Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Had my second interview of the season at Harvard Medical School on Friday, but forgot to write a post about it because I hung out with a friend and visited my sister in Cambridge right after. So here I am blogging almost a week late on Thursday so that I can jot my thoughts down before I forget them all.
Flew into Boston early afternoon last Thursday and met a college friend at Vandy (the med student dorm) to drop off my stuff, caught up with her over lunch at Boloco (a chain in Boston reminiscent of Chipotle?), then went back to Vandy. Vandy reminded me a lot of college dorms, which may or may not be appealing to some people, but I really appreciated the setup. With communal kitchens, study rooms and a majority of first years living in the same building, it really felt like a campus community. Ever since graduating college, I missed the feeling of being able to visit a friend by just walking downstairs so Vandy was a nice nostalgic fling back to the past.
After resting in the dorm for a bit, I went to a kickboxing class in Back Bay (getting ClassPass to work out when I’m away from home was definitely a good investment), had dinner with a friend at a nearby Thai/Japanese restaurant called The Laughing Monk, then crashed early so I’d be awake and ready to roll out of bed my friend’s air mattress for interview day.
During the morning welcome session, we ate a light breakfast, got HMS-logo water bottles (all of the interviewees were pretty excited by this unexpected gift), watched a short video created by HMS students and listened to an introduction by Dean Mayer, who walked us through a history of the school and development of the Pathways curriculum. During the Q&A, Dean Mayer also answered a question regarding Harvard’s response to schools with merit-based aid and NYU’s recent decision to offer full-tuition scholarships to all students. He answered that although NYU’s policy has its benefits, HMS will continue to grant aid based on need in order to ensure that sufficient aid is available to those who need it most. In regards to merit-based aid, HMS does not offer merit-based aid as “merit” is often difficult to measure (an interesting article about merit v. need-based aid can be found here).
After the introductory talk, we received red HMS folders with information about the school and our interviews, and then we were on our way! Some people had interviews scheduled right after the end of the session, so they rushed over (one girl had a last-minute change for her first faculty interview from 10:30 to 9:30am!) Everyone else either went to go on a staff-led campus tour or headed to the applicant lounge where there were snacks and comfy sitting areas to work.
Both of my interviews were off-campus, so I was given taxi vouchers for both the outgoing and return journeys. Unfortunately my interview times coincided with all of the events organized for applicants on campus (except for lunch), so I wasn’t able to attend a tour, class or info session.
My first interviewer was nice, but very structured–he had a copy of my AMCAS in front of him and was clearly familiar with my application, but during the interview he went down my lists of information and asked about each of my activities. The interview wasn’t really a conversation, but more like a back-and-forth Q&A as he asked for clarifications and jotted some notes based on my answers. The only question from my first interview that threw me off was the last one. After asking about my family background, extracurriculars and everything else on my AMCAS, the interviewer asked something along the lines of “What are your opinions on current efforts for reunification of North and South Korea under the Trump administration?” Aside from being born in South Korea, there wasn’t much on my application that showed I had any relationship to the subject (graduated with a science major and most of my experiences were in service and research), so I was a bit surprised this question came up. It was an odd and complex question to throw in during the last few minutes of the interview, so I responded with a pretty vague “I think it will take a while.”
My second interview was in the afternoon after lunch (which was a great time to see friends again and hang out with the M1s, who were all super friendly and down-to-earth). My second interviewer was also very familiar with my application, but didn’t have my AMCAS in front of her. Instead, she just asked questions (related or unrelated to my AMCAS) that sometimes flowed into conversations and follow-up. I also learned that my second faculty interviewer was an HMS alum herself who had stayed in Boston as an HMS-affiliated resident and attending, pretty cool! Both interviewers asked me a couple, general questions about my research, but they seemed more interested in hearing about my family background, path to college, and personal hobbies/experiences. Wasn’t sure how the interviews went, so I guess I’ll have to keep Harvard in the back of my mind for now.
After my two faculty interviews, I met my friend back in Vandy at around 4PM, talked for a couple of hours and then headed to Cambridge to visit my sister, who’s currently a first year in college. Luckily I (unintentionally) booked my interview for the Friday before a long weekend, so I had Friday dinner and a whole three days after to explore Boston and Cambridge and get med school off my mind. Ate a lot of food, did touristy things and sat by Charles River because it was so beautiful and nice out. I’m not a fan of cannolis, Mike’s Pastry lived up to the hype–their strawberry cannoli was amazing. I’m glad I had a chance to visit!
