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Receiving an invitation to interview is an exciting step in the medical school application process. If you’ve been selected to interview it means that the medical school has vetted your application and you have passed the academic threshold for enrollment. Congratulations!

Now the medical school wants to meet you to gather more information through an interview. To prepare fully, you should understand the purpose of the interview, which is multifaceted. During the interview the following elements are assessed:

  • Communication skills. Are you comfortable interacting with others, both students and faculty? Would you be a good member of a team and work well with your peers and others?
  • Personal traits and characteristics. Do your interpersonal skills project that you would be comfortable caring for patients? Do you add depth and breadth to a medical school class? Are you mature and able to handle the responsibility of patient care?
  • Experiences and knowledge of the medical profession. Can you speak convincingly about your past experiences and how they have informed your goal of a career in medicine? Do you truly know what you’re getting into?
  • Good fit. Are you a good “fit” for that particular medical school?  Do your goals and personality align with the school’s ethos?

The medical interview is also used as a recruitment tool; it’s a chance for the school to showcase its offerings and to entice you to enroll if admitted. Also remember that the interview is your chance to decide whether it’s a good fit for you.

While the prospect of a medical school interview is incredibly exciting for medical school applicants, it can also induce fear. Rest assured that the vast majority of medical school interviews are not stressful. Think of the interview as an opportunity to have a conversation with someone who is interested in learning more about you, your background, and your motivation for a career in medicine. Continue reading

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July is an incredibly busy month in the medical school application process. This is the time when secondary applications are in full swing. Having read thousands of secondary application essays over my career, which has spanned almost 30 years, I have tips for writing the best possible secondary essays:

  1. Read the prompt carefully. Don’t gloss over the prompt and write a general response. Instead, scrutinize every word and make sure you understand what the school wants to know about you. Some prompts can seem very similar from one school to the next—but there can be subtle differences. Tailor your response accordingly and be sure you have answered the prompt precisely.
  2. Be direct.  In your essays, be as direct as possible. Most prompts are asking for specific pieces of information. Give it to the schools in a clear and concise way. Don’t be vague.
  3. Don’t mindlessly reuse essays from one school to another. I have often seen applicants try to reuse essays—verbatim—to save time. This rarely works well. While you may be able to use the gist of one essay from one school to another, the prompts are often subtly different—as such, they need to be read very carefully (see #1 above!) and answered with precision.
  4. Tailor your response to each school.  If you do your due diligence, and learn about each school to which you apply, you will be able to create much more effective secondary essays. You’ll be able to show what you know and write more meaningfully about why you wish to attend a particular school or what you would contribute to its environment. If there’s one aspect of the curriculum that particularly appeals to you or a program you would want to participate in, cite this in your response.
  5. Help the schools get to know you.  Secondary essays offer a chance for you to help each school get to know you better. The secondary prompts are thoughtfully created by each school because they want to know key pieces of information about you. As such, secondaries present a golden opportunity to elaborate on challenges you have overcome, particular passions you have, interests you hold dear, or goals for your future.

Applicants rarely anticipate accurately the extensive time and thought it takes to write secondary application essays. This is an extremely important aspect of the medical school application process; secondary applications should be given the time and effort they require to produce stellar and effective essays. If you have questions about secondaries or want help with yours please send me an email at

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Originally posted in 2016 and updated in 2017 and 2022

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As described in another blog post, secondary applications are an enormously important component of the medical school application process. Secondaries are designed to suit the needs of individual medical schools. As such, medical schools pay as much attention to the secondary applications as they do to the primary. Give the secondaries the attention they warrant and be sure to write carefully composed and thoughtful essays. Always be sure to answer the prompt given. Don’t let your essay meander from the question posed; these are targeted questions, requiring specific answers.

While secondary application prompts may vary from school to school, there are some general themes/questions that are common. The most common questions involve the following topics, with examples of secondary prompts given:


Discuss what you might contribute to the diversity of our school.

Describe a situation in which you were not in the majority.

Our school values diversity. Please share unique or challenging factors in your background and how they have influenced your preparation for a career in medicine.

Overall Experiences:

What personal accomplishment are you most proud of and why?

Medical Experience and Future Intentions:

Describe your most meaningful clinical experience.

Discuss what areas of medicine interest you. Why do you feel you are particularly suited for this practice scenario? What knowledge, skills and attitudes have you developed that have prepared you for this career path?

Professional Intention:

What does it mean to be entering a profession?

What do you consider to be the role of a physician in the community?

Personal/Professional Hardships Encountered:

Please share a difficult or challenging situation and how you handled it. Identify the coping skills used to resolve the dilemma and the individuals from whom you sought help or advice.

What has been your most humbling experience and how will that experience affect your interactions with peers and future patients?

What is the most difficult feedback you have ever received? Why was it difficult and how did you handle it?

Good Fit for Our School:

Describe the characteristics and values that make you a good candidate for medicine. How will X School foster these traits and nurture your development in becoming an outstanding physician?

