I cannot believe it’s almost been almost a YEAR since I started my interviewing journey for dental school applications. I still remember my first one was to San Antonio on August 10th (with my former roommate – who also aced her interviews and was accepted to all 3 TX schools!), and now this year on that same date I’m loading up a UHaul truck and heading off on my road trip to move to my far-away new home – to actually be a student! I promise time really does fly, and to all of you pre-dentals (and pre-meds! a lot of this will be similar to your interviews) who will be awaiting those glorious emails and phone calls this fall, take heart. You definitely could be in my shoes starting dental school and seeing all of your hard work in college finally come to fruition in one year’s time! This is an entirely different nerve-racking experience (how will I go grocery shopping in the city without a car?), but the best kind.
Since a lot of my younger friends are going to be going through that entirely new and sometimes overwhelming process very soon (so proud!), I thought I’d put together a little list of do’s and don’ts from my experience and provide some general outline of what to expect. “How do I just talk about myself for an hour?”
I was very fortunate to have been invited to interview at five dental schools, all with very different interview day styles and atmospheres (click here to check out some of my initial thoughts about each school), so I do feel like I have a good idea of the spectrum of things to expect. I will not say I actually aced every single one of them by any means, and I definitely have some funny stories of my adventures (like waking up about 40 minutes before I needed to be AT the school – and still had to catch a cab in the city – and it rained ALL day – and they only really asked me if I had grown up on a farm – and somehow that’s where I’m going. HA!), but somehow they all liked me enough to offer me a seat in their class! The bottom line – and I know you’ll hear this from anyone – is to really BE YOURSELF. Admissions people do not want a rehearsed robot, someone overly cocky (or someone under-confident for that matter), and they don’t want you to be uber nervous like you might fear you’ll be. Relax, have FUN, and just have a normal conversation with your interviewers.
Here’s a breakdown on some of the things I did (or wish I did better) and things I tried to avoid.
- Dress to impress (but not distract). Buy a nice suit and rock it. Girls, knee length pencil skirt and pants are both equally great. Not too flashy or low of a top (but you can still show a little personality with color or a subtle pattern). Closed-toe pumped are great, just keep in mind you will be walking A LOT on the tour of the school and throughout the day, so break those babies in. Guys – I can’t really help you as much, but just be on the conservative side, and make sure it’s ironed. I’d say stick to black or navy. Bring some kind of file folder/portfolio to collect papers or contact info they hand out and have paper to take notes on throughout the day and write down your questions for them. I had a slim, professional-looking, off-white leather shoulder bag that was the perfect size for my folder and minimal things I might need – phone, chapstick, makeup, bandaids in case of blisters, mints, floss for after lunch (this is a dental school interview after all), a mini water bottle.
- Fix your hair/accessories in whatever way that will bother/distract you least. Keep jewelry to a minimum. If you typically wear glasses, don’t all of a sudden decide to wear your contacts. Or if you never wear glasses, don’t buy fake ones to look smarter. Please. I am normally about 60/40 glasses/contacts, so some interviews I wore my glasses and some I didn’t.. Girls, for hair I’d advise just something that keeps the front out of your face. I curled mine and wore it half up for some, low pony for some, and maybe just my front layers pinned to the side for one.
- Get there earlier than you think you need to. Period. Always allow time for traffic/parking/walking/finding where you are actually supposed to be in the building. (Houston traffic = from Satan). You do NOT want to be late. This is kind of important.
- Eat a good breakfast! Drink coffee if you normally do, but don’t overdo it (frequent bathroom breaks and the shakes are just inconvenient in a time like this). You know they always tell you that for standardized testing, finals, etc. Well this interview is the whole reason you had to take all of those standardized tests (aka MORE crucial to fuel up). You don’t want your stomach to speak louder than your confidence.
- Be friendly towards your fellow interviewees. Getting to know everyone was one of my favorite parts of interview days! I guess I’m an extrovert from Texas, what can I say? It’s fun to see where everyone’s from, what dreadful undergrad exams they’re skipping to be there that day (or “Woah they’re married and have kids?”), and just to automatically have a lot in common with these folks that also are weird (I mean smart, compassionate, and driven) enough to want to be tooth docs, too. I remember at my Penn interview where we had a sheet of who everyone was and where they were from, a guy said, “Oh who’s from Baylor? That’s awesome!” Thank you, football, for that one. I also loved seeing some familiar faces that I’d shared interview days with at other schools and insisted we all add each other on Facebook to see where we would end up.
