Kamira Patel is a 3rd-year veterinary student at UC Davis. This blog post is her personal experience from interviewing for the UC Davis Veterinary School. In an effort to help pre-veterinary students as they prep for applying to veterinary school we thought Kamira’s insight into her personal pre-veterinary journey can help others. We hope you enjoy! As always, please reach out with any questions or feedback, or leave a comment below.
This moment could not have come any sooner. Excitement and dread mix together into an amalgamation of nerves as you open the email to see either the invitation or rejection of an interview with the vet school of your dreams. As your eyes frantically skim the message, the words, “We are happy to inform you…” make you smile as you realize you are now one step closer to your dream: you got the interview.
You’re happy, of course. But then the spiral of apprehensive thoughts begins as the interview day creeps ever closer. You know, the obligatory, “This is the biggest, most important moment of my life, and I better not mess it up” thoughts. If you’re anything like me, the interview process for applying to veterinary school is one of the most disquieting experiences of your life. Yes, it is important, and yes, it will determine if you get into veterinary school. However, thinking like that changes nothing. The best thing you can do is be prepared: familiarize yourself with the process and equip yourself with the skills and knowledge that will give you the best shot at success.
The most common interview type used by veterinary schools is a variation of the classic panel interview style to determine if you would be a good fit at the school. However, some veterinary schools follow the Medical School approach and organize scenario-based interviews, often called Multiple Mini Interviews or MMI. If you are offered an interview and the school has not provided format details, I would recommend reaching out to the admissions office for more information. Veterinary schools use a variety of interview formats for prospective veterinary students.
While being respectful to the UCD SVM confidentiality, I would like to share my experience of the process, to try to reduce some of that pre-interview anxiety for pre-veterinary students. But I also know that with the ever-changing COVID dilemma, the 2020 applicant cycle (and possibly future cycles) will be entirely virtual. Please note that some things are likely to be different in a virtual setting.
The UCD SVM MMI consists of 10 mini interviews, summing up to approximately 1.5 hours of interview time, which can either feel like an eternity or fly by in seconds. Either way, you should pace yourself and treat each scenario as a fresh start.
After introductions, a quick photo op, and storage of all belongings, the group of interviewees are led to a long hallway within Valley Hall on the UCD SVM campus, where the interviews have been conducted for years. (Obviously, any COVID protocol may be different.) There is a chair and a printed scenario outside each room. Three minutes are allotted to read the scenario. The questions that will be asked are not revealed until you enter the room. Once in the room, seven minutes are allotted to answer the questions. A scenario may have up to three questions.
Quick Tip: You are allowed to bring a water bottle with you into the rooms, but if you forget it, you are not allowed to go back into a previous room. You are also unable to use the restroom during the interview, so a restroom trip before is highly recommended since you will be interviewing for 100 minutes straight.
Generally, when you enter the room, the facilitator/interviewer will say “There are ____(number) questions. Are you ready for your first question?” You can request to take a moment and write down your thoughts about the scenario on the sheet of paper they provide you before proceeding with your response. You do not hear all the questions at once; you are expected to respond to the first question before hearing the next question. You can revisit previous questions if you have time. The facilitator is not allowed to clarify anything regarding either the scenario or the questions; they are only allowed to repeat the questions. If you finish answering the questions before your time is up, there is a magazine for you to read. Once the seven minutes are over, you are told to exit the room and go to your next scenario.
The scenarios may not be related to veterinary medicine at all, and you are scored on various attributes during each scenario. These attributes are not revealed to the interviewees, so it is important for you to be your genuine natural self. The UCD MMI is designed to evaluate how you formulate responses and express and support your opinions in a high-stress environment. Often, there is no “right” answer.
1) Choose an interview time that will allow you to be at your best. If your brain works better in the early morning, go for the 8-10AM slot. Moreover, if you find that you need those extra hours in the morning to get yourself ready, then maybe the noon slot will be better for you.
My experience: I chose the 8-10 AM slot because I generally wake up early and I knew that I would stress myself out even more if I had to wait for my interview.
2) Think of three experiences in your life that would work well for answering multiple types of questions. The MMIs are scenario-based, and the questions don’t have to be related to veterinary medicine. You could be asked questions that would be on a normal panel interview. Having a few experiences that you are ready to talk about will make it easier for you to get to your point.
