Medical schools receive thousands of applications for very limited spots in their incoming class every year. Many medical schools try to understand their applicants’ journeys and narratives. They often pose open-ended questions during an interview, including Tell me about yourself? and What will you contribute to our medical school? These questions are designed to highlight experiences that have contributed to your development and led you to medicine. A strong answer to these questions is essential to create a solid foundation for a detailed and robust interview that sets you apart from other candidates.
In this post, we will cover:
- How to answer the “Tell me about yourself?” in your medical school interview
- Sample “Tell me about yourself?” response
- How to prepare for other common medical school interview questions
- Common medical school interview mistakes to avoid
- Download our Cracking Med School Admissions Interview Guide
Get more common traditional medical school interview questions and sample Multiple Mini Interview questions by downloading our Cracking Med School Admissions interview guide!
“Tell me about yourself” is often the first questions asked in medical school interviews. When answering, it is important to keep in mind that the interviewer is trying to get to know you as a person, including your background outside of medicine. We want to emphasize that the structure of your response as a clear, strong framework can provide a roadmap for your interviewer to follow as you lead them through the details. The framework and questions below are to help guide you brainstorm your response to this open-ended question. You do not need to answer every single question in the framework below.
A winning framework to responding to the “tell me about yourself” questions consists of the following:
Step #1: Describe your background
- Questions to answer: What is your family structure like and where did you grow up? What kind of upbringing did you have? Did you have siblings? How did you develop your interests and engage your curiosity early on? What values did you gain from your upbringing and your family?
- Why this is important: This provides some context on your upbringing to allow your interview to understand you better. Additionally, you will build personal connections with your interviewer.
- Tips: One common mistake that applicants make is that their responses for the background section are too long. Stick to what’s important in your childhood and family and what is relevant for a career in medicine.
Step #2: Highlight your major pursuits in high school (if relevant) and college
- Questions to answer: What did you study? What motivated you to pursue/focus on these particular areas? Why did you choose these extra-curricular activities? What did you learn about yourself and what you did? How did your activities contribute to your desire to be scientifically inclined and dedicated to service for others? Why did you pursue advanced education beyond college?
- Why this is important: This section introduces how you have begun to develop your interests and shows your interviewer some of the depth of your interests and experiences.
- Tip: We don’t want to hear a laundry list of activities nor do we want a resume dump.
Step #3: Describe any gap year activities, advanced degrees, work experiences before medical school
- Questions to answer: Did you work before applying to medical school? Why did you work in the field/industry that you did? If you had another career before medical school, what made you decide to leave and pursue medicine?
- Why this is important: Since many applicants have very unique backgrounds, this helps an interviewer to gain an additional perspective on your journey. This can also help you to show how you have engaged with medicine before applying as well.
- Tip: Link these gap year experiences to what you want to do at that specific medical school and why you want to go into medicine.
Step #4: Describe your present-day self and future goals
- Questions to answer: What are you doing right now? What are some of your hobbies? What other pursuits are you engaging in? What are you hoping to gain from attending medical school? What is the future impact that you hope to create after medical school?
- Why this is important: This section is the most important one and ties together many of the strings that you have introduced in previous steps into a coherent explanation of who you are and why you are seeking to pursue medicine as the next logical step in your journey. If you have laid a solid foundation before this, your interviewer will find themselves nodding along as you describe how you believe practicing medicine aligns with your goals.
- Tip: You can receive bonus points if you can link what you are doing now to what you will be doing in that specific medical school.
- Hi, my name is [_______].
- I grew up as the eldest of 3 children in an Haitian-American family, son of a nurse and construction worker in San Diego. As the eldest child, I was often relied on to look after my siblings, whether that was helping them with their homework or ensuring that they were eating well as my parents worked long shifts at work. My parents were immigrants and we had little extended family around us so we remained highly reliant on each other for entertainment and to find what we needed inside and outside of school.
