview, the admissions committee is confident in your academic ability. Consequently, the majority of interviewers are not interested in poking holes in your research or grilling you about the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act. They want to know whether you have the personal qualities, such as maturity, sensitivity, empathy, and self-knowledge, as well as the communication skills needed to be a successful (and happy) medical student and future physician.

If you over-rehearse or prepare a script or sales pitch for your interview, you risk turning what should be a conversation into an awkward, and ultimately self-defeating, performance. In an effort to stick to your prepared script, you may fail to listen to your interviewer’s questions or read his or her body language. Your interviewer might be left wondering how you will be able to communicate with patients if you cannot communicate effectively in an interview setting. This is not the impression you want to make.

That said, you do not what your interview to be the first time you talk about yourself and what has led you to pursue a career in medicine. There are things you can and should do to prepare.

First and foremost, practice discussing out loud personal anecdotes and experiences that influenced your thinking about science, medicine, patient care, or life in general. Talk about your academics, research, clinical experience, and extracurricular activities (medically related and not), but in a way that emphasizes their impact on you as a person. Do not just describe your research. Talk about what you liked about it (such as working as team, for example, or adapting to surprising results). Interviewers are less interested in hearing you describe what you did (that information is on your application), than how what you did shaped you as person.

Finally, schedule a mock with a member of our staff. We will help you prepare enough to feel confident and come across as the well-rounded and personable person you are.

Could Dentistry Be for You?

Mia Carpiniello, Associate Director

While it may seem like everyone in your Organic Chemistry class is pre-med, pre-dental is another common path for lovers of science with a passion for health care. Here are a few traits we see in pre-dental students.

You have the “gift of gab.” Do you enjoy making personal connections with people? Does the prospect of developing long-term, continuous relationships with patients appeal to you? Many dentists spend more than 30 minutes with a patient in a typical appointment, and see the same patients regularly over many years, making the profession a good choice for extroverts with top-notch communication skills.

Fine motor skills are your thing. Dentists spend hours every day using their hands. So, it is no surprise that dental schools enroll students with manual dexterity skills that are transferrable to the practice of dentistry – such as visual artists, engineers, pastry chefs, and even car mechanics. As I learned on a recent visit to a state-of-the-art hands-on simulation lab at a dental school, very fine motor control and excellent hand-eye coordination are essential.

You are intensely curious and enjoy creative problem-solving. Does tackling scientific questions excite you? A successful dentist must be adept at clinical problem-solving, which frequently requires thinking outside-of-the-box. This is one reason abstract thinkers, engineers, and philosophy majors may be drawn to this career.

Whether you have known since you had your braces removed that you wanted to become an orthodontist or you just recently started to consider dentistry as a career, take time to explore the field now. Get outside of the science classroom and into a dentist’s office. Shadow a variety of dentists to gain exposure to the breadth of dental medicine – from general dentistry to one of the nine specialties.  For more information and resources, see our webpage for pre-dental students.



Pre-Med Spring Break: Letters of Recommendation

As the snow falls and you dream of your potential Spring Break tan lines, you might wonder if you are forgetting anything other than sun lotion and checking for the Spring Fling artist (announcement later). If you are applying to medical or dental school, in addition to MCAT preparation for the May or June test takers and drafting Personal Statements, you should be thinking about letters of recommendation.

Medical schools require that you submit a “committee letter” and letters of recommendation as a part of your secondary application. In order to receive the committee letter from Penn, the Health Professions Advisory Board (HPAB) requires that you send a minimum of 3 letters (referenced in the committee letter), though you may send a maximum of 6, and has set May 15th as the deadline for having those letters of recommendations on file with Career Services.

Before the festivities begin or even after you are all settled in at home, you should request letters of recommendation from a variety of people with whom you have worked but are relevant to medical school.  You might ask a TA from a biology recitation, a Principal Investigator from your Organic Chemistry lab, or your supervisor from a hospital volunteer program. Please note: you must have at least one letter of recommendation from someone who has taught you in the sciences, however, two is preferable.  In addition, it is ideal to have at least one letter of recommendation from someone who has taught you in a course outside of the sciences and one of your letters must be from a member of your undergraduate school’s standing faculty (i.e., Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor).

Having a letters of recommendation from someone famous, your baby daddy’s psychologist, or a family doctor who has known you since you were a toddlers are not recommended as the letter would not necessarily be helpful or particularly relevant.