- Know AS MUCH as you can about each school BEFORE you interview. Research! It’s pretty much a fact that there will be a time in the interview for YOU to ask THEM any questions about the program. Another FANTASTIC time to ask questions is when you’re with the current students maybe on the tour or at lunch. In my opinion, this is when you can find the MOST about a school. I carried a folder in with me with written questions on the inside panel that I wanted to ask each school. Some were the same, but some were specific to that school. Also they definitely might ask you why do you even want to go there? Be ready to schmooze talk em up. Seriously, show that you’ve done your homework. At one of my interviews, the FIRST thing she asked me was “What questions do you have for me?” Nothing about me or my application. We talked about the school and just about life in the city, what I liked about the program, and what her experience had been like on faculty for probably 95% of the interview time.
- On the same lines, know if the interview will be “open file” or “closed file.” This means some schools’ interviewers will have read your entire application, all your essays, and all your letters of rec before talking to you. Other times, they might only be given your essays or letters of rec (without knowing your GPA, DAT, involvement in organizations). These give two very different scenarios because in an open file interview, it’s usually more about what might not be on your application or asking you to expand on something you wrote. For a closed file, I think it’s more just about your personality and ability to engage in the conversation. They’ll look at your numbers later. Also, some schools you’ll have just one interviewer and other places you might have multiple. The curveball I got thrown at Columbia was that it’s a one-on-one interview, but you’re all in one big room with your respective interviewers, so it kind of has a restaurant atmosphere of other people’s conversations. They did definitely have the best food, hands down. They treated us like royalty, and make it hard to turn down. Don’t choose your school based on the catered meal, though. There are more pressing issues.
- Realize that your interviewers are real people, and oftentimes, actually dentists. They understand what we’re going through and maybe why we want to be in the fascinating field (and that they’ll all say is the best job in the world). They also probably have some things in common with you. I’m not kidding when I say that the vast majority of my interviewers were extremely friendly and easy to talk to. After the first 30 seconds, all nerves left! I talked about everything from Baylor football to religion classes/papers to cooking to triathlons to Panama to mission trips to city living to “growing up on a farm.” Some are more structured than others. You might get someone who has an actual list of questions they’re going through, or you might get someone that just wants to talk to you and let the conversation go wherever it will. Be prepared for both.
- Have a clear, concise, and convincing answer to THE question, “So why do you want to be a dentist?” No-brainer, right? Even though it’s actually hard to exactly articulate sometimes, you need to have some serious thinking time before hand of how you will answer this one. Again, be honest and be yourself! It’s a good idea to have a friend or family member mock interview you with some typical questions you might could expect (Google dental school/med school interview questions and you’ll get plenty of ideas), but just don’t memorize exact answers. Have rough bullet points maybe, but be in the moment and talk naturally.
- After you leave the interview day (maybe on the plane ride home or a post-interview coffee shop stop), take some time to sit down and maybe write down your raw, initial thoughts on the particular school. What did you love? What did you not like so much? How were the students and faculty? How were the facilities? Do you like the city it’s in (spend some time if you’ve never visited)? How scary are the tuition costs? Does it offer interesting opportunities for what you’re interested in (externships, research, community service, specialty exposure/encouragement, honors programs, etc)? It’s hard to describe, but you will have a clear feeling about each school right then and there before you have too much time to analyze everything months later (and trust me did I ever). Pen+paper+pros+cons are a sure way to get an idea of where you’re at. I truly loved all of my interview days and everyone I met throughout those months, but I still remember texting my mom right after my Penn interview as I was walking around THE quintessential college brochure campus in the cool drizzle struggling with my umbrella. All I said was “Mom. I realllllllllllly like Penn.” Why did I make it more complicated than it was? 😉
Good luck to all of you, and if you have any more questions about the interview process, I’d be happy to help!