Saturday, December 17, 2011

UW SMPH Interview Recap

Note: The new background photo is of some small falls we encountered while backpacking the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan's Upper Peninsula this past August.

Photo from photos.news.wisc.edu.
Back from my four-state road trip and I must say that, though I don't feel any strong positive emotion for Chicago traffice (quite the opposite, actually), I loved my experience at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Ever heard of the "Wisconsin Nice" phenomenon? Well, I hadn't until this past trip, but I have now. Everyone throughout the entire interview day was great - easy to talk to and just plain fun. The comment was made during the day that if you drop something, three strangers will probably bonk their heads together when reaching down to pick it up for you. Wisconsin people are just that nice.

After the opening presentations and talks by a variety of faculty members, the interviewees were split up into two groups - one that went on a tour of the Health Sciences Learning Center, another that began the faculty interview. I had my interview first, and it went great. There were not standardized questions that the interviewers were required to ask. The faculty interviewers were also only supplied with the basics of your application, meaning that they had my experience descriptions, my personal statement, and my secondary application information / essays, but did not have access to my GPA, MCAT scores, etc. My interviewer was a blast to talk with, and we hit a multitude of discussion topics ranging from using video games to research learning disabilities and illiteracy in adults to how practicing physicians have to use effective teaching skills when dealing with patients. We had so much fun we actually lost track of time; the interview only ended when another faculty member knocked on the door to let us know that her next interviewee had been waiting for twenty minutes for her interview to begin. Whoops. My 30-minute interview had accidentally stretched for 50 minutes, and probably would have gone on for another 30 if he hadn't knocked. The good news is that I know my interview went well!

I then went on the tour and was blown away by the facilities. They've got a lot of great buildings and resources for the students. One interesting factoid that my student guide mentioned was that each entering class of 175 students is divided into Houses like in Hogwarts from Harry Potter. There are five separate Houses, each with their own traditional name (my guide's was called Bamforth) and common room, and practice classroom. That's right - each House has it's own designated areas secured by codes that only they know. It's a pretty cool idea, and I imagine that it immediately fosters a sense of belonging that might not come along as quickly under other circumstances. This is probably intensified by the fact that there is also a House Cup that is won in the yearly competition between the various houses. My guide didn't elaborate on what was involved in the competition, but it sounded like a fun tradition.

After the tour we had lunch, then it was on to the student group interview. I was in a group with two other interviewees and two student interviewers - one an M1 (first year med student) and the other an M2 (second year med student). They didn't have any information about any of the interviewees other than our names. After the opening generalities ("What were your majors, where are you from," etc. etc.) we just chatted about what it's like to be in medical school, what our fears are, what fears the current students had and how they played out, what the cooperation is like between current students, housing availability, the local culture and lifestyle of living in Madison, WI, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It was a really nice conversation, and I felt like my group clicked pretty well with the student interviewers. They said that they had planned a whole list of questions to help facilitate the conversation and had only needed to use one the entire time.

In the end, the interview day was a success. We were told that normally, the wait for a response from the interview committee is approximately 6 weeks, as the review conducted on each student is very extensive. Apparently, each applicant is evaluated by a subcommittee. After a subcommittee reviews a candidate, each subcommittee member gives the student a rating. The candidate is then presented to the admissions committee by the committee member who gave the student the highest rating. All of the student's information is then provided to each adcom member while also being displayed on a large projection screen. Apparently they go over every minute detail, starting with "So-And-So was born on July 3rd in City, State. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Name and has two brothers, ages 13 and 29." They go on to discuss every aspect of the application. Needless to say, it must take a long time. We were also told that since it's the holiday season, we might not hear back for two months from now.

The decisions are mailed out via physical paper letters. They don't give out phone calls, and they won't be sending emails. The decision will be one of three, and they word the letters so that it will be fairly easy to tell which one you've got right off the bat - though they said you won't be able to tell based on how the envelope looks. The letters will begin with something along the lines of, "We are happy to inform you..." "We regret to inform you..." or "You have been waitlisted..." How much I write in my post two months from now will probably correlate directly with which of the aforementioned phrases begins my particular letter... I'd like to have one of those stereotypical "awesome" moments where you tear the letter open and are met with a happy surprise. Up until now, all of my paper letter moments have been rather disappointing, to say the least.

All told, it was a really fun experience, and I loved getting to know and experience a new school. It would be an honor to be accepted at and attend such a fine school as UW SMPH. As for now - back to the waiting game!

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