My experience: I had a few situations in my arsenal that I could whip out at any moment in case I needed to. For example, I prepared a response to “Describe a time when you failed at something and what did you learn,” and “Discuss when you have had a conflict with a person and how did you handle it.” These may seem generic but thinking about how you would respond will make you more equipped for handling tough questions.
3) Practice answering interview questions in the allotted time. At the UCD SVM MMI’s, there are ten scenarios. You have three minutes outside of the room to read your scenario. You then will have seven minutes to answer up to three questions. Seven minutes can fly by, so being prepared is incredibly important. You have access to a sheet of paper and you may want to write down cursory thoughts before you begin answering the questions. You will have a clock in your sightline, so if it’s helpful, write down the time that you start to keep track of your minutes.
My experience: I practiced answering 2-3 generic interview questions that I looked up online in seven minutes. On interview day, I had a watch and I glanced at it as I was walking into the room and periodically throughout my scenario.
Quick tip: If you finish early (which I did with some scenarios), it may feel incredibly awkward to sit in silence; however, sometimes it is the best thing to do if you have answered the questions succinctly and effectively, without going on tangents. Adding more just to fill silence won’t help you. The interviewers are not allowed to talk about anything not directly relating to the interview questions to minimize personal feelings from affecting the selection process.
4) Have a friend or family member act as the facilitator. The interviewers are usually faculty members who have been trained to not show any emotion during your interview. I recommend arranging a practice interview with a friend. They should withhold emotional feedback while they ask you questions, time your responses, and note whether you fidget or use filler words such as “um” or “like.” It may also be beneficial to practice entering the room and introducing yourself to your friend. This should help prevent you from clamming up on the day of the interview.
My experience: I made it a point to shake every interviewer’s hand as I entered and left the room. If the interviewer was behind the table, I did not let that stop me. Be confident when introducing yourself and it will make you more memorable and start your interview process with that facilitator on a good note.
5) Learn how to “book-end” your responses. Structuring your responses makes it easier for both you and the facilitator to follow your train of thought. Treat your response like an essay: thesis, details, and conclusion.
My experience: This was probably the most invaluable lesson I took away from practicing for MMI’s. Let’s say the question was “What is your favorite animal?” You could structure your response by saying: “My favorite animal is ______ because of these three reasons.” You may have many more than three reasons, but it consolidates your response and prevents you from wasting your precious seven minutes on tangents. Then go into detail about those three reasons. Finally, when you’ve made your point, it is always good to summarize your thoughts again. It is also a great trick to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything important you wanted to mention. This strategy for answering questions is fantastic for those scenarios that are detailed and have multiple parts.
1) Wear what makes you feel most confident and comfortable. Ladies, if you feel your best in a tasteful pencil skirt and stilettos, go for it! Guys, if that means wearing a blazer over your nicely ironed dress shirt and tie, do it! However, make sure that you are comfortable. You don’t want to be distracted by those itchy wool pants while trying to answer a question, or even worse, distract your interviewer by your fidgeting. But remember to stay professional!
My experience: Although there was no specific dress code presented before the interview, business attire was the most common type of clothing I saw on interview day: suits and ties, dress pants, pencil skirts, heels or flats, and blazers. Some people went a bit more casual (black jeans and a nice blouse) but I wouldn’t recommend this. This is a huge opportunity and you want to present yourself in the best way possible.
2) Keep to your routine. If you normally eat a gigantic breakfast, then don’t just eat an apple the morning of, and vice versa: if you generally skip breakfast, don’t decide on the interview day that you’re going to eat five pancakes.
3) Power pose. Your body language matters. As multiple studies have shown, people who stand like a superhero for two minutes right before their interview feel more power. It sounds ridiculous and for the first few seconds you may feel silly, but why not try it!
4) Don’t let one scenario get you down. There will likely be at least one scenario in which you feel at a loss regarding how to approach it. Don’t worry. Part of the MMI process is for the interviewers to see how you perform under high stress. So, if you’re fumbling for words, it is completely acceptable to let the facilitator know you would like to pause to collect your thoughts. Take a breath. Try not to panic and remember that this scenario is one of many.
While you can spend weeks and weeks preparing for your MMI interview, remember that the school is assessing who you are as a person. Reading through every possible interview question online may not be what you need. There is no way for you to know the scenarios, so there is only so much you can prepare. Try to relax on the interview day as much as possible, do a power pose, and be yourself!