Please read our mission statement, which is an expression of our purpose and philosophy. Reflect on its content and write an essay describing why you’re a great “fit” for our school.

Describe your personality and personal characteristics and why you think they will lead to success in our curriculum and learning environment. Continue reading

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The Casper test has been around for several years and is now required at many medical schools. It is open-ended in terms of the responses (no multiple choice questions).  Casper is changing in 2022, as follows:

  • the number of scenarios is increasing from 12 to 15
  • 10 scenarios will be videos to view, 5 will be word-based (situations to read)
  • responses are changing from all essay format to a blend of essays and video responses
    • 9 scenarios require a written response (essay)
    • 6 scenarios require a response via video (no essay)

New in 2020 was the AAMC’s Situational Judgment Test (SJT). It was piloted at a few medical schools, and was expanded in 2021 to six medical schools (Geisinger Commonwealth, Morehouse, University of California-Davis, University of Alabama-Birmingham, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Des Moines University).

In 2022 it was renamed the AAMC PREview.  Here is the list of schools, from the AAMC’s website, that are offering it, as of 4/4/22. Check on the PREview website throughout the spring since more schools may be added.

Medical School AAMC PREview Exam in the 2023 Admissions Cycle
Carle Illinois College of Medicine Research Only
Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science Recommended (Research Only)
Cooper Medical School of Rowan University Recommended
Des Moines University Medicine & Health Sciences Recommended
Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine Recommended
George Washington University School of Medicine Recommended
Michigan State University College of Human Medicine Required (either PREview exam or CASPer)
Morehouse School of Medicine Recommended
Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine Recommended
Saint Louis University School of Medicine Required
Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Recommended
University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine Recommended
University of California at Davis School of Medicine Required
University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine Required
University of Hawaii, John A. Burns School of Medicine Required
University of Oklahoma College of Medicine Recommended (Research Only)
University of Virginia School of Medicine Recommended


This test assesses pre-professional competencies that medical schools value:  social skills, cultural competence, teamwork, reliability/dependability, resilience/adaptability, service orientation, capacity for improvement, ethical responsibility to self and others. The PREview is designed to promote holistic review of applicants such that schools can assess them more broadly. It is a remote proctored examination that tests applicants’ understanding of effective preprofessional behaviors; they are not expected to have mastered these behaviors. The PREview is a scored exam with results between 1 and 9 (9 being high); the score is reported on a scale with a rank. Continue reading

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The Liaison Committee on Medical Education accredits medical schools in the US and Canada. Accreditation ensures that medical schools meet standards set by the LCME. Medical schools are required to “demonstrate that their graduates exhibit general professional competencies that are appropriate for entry to the next stage of their training and that serve as the foundation for lifelong learning and proficient medical care.”

Most state medical boards require that U.S. medical schools be accredited by the LCME as a condition for graduates’ licensure. US medical students cannot take United States Medical Licensing Examinations unless they are enrolled at an accredited school.

Each medical school periodically goes through a review and re-accreditation process. Occasionally schools are put on probation and must make changes to maintain their accreditation.

Medical school applicants should be cognizant of the schools on probation. If they apply to those schools they should find out what the schools are doing to rectify the situation to be taken off probation.

At this date the following school is on probation:

California Northstate University College of Medicine


–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Updated in 2019, 2021, and 2022

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What are medical school “letters of intent” and what role do they play in the medical school admission process? A letter of intent is like a love letter that’s sent to a medical school: it expresses an applicant’s fervent wish to enroll at that one particular school, stating why the applicant feels so strongly about the school, its environment, student culture, and curriculum—and articulating in clear terms what they might contribute to the school if admitted.

The ultimate purpose of the letter of intent is two-pronged:

1. To let the school know that it is, without question, your top choice.

2. To inform the medical school that you will accept their offer if given the chance.

When weighing one applicant over another—and if they are equal in all other measures—a letter of intent may make a difference.If the admissions office believes that one applicant is more enthusiastic about the school and would therefore join the incoming class, she may have a better chance of being accepted. An admitted applicant who enrolls affects the school’s “yield,” the percentage of admitted applicants who opt to enroll. This is often one of the measures used to assess a school’s rank and prestige. So admissions officers care whether admitted applicants accept their offer.

A letter of intent should only be written for one school. It would obviously be unethical for an applicant to state that she would enroll at every school where she has not yet been admitted; that can only be true for one school. However, applicants can still write “letters of interest” to other schools, stopping just short of stating they would enroll if admitted. But the letter of intent should be reserved for the true top choice.

What’s the proper format for a letter of intent?  The letter should be passionate, eloquent, direct, and relatively brief (no more than one page). In general, this format works well: Continue reading

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A study from Tulane and Thomas Jefferson shows the distinctive benefits of engaging in the arts and/or the humanities while in medical school. The results, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that such activities helped to promote medical students’ empathy and emotional intelligence, while also warding off burnout.  For the study, the humanities were defined as music, literature, theater and the visual arts. Almost 800 medical students were surveyed. The more students were involved in the humanities, the more their scores rose for openness, visual-spatial skills, and emotional acuity. Those who were less involved in the humanities had some negative factors—they scored higher in measurements of “physical fatigue and emotional exhaustion.”

