By Michelle Finkel, MD
The following piece was written by Dr. Michelle Finkel. Michelle has been featured in our Admissions Expert series and is a former Harvard Medical School faculty member. She is the founder of Insider Medical Admissions.
In my last several guest posts on the Varsity Tutors Blog, I’ve covered both prominent and subtle aspects of the interview day. Check out my July entry for advice on how to let your story show your glory and how to fake it until you make it, and my August entry emphasizing that you can run; you can hide; but you can’t escape the weaknesses in your application. September’s piece reviewed geographical issues – how to ensure you persuade programs that you are willing to relocate to a substantially different location (you can check out anytime; but you can never leave) –and solid strategies for demonstrating interest in schools – that’s amore. Finally, October’s entry included advice on how to tactfully navigate interview day social events – shiny happy people holding hands – and how to manage illegal questions with poise – you’ve got to hide your love away.
As we’ve seen through those entries, the medical school interview day itself is complicated and imposing, and managing it graciously is critical. But many applicants give short shrift to creating a solid post-game strategy, work that’s also essential to avoid missteps. In today’s entry, we’ll cover those often-overlooked points.
After the interview day ends, you should take a moment to put your feet up and congratulate yourself for getting through the inconvenient travel, small talk with strangers, and ability to appear fresh and pleasant when you’re really quite exhausted. Then, after you’ve taken a few deep breaths, you should take out your pen and paper and get started on your thank you notes.
Two years ago, a medical school applicant wrote me to say that the Dean of the school at which she had recently interviewed called her to tell her that he was impressed with her candidacy and the hand-written thank you note she had sent. The client thanked me for my help with her application and for the thank you note tip. (As you might have guessed, she was admitted to that med school.)
Writing a thank you note after a medical school interview is low-hanging fruit: It’s an easy-to-perform courtesy with high impact for minimal effort that is frequently overlooked by otherwise competitive applicants. It’s worth the few dollars at your local superstore and the three minutes apiece. But what should the letter contain, to whom should it be sent, and is email or snail mail the best method for delivery?
First, the letter should be brief and clear. Thank the faculty member for the invitation to interview and ensure you point out that you would make a great contribution to the school if accepted. If you discussed a particular topic with the faculty member that would be appropriate for the note, you can include it. A brief – but thoughtful – thank you note can be only a few lines long and still make a positive impression. The flip side is that a flowery or inappropriately casual letter can leave the impression that you have the insincerity of a beauty pageant contestant or that you are overconfident – mistaken perceptions that the recipient may rely on when she nixes your candidacy at the admissions committee meeting.
Second, I recommend writing more letters rather than fewer, meaning that if you think you should write a letter, do it. Here’s a tip: If you spent more than five minutes with someone one-on-one, consider writing him/her a thank you note. (Also write notes to those faculty members who participated in any group interview you had.) A brief and considered thank you note won't hurt and might help, so be generous with them.
Finally, send your thank you notes through snail mail. (If you also want to email a note, that is fine as a supplement, but it should not replace a hand-written note.) The reasons are several-fold: First, email may be viewed as lazy. Hand-written thank you notes take more time, which shows. Second, it’s easy to delete, archive, or ignore an email. Also, to put an email thank you note in a hard file, the receiver needs to take the time to print out your email. You don’t want any barriers between you and your good impression. I do recommend getting those handwritten thank you notes in quickly. The night after you’ve completed your interview or the next day is a good time to write and send.
In addition to thank you notes, another tactic is writing a letter of intent. These optional updates to schools can confirm your interest, while showcasing old and new aspects of your candidacy. Programs often seek not just top recruits, but recruits who are genuinely grateful to be at their specific institutions, and sending a supplemental letter demonstrates that sentiment. If you plan to write a letter of interest, though, ensure you affirm your strong interest in the institution while keeping your writing brief. (I strongly advise one page maximum.) Also, make sure you distinguish yourself with your accomplishments: In editing letters of intent, I note that applicants often make the mistake of focusing on their desired institution's virtues. These programs already know their strengths; unfortunately, you won't further your candidacy by reiterating them.
In my next blog, we’ll discuss how to manage some sticky interview situations.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.