Major Pursuits in College
- While at UC Berkeley, I decided to major in Biology and History because of my fascination with the human body and also how our modern-day society has been shaped by events in the past. I enjoyed the interdisciplinary learning that my school cultivated and I embraced that by writing my senior thesis on the health effects tied to Caribbean colonization by the Spanish conquistadors. I believe that marrying my two passions of biology and history has made me a more well-rounded person who is passionate about understanding medical history and how it affects care delivery today.
- I was also highly involved in both basic and clinical research and served as a research fellow in my genetics lab studying the genetic elements of insulin production. I also enjoy teaching biology in underprivileged classrooms in the Bay Area as well as working as a teaching assistant in the Department of Chemistry. I have also enjoyed building my community at college through the Haitian Students Alliance and hope to continue to build bridges with others in my profession.
Work after Medical School
- After graduating college, I have worked as a clinical research coordinator in the Department of Neurosurgery at UCSF Medical Center studying the long-term outcomes of glioblastomas. I also have continued much of my volunteering work and teaching health and biology classes for many local community centers.
- As somebody interested in academic medicine, I believe my research and teaching experiences will allow me to flourish in my pursuits as a medical school student interested in internal medicine.
Present-day day self / Future goals
- Some of my hobbies include hiking any trail that I can find, reading philosophy and nonfiction literature, and playing jazz piano.
- In medical school, I am interested pursuing additional research in genetic diseases. I am particularly interested in ____[name researcher, center, or project you are interested in]
4 Common Medical School Interview Questions and How To Prepare
Common medical school interview question #1:
Why do you want to come to _____ medical school?
Do your research about the school! Don’t just look at the homepage of the medical school website.
Look at the school’s curriculum. And more important, look at programs you want to be involved with, professors you want to meet, and elective classes you want to take.
- To give you some guidance, research what’s unique about the school’s curriculum, culture, location, and opportunities. Is there anything unique about the medical school’s curriculum? For example, do they start clinical rotations during the second year of medical school? Or are you drawn to the location of the school? Are you interested in doing clinical rotations in urban or rural areas? Do you want more exposure to certain patient populations?
- Paint a picture about how you will take advantage of the opportunities and resources at the school. These may include extra-curricular activities, research projects, and other graduate degrees available. By actively describing your plans and interests, you will show the interviewer that you have thought hard about why you applied to that school, rather than checking off another school to apply to
Common medical school interview question #3:
“Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” OR
“Where do you see yourself in 20 years?”
- Look back at your primary AMCAS and secondary applications. What were the themes of your application?
- Are there certain types of career paths that you are interested in?
- Based on your application’s themes, have some careers that you may be interested in. For example, if you’ve done extensive work with cancer patients, you may want to be an oncologist. Or, if you’ve done a lot of global health work, you can say you want to incorporate global health in your career.
- Another way to tackle this question is to discuss what type of practice-setting or specialty you are interested in. For example, you may be interested in primary care in urban settings who wants to do community work related to drug addiction.
- On that note, your response can also touch upon personal growth. Where will your strengths have taken you? What will you have worked on to shore up your weaknesses? For example, you can say “I also value connecting with and communicating with my patients. As such, in 5 years I want to be proficient in Spanish/Chinese/Arabic to better meet an underserved population, and in 10 years I want to be completely fluent.” A quick 30 second add-on to this question reveals more about your character. This is especially useful if they haven’t directly asked you “What are your strengths and weaknesses.”
- Remember, it’s okay to not have an exact career plan laid out!
Common medical school interview questions #4:
“Is there anything else you want me and the admissions committee to know?”
- Know the components or main parts of your application that you really want to highlight.
- Throughout the interview, you should know what you’ve had the chance talk about and not. For example, say that two things you want to highlight are 1) your interests in community health and 2) how that relates to primary care. And, a few of your activities that support those interests include: shadowing a family medicine doctor, working with a mobile clinic in Mexico where you taught patients about diabetes, and your public health research. Throughout the medical school interview, you should insert these activities as talking points.