Please instruct your recommenders to submit their letters of recommendation directly to your Credentials File in Career Services via email (, accompanied by a Confidentiality Agreement, which is available on the Career Services website: You need to complete the form and sign the Confidentiality Agreement; we strongly suggest that you waive your right to see your letters since medical schools prefer confidential letters of recommendation and the committee letter is confidential.

Lastly, you can confirm whether letters have arrived in your Credentials File by checking the status online: Please check regularly, allowing at least a week for processing.

Medical School Admission – By the Numbers

By Anne Reedstrom

Some of the most frequent questions we receive from pre-med students are about the numbers. You know the ones I mean – “What GPA do I need to get into Penn Med?” “What MCAT score do I have to get in order to have a chance of being admitted to schools in the top ten?” “Is my (insert GPA or MCAT score here) enough to get an interview at (insert school name)?”

All of the questions above are, for the most part, unanswerable, because there are no magic numbers for medical school admission and admission committees consider your entire application, not just your GPA & MCAT, when they make a decision. But there are statistics which might be helpful to you as you evaluate your readiness to apply to medical school or make a list of schools to which you will apply, and we are happy to provide those to you!

You can find some basics on our new Medical School Admissions Statistics page on our website, such as the percentage of Penn applicants admitted within a certain BCPM GPA range or the percentage of applicants who have taken time off. For even more detailed information, you can peruse the binders of statistics that we have in our office and discover the average GPA and MCAT of Penn applicants admitted to specific medical schools, the schools which have admitted international students, and how many applicants waited more than three years after graduation to apply to medical school, among other scintillating items! Luckily, this information will also soon be available on line as well.

Here are a few tidbits to whet your appetite:

  • The University of Michigan admitted 9 Penn applicants for the Fall of 2014, none of whom were Michigan residents.
  • UC-San Diego, UC-Davis, and UC-Irvine admitted 1, 3, and 4 Penn applicants, respectively, all of whom were California residents.
  • 147 Penn applicants for the Fall of 2014 were women, and 115 were men.
  • In Fall 2014, 10 students matriculated at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, 7 at Einstein and 7 at NYU.
  • More Penn applicants (180) applied to Perelman (Penn Med) than to any other single medical school. (I know, what a shocker!) The school with the next highest number of applicants is Jefferson with 148, followed closely by NYU with 143. We even had 24 students apply to the newest medical school at Quinnipiac University.

Use your knowledge of the numbers wisely, remembering that what we give you are averages, not absolutes, and always, always discuss any concerns you have with a Pre-Health Advisor before having a complete meltdown!

Consider the Value of Joining and Participating in LinkedIn Groups

By: David Ross, Associate Director

A very popular tool that some candidates use in their internship and job searches is LinkedIn. Perhaps you have created a personal account or utilized the “Find Alumni” feature. While both are great starting points, consider joining and participating in LinkedIn groups to discover additional advantages of the system.

Identify a network of individuals with a shared interest.
One approach to search for networking contacts with professional experience within an industry is to input search criteria or use filters to generate a list of individuals. Another approach would be joining a group that may have dozens or hundreds of members with a shared interest, educational background or work experience. Depending on what type of individuals you are trying to identify, joining a group may be a faster or more efficient way to identify a network of individuals you are looking for.

Demonstrate your expertise in an area.
Once you have joined a group, you may notice individuals pose questions on occasion in search of feedback from group members. Responding to questions on topics you have insight can signal your expertise. It can also build goodwill and possibly open the lines of communications with others you may not have connected with in the past, expanding your network.

Uncover job and internship leads – before they are posted on job sites.
Sometimes individuals will post job or internship leads within a group with the idea that a targeted forum with individuals that may work within a field can be a source of referrals for strong candidates. Occasionally, these job and internship leads are mentioned in groups before they are published publicly elsewhere. Thus, being a member of a relevant group can lead to insights on additional job and internship leads.

Receive insight, advice or assistance from other professionals.
There may be a topic or question you would like perspective on from other professionals. Or perhaps you are working on an event or program and are searching for volunteers that have a certain background. Leveraging group forums in some instances may be very helpful in these instances.

Ultimately, when you search for Groups in LinkedIn, you may notice an overwhelming number of possibilities. You may want to start by joining a small number of groups first. Try to become actively involved as you never know when your participation can lead to unexpected benefits.