I had my first medical school interview a few days ago, and I feel like cataloguing my experiences here, as a way to both share the experience I’m going through in applying to medical school as a non-traditional applicant with a disability, and also as a way to collect some of my impressions in one place.
To back up a little, I applied this summer. After my final final exam as an undergraduate (physical chemistry), later that afternoon I started filling out the application. No rest for the determined. I submitted my application in July, applying to 19 schools. This sounds like a lot (and it is) but I know people who’ve applied to double that many. In September 2016, I sat down with my finances to plan out how much I needed to have saved for each step of the process and had determined that if I met those goals, I could apply to ~18 schools. So pretty much on target.
That was just the primary application. After that, schools send out secondary applications, usually with essay questions (and more fees of course). Some automatically send secondaries to everyone, some pre-screen. I ended up getting secondaries from all 19 schools, but with the volume of essays required, I only filled out seventeen. When I was down to my final three, I was so burnt out and decided to pick one of the remaining three and ditch the other two. I think it was the right call because as I went back on the MSAR–Medical School Admissions Requirements, a website that has a page for every school with all its details–and read through two of the remaining schools’ descriptions, I felt like OMG I can’t take another second of reading this stuff, it all sounds the same. Then I got to the third remaining school and suddenly felt very different and excited about the school. It was also in the location I could most see myself living of the remaining three. So I filled out that one and withdrew from the other two.
Before that, I wrote sooooo many essays. At some point when I was early on in the secondary process, I counted up all the ones I would have to write and it was something like 52. Some schools asked similar questions so it wasn’t too hard to do a bit of copy/pasting and tailoring, but a lot of schools, including my one in-state school, had unique questions. And these weren’t run-of-the-mill questions either. Some of the questions asked things like, “Describe a time when you disagreed with a rule and how did you handle it?” and “Tell us about a time where you didn’t get something you felt you deserved and how you reacted” and “What is your greatest non-academic achievement?” and such. Those are all paraphrases but you get the gist. Of course, being a long-winded writer that I am, I also struggled with the word counts for these questions (staying within them was the struggle, not meeting them).
That’s pretty much all I did for about a month. Towards the end, I even worked on and submitted three secondaries while at a state convention for the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon. One of those had the question mentioned above about the greatest accomplishment outside of academics, and later I felt I really botched that one, had done it too fast and not given it enough thought. If I could have re-done any one essay, that’s the one I would’ve picked.
After that, it’s just a game of sit and wait and hope and try not to get your hopes up and checking your email waaaaaay more than is healthy and then trying not to check your email so much, but oh, let me just look one more time even though it’s the weekend or way after business hours on all coasts but just maybe there is some news.
So far, I’ve gotten six interview invites and one rejection. Because it’s all happened through email, and like anyone, I’m on my phone constantly, I’ve gotten these at all kinds of odd times. My first invite came so unexpectedly early (less than a week after I submitted my secondary for that school) right before I had to lead a training at work alongside my boss and our student coordinators. Another I saw in the bathroom during my clinical volunteering shift. Another one, at the checkout line in the grocery store. Another just sitting in bed writing and randomly checking my phone, another at the airport, another sitting in my friend’s living room a few hours after finishing my first interview.
The rejection was from the Mayo Clinic in AZ and I was at work when I got it. What really surprised me was that less than a week later, I got an interview invite from the Mayo Clinic in MN. I had a strong preference for MN anyway (the AZ Mayo Clinic was a huge outlier, location-wise, in my school list). So I was really happy with the way that worked out! I have my Mayo MN interview mid-December.
One of the interview invites, I ended up turning down. They sent it to me on a Tuesday, and wanted me to come that same Wednesday, Thursday or Friday (as in, within one, two, or three days) and that didn’t seem realistic, money-wise, to do. Going on such short notice would have meant a flight that was about double in price of a flight with more notice. It also didn’t feel fair to my boss. I’m sure she would’ve worked with it if I’d decided to go, she’s been incredibly supportive and understanding of me needing to take time off for interviews, but going on that short notice just felt rude. I didn’t want to burn out any of that goodwill, especially early in the cycle.
It was a hard decision though, at that point I had two other invites and the thought of not going on an interview was difficult. So I sat down and broke my seventeen schools into tiers of how strongly I wanted to interview, and this school was at the bottom for some other factors. I don’t think I should say what school it was because I don’t want to say anything bad about any school, and I will say the reason it was so low on my list had a lot to do with its cost of attendance being far and away the most expensive on my list, like nothing else on my list was even close. So I felt like even if I got in, I wouldn’t be all that likely to go there, and took the gamble of passing up the interview. I still don’t know if it was the right choice, but it was the choice that felt right at the time.
Crazy thing is that so far, all of the other invites I’ve gotten were from schools that made it onto my top tier. So I’m really, really excited for the four interviews I have coming up, and the one I already had. Now that this has gotten so long, I think that’ll have to be its own separate post. Just wanted to set the stage first.