- On a related note, know how to connect your various activities with each other. Using the previous example, find good transitions between your Mexico mobile clinic, research, and your interests (both clinical and non-clinical) in medical school.
Our Cracking Med School Admissions team hopes that this helps jumpstart your interview prep. We have helped several students over the years greatly improve their interview skills.
Common medical school interview question #5:
“What’s your most significant extra-curricular activity?” OR
“Tell me more about _____ activity.”
- Have a short answer and long answer prepared for this medical school interview question. The length of your answer will depend on how much you want to emphasize this particular activity, the position of this question in your interview, and what you’ve already talked about
- Be able to give a brief 30 second – 1 minute description about your major extra-curricular activities.
- Say what you did and the impact you made. A common mistake we see students make is that they talk too much about the organization and not enough about what they did in the organization.
- You may want to give a reflection about how your experiences have shaped your perspective or how it will impact the way you practice medicine in the future. Perhaps, through your activity, you were inspired to do certain clinical research. Or, you realized a new way to communicate with your patients.
Download our FREE Interview Guide!
If you are prepared, the Cracking Med School Admissions interview gives you the perfect opportunity to standout and shine by sharing with people what you are passionate about.
There are common mistakes applicants make that affect their interview or may not paint them in the best light. We have included some of the most commonly made errors during an interview and ways to avoid these pitfalls below.
Tip #1: Avoid contradicting your story in your application
While some interviewers review your application before your interview, many others review it after. Nonetheless, they expect to see a high degree of similarity between your application essays and your interview. If they see significant differences (i.e. you write your personal statement on volunteering but never mention it in your interview), they may question which story is the most accurate and find it difficult to advocate for you to the admissions committee. Making sure that your narrative is consistent throughout the application process will make you more memorable and provide a clear rationale for what you will contribute as a future physician.
Tip #2: Avoid excessive focus on irrelevant experiences
Interviewers are looking to understand how some of the pivotal experiences that you have had have prepared you to pursue a career in medicine. If you begin to spend an inordinate amount of time describing experiences that are not relevant to the “Why medicine” question, you could distract the interview from understanding your main reasons of going into medicine. The best way to avoid this from happening is to practice, practice, practice your answers to common questions like “Tell me about yourself?” and “Why medicine?”
Tip #3: Avoid getting too personal
Although your interviewer is trying to understand details about you and your journey to medicine, remember that this is a professional environment. There are certain topics that may be too personal to discuss with someone you only recently met. Try to shy away from over-sharing and perhaps placing your interviewer in an awkward position. For example, if you are discussing a unique illness that one of your friends had at a young age that greatly affected you and inspired you to go into medicine, perhaps avoid detailing too extensively the toll that your friend’s illness may have had on you and instead focus on the lessons that it taught you and how you seek to help others suffering from similar ailments.
Tip #4: Avoid sounding unconfident
One turnoff is to sound unconfident or insecure about your application. Do not apologize for your past experiences and answers.
Tip #5: Avoid sounding negative
Avoid expressing a large amount of regret or negative takeaways from experiences unless it bolstered your desire to apply to medical school. Interviewers want to remember you positively, and not as someone who regrets many of their past decisions.
Now that you know how to approach answering the “Tell me about yourself,” medical school interview questions, you are prepared to lay a strong foundation for your interview and impress your interviewer. With a clear understanding of who you are and what motivates you, your interviewer is free to delve into particular areas they find interesting or move on to other questions they may have. With the frameworks we have provided, you can confidently construct your narrative to convey your unique perspectives on how you will make an excellent future physician.
If you want to schedule a mock interview with our team, fill out the contact form below.
Other important Interview Blog Posts
Medical school applicants find these blog posts on medical school interviews extremely helpful:
- How to Answer: “Why do you Want to be a Doctor?” and “Why Medicine?”
- Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) Questions and Answers
- What to Bring to a Medical School Interview
Blog post written by Kevin Li and Dr. Rachel Rizal