By: Ziggy Yoediono MD MBA

Having done mock interviews with and reviewed secondary applications for clients during the past few months, I’ve noticed one question in particular that almost all of them struggle with: “Why do you want to attend Med School X?”

Typical Response

Most applicants tend to use the following formula: “I want to attend Medical School X because . . .” And here they regurgitate between three to six positive things about the medical school in terms of the curriculum, environment and sometimes even mission statement. And then they stop.

The reason most applicants respond this way is because they’ve misinterpreted the question to mean, “What’s so great about Med School X?” Hence, the laundry list of what makes Med School X so great. The problem with this response is that you’re doing an infomercial about the medical school for an audience that knows more than you do about what makes the medical school great when instead, you should be doing an informercial about yourself, whom the audience doesn’t know that much about.

If applicants understood that the question actually means, “What specifically about Med School X will enable you to advance or achieve your goals,” their answers would be completely different!

And furthermore, although a medical school’s strengths need to be cited in order to make the case for wanting to go there, the other fundamental mistake applicants make is that they cite strengths common to many other medical schools, such as getting early clinical exposure or being strong in research. When you do that, you’re actually conveying to the interviewers that you haven’t taken the time to truly research and understand their medical school.

Better Response

In order to illustrate how to better answer the “Why Medical School X” question, let’s pretend that I’m a medical school applicant who did lung cancer research in college and that I’m applying to Duke. Therefore, if I were asked why I wanted to attend Duke, here is an abbreviated version of what I would write or say:

“I’m interested in attending Duke because of its unique curriculum where the third year is dedicated to research. This is important to me because when I was in college, I did lung cancer research. [Here I would detail the lab I worked in, my responsibilities and my results in terms of publications and presentations.] If I were to attend Duke, I would take advantage of this curriculum to continue my lung cancer research throughout medical school and beyond.”

Let’s break this answer down:

  • First, I cite a unique strength of Duke to serve as the basis of my response.
  • Second, I prove that I’m genuinely interested in this unique strength by citing a relevant long-term meaningful college experience (it could also be post-college if you’re taking time off). Most applicants never discuss this part.
  • Third, I explicitly state how I would take advantage of this unique strength to advance my prior meaningful experience, which demonstrates that I put real thought into why I want to attend Duke. Again, most applicants never discuss this part.

The bottom line is that even though the “Why do you want to attend Med School X” question seems to be about Med School X, you really need to make it about yourself too.

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