Last week, Tracy Wang traveled to St. Louis, New York and Chicago, tackling numerous medical school interviews before returning to UCLA the night before a midterm.
The fourth-year psychobiology student and other pre-med undergraduates have anything but relaxed schedules during the fall quarter of their senior year, as they attempt to balance studying for exams with the added demand of interviewing at medical schools.
“Most people apply to about 15 to 20 medical schools,” said Michael Cheng, a medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “I applied to 24 and (was granted) interviews to all of them.”
Last year, Cheng served as a student interviewer for the School of Medicine and met with about 20 prospective medical students.
Medical school interviews are a chance to get to know the applicant on a more personal basis, Cheng said.
Usually there are two interviews, one with a current student and one with a faculty member. He said the interviews are usually fairly casual, take place over lunch and include a tour of the campus.
“A lot of times (the student’s) qualifications speak for themselves,” Cheng said. “With the interview, we get a picture of them that we couldn’t get on paper.”
According to Lili Fobert, an admissions officer at the School of Medicine, of the 6,000 applications received, only about 600 to 800 are invited back for an interview, and those students must fund the trip to the university themselves.
“I (traveled to the) Midwest first, then went to the East Coast and then came back to interview at schools in San Francisco and Los Angeles,” Cheng said. “There was definitely a lot of money being spent.”
Accommodating their interviews involves more than just finishing homework early and flying out of town for the weekend ““ it is an ongoing process that requires early planning, flexibility and sacrifice.
“Last week I missed almost every single day of class,” Wang said, adding that she strategically chose to have large lecture classes on Monday and Friday so she could miss those classes and watch the podcasts instead.
But professors have various reactions to students missing their classes, she said. Some will allow students to miss class as long as they provide documentation, while others may not permit anyone to miss class at all.
Other students have no choice but to miss entire weeks of school to make their scheduled interviews.
After missing two weeks of instruction, Lucky Sivasundaram walked into his philosophy lecture for the very first time at the beginning of third week.
“I had no idea what (the professor) was talking about,” he said.
Sivasundaram, a fourth-year neuroscience student, attended nine interviews in the course of one month and said all that students can really do is plan ahead to deal with the challenge of missing class and balancing academics with their traveling obligations.
He recommends that pre-med students take their laboratory classes before their senior year because they are hard to miss, and he said they should apply to medical schools early so they can get some of their interviews done over the summer.
While students should enjoy the time they spend traveling and interviewing, they should also remember to stay on track with their academics because medical schools track students’ progress even after they have been accepted, said Minh-Vu Nguyen, a fourth-year psychobiology student.
Regardless of their stressful schedules, some students see the application process as more of a privilege than a daunting experience.
Cheng said applying to medical school is a tough process, but senior year is a very enjoyable time, and being able to travel is simply a bonus.