Notes about the school:
HMS front-loads their workload which gives you a lot of flexibility to pursue your interests in M3 and M4, but this also means that your first two years of medical school might be busier than it would be at other places.
The curriculum: At HMS, students are sorted into 4 “societies” of ~40 people who take classes together among other things, although taking classes together is probably the most important because the 40 people in your society are the people you will see and interact with every day in class. Unlike other schools like Jeff and Mt. Sinai, going to class is mandatory and classes are held from around 8:00am-12:00pm Monday through Friday. Instead of lectures, M1 coursework is set up in a “flipped classroom” format in which students are actively engaged in class discussions and participate in small-group, case-based learning.
Because you have to actively participate in class every day, it’s important to keep up with the pace of the curriculum and many students study (almost) every day during the week. The friends I talked to said they typically spend 3-6 hours a night studying for class Sunday through Thursday.
The society set-up of taking classes with the same 40 people for a year might not be for everyone, but all of the students I encountered said they really liked it. With small-group learning and having to see classmates every day, you get to know people very well very quickly which may more difficult at other schools where lecture isn’t mandatory.
Compared to schools that have optional lectures, 4 hours of mandatory class 5 days a week may sound intense. But another great thing about HMS is that it has a true pass/fail curriculum (for all four years!!). During the interview luncheon, the M1s joked that the curriculum isn’t even pass/fail, but rather pass/pass because with how the “grading” is set up, it’s practically impossible to fail (even if you get a 0 on a quiz or decide to skip a homework assignment for a concert/friend visit/etcetc from time to time). And for those who are struggling with coursework, there is plenty of support (eg. people will reach out to you if you fail a quiz). I half-expected HMS to have an intense atmosphere especially with the mandatory everyday class, but the students were really relaxed, down-to-earth, friendly and even humorous about how not-stressful the P/F curriculum at Harvard is.
At most schools, the in-class curriculum usually lasts about 1.5-2 years, and medical students may take Step 1 near the end of M2. At HMS, the in-class curriculum is only 1 year long and M2 is a dedicated clinical year in which you rotate through departments at an HMS-affiliated hospital.
One benefit of this is that you get very early clinical experience in the hospital, which is especially great for people like me who don’t have a good idea of what specialty they want to pursue. With the M2 year to explore different areas of medicine, you have more time to decide what you want to do + can specialize further during M3 and M4.
One possible downside of this set up is that because HMS has affiliates throughout Boston, you will likely not have the same close proximity to friends/classmates as you did in M1 when you had classes with people every day and lived in the same building. During the interview lunch, the M1s said that they barely ever see M2s and made them sound a bit like elusive beings that disappeared once they left for their pre-clerkships.
Don’t know much about M3 and M4! The information we received and heard from students throughout the interview day focused primarily on M1 and M2, and we weren’t exposed very much to what happens during M3 and M4. This is something that people would probably learn more about at Second Look Weekend if they have the opportunity to go.
Honestly, Harvard was probably one of the last schools I’d have ever imagined being offered an interview at, especially after having over a month of silence save 2 rejections from Pitt and USC just a couple days/weeks before. I was running an experiment in lab when the email came in, and I had to re-read the letter a few times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Since HMS wasn’t really on my radar until I got my invite, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to Boston. But upon visiting, I was really pleasantly surprised! In addition to the weather being a nice balance between warm and chilly (half-jokingly told some people that I should have tried to request a December interview date so that I would have liked HMS a little less), I loved the architecture and set-up of the city and the HMS campus itself was beautiful. Even with its small size, the campus gave me an impression that I can’t describe more accurately than something like a humble grandeur. With the Chan School of Public Health and affiliated hospitals minutes away from Gordon Hall, HMS seemed to be situated in the center of a hub of opportunities for learning and innovation. The way one of my interviewers described the school is that there is something for everyone, and HMS is an amazing place to be for people who motivated to seek out resources and pursue their passions/interests. It’s an additional huge plus that all of the students I met were super kind, approachable and down-to-earth.
I think it would be really amazing to come here and live in Boston for four years, but for now, I’m just going to push HMS to the back of my mind to minimize any disappointment/sadness post-decision day. Until March!