Veterinary School Panel Interview Tips
Amber McElhinney is a 2nd-year veterinary student at UC Davis. In an effort to help pre-veterinary students as they prep for applying to veterinary school we thought Amber’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.
If you are interested in the Multiple Mini Interview (MMI) tips, check out this blog post by 3rd-year veterinary student Kamira Patel.
You spent countless hours compiling your transcript information for VMCAS, writing and rewriting your essays, and gently reminding your veterinarian mentor about the due date for your recommendation letter. It seemed like a full-time job just to apply to veterinary school, and once everything was submitted you tried not to think too much about it while you waited to hear something, anything, back from your chosen veterinary schools. After a few months, the responses start coming in, each one making your heartbeat in panicked excitement while you wait for it to load. You scan the email quickly and find the words you had been hoping to see for months now — Congratulations! You have been invited for an interview.
Every veterinary school has a slightly different interview process, and unfortunately, the only way to truly know what it is going to be like is to go through an interview at that school. Many schools post something about their interview process on the website, and this is a great place to start, getting a sense of what the interview is like and how to prepare. Asking other students who have previously successfully interviewed is another great way to get tips for the interview.
Most schools do some variation of a panel interview, similar to the kind you went through to get your summer job or internships. Essentially, there will be at least one person asking you questions about yourself, your experiences, and trying to get a sense of what kind of veterinarian you will be. Each school runs the interview process a little differently; some have two faculty members interview you, some do a larger panel which generally includes at least one admissions personnel and one faculty member, with others also include a current veterinary student on the panel. The focus of the interview can vary from school to school. Some will focus on your experiences and your interviewers will already be familiar with you and your application. Other interviewers come in blind, having never read your application, and you have a clean slate to make a first impression. While the details can be handled differently, there are some similarities between all panel-style interviews to help you prepare. Below is some general advice that can be applied to most interviews:
Preparing for the interview
Look up common interview questions and think about your answers to them. Some veterinary schools will publish blog posts or articles with common questions. These are a great place to start, as you can be pretty certain some of those questions will be asked. Have a good sense of why you want to be a veterinarian, and rehearse a solid answer you can give to an interviewer. They are likely looking to weed out people who want to go into veterinary medicine to play with puppies and kittens all day. While we all love animals going into this profession, the interviewers want to make sure you have a good sense of the harsh realities of the profession and are prepared to handle the adversity. They ultimately want to admit applicants who will be successful veterinary students and veterinarians, which unfortunately involves dealing with a lot of difficult situations.
Practice – If you are still completing your undergraduate degree, see if your institution offers practice interviews. Some universities even have specific personnel in their career services offices familiar with medical and veterinary school interviews who can help you prepare. Get their feedback on how you answer questions, and then keep practicing to improve. Get used to answering the basic questions that seem easy, but in reality, are anything but. The “so tell me about yourself” is infamously difficult to answer, and having a reply prepared will help you start out on a strong note during your interview and be more confident. Recording yourself and playing it back can help you hear things you may overuse, such as “like” or “um” as well as give you a sense of how fast or slow you talk.
Look into current events and issues in the profession and have a sense of where you stand. For example, it is not uncommon for euthanasia ethics questions to come up in an interview. Having a sense of what you would be comfortable doing ethically as a veterinarian is a great place to start when trying to figure out how to answer these questions. The same goes for topics like cost of care, providing life-saving procedures to clients who cannot afford them, and animal welfare issues. Have an idea for what you think is the biggest issue facing veterinary medicine, because you may also be asked about that. If you’re not already, you might follow content from AVMA or VIN News to know more about some of these issues.
Lastly, be familiar with your own application. While this may seem like stupid advice (after all you were the one who completed those internships and did those jobs), reminding yourself about your own experiences and refreshing your memory can make sure they’re fresh on your mind. The interview is a stressful time, and it is easy for your mind to go blank or to get tongue-tied. If you read your essay questions right before your interview and remind yourself about your experiences and why they were impactful to you, you can more effectively communicate those details during the interview.
Right before the interview
Relax the Night Before: During COVID it is likely that many schools will be doing interviews via video conferencing, so you may not need to travel. However, if you are traveling for your interview, it is likely that you either will drive or fly a substantial distance in the twenty-four hours before your interview. This can be stressful, but try to give yourself enough time to unwind and relax. Make sure to get enough sleep the night before your interview so your brain will be at its sharpest.
Keep to your routine: The day of your interview, try to stick to as much of a routine as you can. If you are a coffee person, make sure to give enough time to get coffee and let the caffeine kick in before the interview. If you normally skip breakfast, your interview may not be the day to decide breakfast should be the largest meal of the day. The same goes for the other way around — if you normally eat a big breakfast, give yourself enough time to eat in the morning.
Dress to Impress: Dressing for the interview is a topic of stress for many pre-veterinary students. Nobody makes it clear what level of professionalism is expected, and the pressure to impress the interviewers is high. I am here to tell you to dress professionally and wear a suit. For my interviews, I wore a simple black pantsuit with a basic white blouse underneath and black flats. I chose to stick to very basic colors, and while this is not strictly necessary I would recommend against using your interview day to make a fashion statement. Any basic color suit should be fine (black, navy blue, gray, etc.), and you can definitely wear a more colorful shirt under your jacket if that suits your fancy. Some people will tell you to wear the school’s colors because that makes the interviewers subconsciously see you at the school and gives you a better chance of admission. I don’t know that I buy into that personally, but it probably doesn’t hurt 🙂 . I chose to wear flats because I was afraid my nerves during the interviews would make me clumsy and I would fall in heels, but I definitely saw many women wear heels to the interviews.
While what to wear may seem like less of a concern with video interviews during COVID, I still recommend dressing professionally. Also make sure you do your call in a quiet, clean space where you will have no distractions. The last thing you need is your mom coming in to ask you a question or your little brother looking for something in the room during your interview.
During the interview
Introduce yourself: When the interview begins, shake your interviewers’ hands (if the interview is in-person) and introduce yourself. Take a deep breath, and try not to be too nervous, they are just there to get to know you. Show them your best side and why you would be an asset to their school.
Be confident and authentic: With preparation, the interview itself should be a breeze. My best advice is to be confident and honest in your answers. Don’t respond with what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Give your honest opinions and back them up with your real-life experiences. They will be able to tell if you are being authentic, and this is always better than giving a fake “right” answer. The reality is there is almost never a right or wrong answer to any of the questions they will ask you. Even ethical questions do not have black and white answers.
Show Appreciation: When your interview time is up, thank your interviewers. They likely volunteered their time to be there with you, when they could be spending time in clinics or doing research. When the video call is over or you have left the interview room, take a deep breath and relax. You made it through the interview! Now all that’s left is to wait for your acceptance letters.