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How to Prepare for Your Dental School Interview

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Emil Chuck

Emil Chuck, Ph.D.
Director of Admissions
Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine

Dr. Chuck earned his Ph.D. in Cell Biology from Case Western Reserve University after his BSE in biomedical engineering from Duke. Formerly the Chief Health Professions Advisor and Assistant Professor at George Mason University, he has served as advisor to the AAAS Science Careers Forum and often sits as a workshop panelist on interviewing skills and competency-based evaluations. Dr. Chuck is a frequent contributor to GoDental.org.

“Congratulations! Your application has positively impressed our admissions committee, and we would like to invite you to an interview at our school.”

After months of working hard on your applications and DATs, you’ve finally gotten a precious invitation to interview at a dental school. Now you have a few weeks to arrange your travel and housing, not to mention a short trip to a store to select your interview attire.

But just as you have spent a lot of time preparing for the DAT by understanding the test format and timing, you need to also take some time to know how your interview day schedule is set up. For this article, I’ll help you become a little familiar with some terms that will be helpful for your preparation.

Will the interviewers review your file before your interview?

Many schools will encourage their evaluators to conduct “open file” interviews. This means that the evaluator (usually a faculty member) will have a chance to look over your AADSAS and supplemental application materials the day before meeting with you. This way, the interviewer can gain insight into what you bring to the table in your conversations and explore elements of your application in greater depth. Some schools will exclude any transcript or DAT scores when distributing your file so that an interviewer will avoid fixating on low grades during the interview.

Other schools will conduct “closed file” interviews. In this format, the evaluators interview each candidate without looking at all at the applicant’s file. Because the evaluator is blinded to your application, the conversation is expected to be more organic and exploratory.

Sometimes an interviewer will have access to your file but will prefer to review it after interviewing you. This way, the interviewer gets to know you as a person before reviewing your entire application on paper. Technically such interviews are considered “open file” even though the conversation is conducted “closed-file.”

The interviewers themselves

Interviewers at most dental schools are faculty who are taking their time to participate in the admissions process. Some schools have select students or alumni who may be involved either formally with interview evaluations or informally to field general questions about their school. Admissions, student affairs and financial aid staff also occasionally interview applicants.

The structure of an interview

Because each admissions office determines how many candidates are scheduled for a specific interview day, the structure of the interview may depend on how many interviewers are scheduled to meet with the candidates. Traditionally, interviews are conducted with one evaluator questioning one candidate for as brief as 15 minutes to as long as an hour. Sometimes interviews are conducted with a panel of two or three evaluators for each candidate for 30 minutes up to an hour. Panel interviews may also mix “open” and “closed” file formats as one panel interviewer may have access to your file while the other is blinded to your file.

More recently, interview formats have been created to allow evaluators to assess more group dynamics in an interview. As a result, group interviews, in which an evaluator asks questions to three or more candidates, are becoming more common. Sometimes there is a second evaluator who can help facilitate discussion. These group interviews can last between 20 and 60 minutes.

The style of an interview

Interview evaluators also often have the task of asking candidates similar or identical questions in order to allow the evaluator to fairly judge each candidate’s responses. Common questions that are expected include, “Tell me about yourself,” “Identify your greatest weakness,” and “Why are you interested in dentistry?” Some evaluators have a pre-determined set of questions that are required to ask every candidate while others employ a more conversational style where questions are asked spontaneously.

Can you bring something?

Many interviewing candidates like to bring notebooks and portfolios with them featuring papers they have published, photographs of creative work or an updated resume. You may need to check each school that invites you about its preferences in relation to bringing supplemental materials to the interview.

Multiple mini-interview format

Another format that has been gaining popularity is the “multiple mini-interview” (MMI). In this case, candidates rotate between stations every 7-10 minutes where they are confronted with a new question. Some of the questions may be associated with hypothetical situations while others may be task-oriented. Every candidate is given the same question or scenario, and each evaluator judges each candidate on the specific question that is asked. The evaluator may also interact with the candidate through follow-up questions.

How do you find out?

The best way to find out what format a dental school uses for their interview days is to ask the admissions offices directly. Many admissions directors will be happy to give you a summary of their interview day and provide insight to the schedule or general format.

Practice, Practice, Practice

If you have access to a career services office at your undergraduate institution, you may want to schedule a session with a career advisor for a mock interview. Many offices have a subscription to Perfect Interview, a webcam-based program that can help you evaluate your own interviewing skills.

Best wishes to you in your interview preparation!


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