Jefferson is fostering medical students’ involvement in the arts through its medical school’s curriculum. The medical school has a Medicine + Humanities Scholarly Track. Tulane also promotes the humanities by offering an elective in the medical humanities. Most notably, almost half of their first-year medical students have degrees in the liberal arts, which is unusual—they clearly value the humanities. More and more medical schools are following suit, as described in this blog post. A recent addition to the fold is a new program at Dell Medical School. 

Every now and then, articles appear about the importance of the arts and the humanities in medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association has a poetry editor; in a recent article he discusses the “healing power of the arts.” And a medical student at Weill Cornell-Qatar describes her artwork and how/why she thinks being an artist will make her a better physician. An article on the Association of American Medical Colleges’ website states that focusing on the humanities helps to develop well-rounded physicians and a new initiative, titled The Fundamental Role of Arts and Humanities in Medical Education (FRAHME), has taken shape.

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consultant

Posted in 2019 and updated in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

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You’ve landed the coveted medical school interview. Congratulations!  But what should you do if your interviewer asks a question that makes you uncomfortable or one that is off limits?  What are these questions?  What is considered out of bounds in a medical school interview?

First, anything that is in your application and that you have divulged is fair game in an interview. If you’ve disclosed a medical condition or mental health challenge or the death of someone close to you, the interviewer may ask you about it in an interview. You open the door to questions about anything that is in your primary or secondary application once you’ve written about it. So do not be caught off guard or be surprised if an interviewer asks you whether you’ve recovered from a health condition that was disclosed. If you wrote about it, be prepared to discuss it.

Second, interviewers have every right to ask about poor grades or academic challenges. If your transcript shows that you experienced academic difficulty, be prepared to discuss it. Don’t be surprised by any questions about academic challenges or MCAT performance.

But some questions are considered inappropriate, especially pertaining to where else you have applied or interviewed. While these questions might be asked out of general curiosity on the part of an admissions committee member, it’s none of their business. And it makes applicants intensely uncomfortable because they can perceive that the interviewer may be biased against them depending on where else they have applied/interviewed.

These questions are intrusive. No interviewer should ask these questions but unfortunately, some do, and it seems to be getting more commonplace. How should you handle this? Continue reading

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As the former director of both the Johns Hopkins and Goucher Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Programs, I have in-depth knowledge of the post-bac application process and have screened, interviewed, and made decisions on thousands of post-bac applicants. The post-baccalaureate premedical program application process entails submitting an application with essay(s), transcript(s), and letters of recommendation. Once your materials are complete your application will be reviewed and you may make it to the next step of the admissions process for the more selective career-changer programs: the post-baccalaureate premedical program interview.

Just as with the medical school interview, the post-bac program interview assesses several important elements:

  • Do you match your written materials?  In other words, is there synergy between your application and your actual persona?
  • Are you a good fit for the program? Will you thrive in that particular institution’s academic environment? Are you ready to handle the academic demands in a post-bac program?
  • What will you contribute to the program? Will your personal traits and attributes make you a welcome addition to the program?
  • Is your enthusiasm—for both the program and for a career in medicine—palpable?
  • Will you be a collegial student and help foster a positive learning community?
  • Can you handle the rigor of medical school?
  • What have you done to have a realistic view of the medical profession?  How have you tested, explored, and confirmed your interest in medicine?

All of these factors are assessed during the interview. While post-bac programs have different ways they interview applicants, here is a synopsis of the various interview formats: Continue reading

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As a medical school admissions consultant, I often am asked by applicants how and when to communicate with medical schools. Medical school applicants should keep schools informed throughout the application process, as events unfold and preferences evolve. If new information develops, applicants should inform the schools through an update letter. In addition, if applicants have been through the interview process and have a clear first choice they may write a letter of intent.

Letters of Interest

What is a letter of interest?  By default, if you’ve applied to a particular school you have an interest in enrolling. But sometimes it is worth communicating your strong interest as the process unfolds. You will gather more information about schools you genuinely like based on your interview experiences.

A letter of interest should come close in content to a letter of intent but stop short of expressing that you would enroll if admitted.  The purpose of the letter is to convey to the school that it is high on your list and that you would be thrilled to enroll.

Tips for a Letter of Interest

First paragraph: Always start any letter to a medical school by thanking the committee for considering your application. Then state the purpose of the letter.

Second paragraph: Get to the heart of the matter by conveying your interest in the school. Be specific; describe aspects of the curriculum and various programs that appeal to you. You should also convey what you would contribute to the school.

Third paragraph: Brief closing, again thanking them for their consideration.

If you have questions about writing letters and when it is appropriate to do so, or if you want help with a letter of interest or intent, please contact me via email at

–Liza Thompson, Expert Medical School Admissions Consulting

Posted in 2017 and updated in 2020 and 2021

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