Preparing for Admission Interviews
(Guidelines for pre-OT, PT, and PA students)
Most physician assistant programs, and many physical therapy and occupational therapy programs, conduct admission interviews. We suggest you read this section thoroughly. It contains easily digestible info items, as well as tips that are easily acted upon!
- Because most programs receive hundreds, sometimes thousands, of applications, programs that conduct interviews rarely interview all applicants. Therefore, pay close attention to the tips, suggestions, and other information on the Health Professions and Prelaw Center OT, PT, and PA pages, and other related pages, such as Program Research, Personal Essay, Letter of Recommendation, and Clinical Observation (all linked from HPPLC OT, PT, and PA).
- Your initial goal when applying to programs that conduct interviews is not specifically to gain admission, but to make the first "cut," and be offered an admission interview. Most programs tell us that they interview two or three times the number of applicants as they have spaces in the program; for example, interviewing 80 or 120 applicants for 40 spaces.
- The time of year interviews are held varies from program to program; check websites for this information. Interviews often take place in mid to late fall, and throughout winter and spring, though some programs conduct early admission interviews in mid to late summer.
- Interviewees are responsible for paying their travel expenses and getting themselves to the site on time. Click HERE for related information.
- Once you have submitted your application(s), double-check with the CAS, or Central Application Service (be it CASPA, PTCAS, or OTCAS), and with non-CAS programs, to confirm that your application is complete.
- Also after submitting your application, consider sending a professionally written, brief follow-up email to each program to which you are applying, in which you reiterate your interest in the program, thank them for considering your application, and express your hope that you will have the opportunity to discuss both their program, and your interest in it, in more detail.
- If you are waitlisted either before or after an interview, and still wish to be considered should a spot open up, email the program's admission representative to express your continued interest in the program.
- Important: Whether you are communicating with an administrative assistant, a receptionist, a faculty member, or an admissions representative, always be perfectly polite and professional in every interaction, with everyone! Not only is such conduct critical in terms of your own developing professionalism, but we know of applicants whose application has been put in the "Denied" stack simply due to a single presumptuous or rude phone or email interaction.
Interviews are not merely about "impressing" the committee. Whatever the interview format, expect to be assessed in terms of core competencies, such as communication and interpersonal skills, ethical and moral reasoning, professionalism, knowledge of the profession, ability to learn and to think critically, ability to adapt and to think on your feet, and so on.
Interview committees also observe the overall demeanor and personality of applicants, which, combined with what they learn about an applicant's interpersonal skills, gives the committee a sense of what the applicant's "beside manner" might be like.
Each program will have its own way of deciding which applicants they will interview, as well as its own manner of conducting interviews. It stands to reason, then, that you'll want to learn as much as you can about a given program's interview process and format ahead of time, so that you will feel less stressed and more well-prepared going into it. To learn these details, first read program websites, including FAQs. If the interview process is not described either on the web or in the letter inviting you for an interview, you might contact the program to learn more details.
Examples of common interview formats
- Some interview processes last half a day, others an entire day. It is less common for interviews to be only an hour or two long. Programs conduct group interviews (with more than one interviewee at a time), individual interviews, or a combination of group and individual sessions.
- The interview often includes either a meal or a Q&A with students currently enrolled in the professional program.
- Go to the interview with questions in mind that are particular to the life of a professional student or questions about the program itself about which you would like a student's perspective.
- It's good to relax as you eat or converse, but no matter how informal this part of the day might be remember that it is still a part of the interview! Be comfortable, comport yourself with amiable professionalism at all times and with everyone; be yourself and speak up.
- Individual interviews: some programs will have individual interviewees meet with a panel, or with individual members of the interview committee. Interview panels and committees are usually comprised of program teaching faculty; community partners, such as professionals working within the given field (OT, PT, PA); the director of the program; and / or, less commonly, students currently enrolled in the professional program.
- Most programs conduct group interviews or some combination of individual and group interviews. Group interviews are similar to the above accept several applicants at a time meet with the interviewers.
- Group formats vary. Sometimes everyone is given an opportunity to respond to each question, and sometimes it's more free form. If free-form, then balance being polite and professional with being congenially assertive. There is always a way to politely jump in during even the brief pauses between others' responses. Gauge the tone of the session along with seeing whether everyone is being given the opportunity to respond or whether it is a more free-form session. It's probably best to err on the side of polite assertiveness rather than seeming unassertive or very demure, as this can seem like a lack of confidence.
- Sometimes one interviewee can use another interviewee's response as a segue to her own response. In this sense interviewees can play of off one another in a productive, dynamic way. This method should be balanced with being assertive, so it would probably not be wise to continually hang back always waiting for others to respond, if indeed things are arranged in a more free from style.
- And / or there may be group activities. A program whose didactic (teaching / pedagogical) style includes problem based learning might, for example, assign groups of interviewees the task of reviewing a sample case study. This sort of interview component would not assume any prior expertise on your part in relation to the topic being discussed. Instead, it is intended to assess how applicants assert themselves, and conduct themselves interpersonally; how they work with others; and how they apply critical thinking and problem solving skills on the fly. Group exercises can also involve a one-one-one or written follow-up, in which you are asked, for example, which group members you yourself would prefer to work with in a professional setting, and why.
- Multiple mini interview format (referred to as "MMI"). Some programs have interviewees move through various timed interview stations. Examples:
- Some programs post questions on the doors to different rooms. The interviewees might have two minutes to contemplate and answer before entering the room to write a 10 minute response or verbally respond to an interviewer. Then the interviewee moves on to the next room or station. There may be as many as 10 or 12 stations. In this version of MMI, how an interviewee does at one point in the timed circuit of questions may be less important than their overall performance or aggregate score.
- Another example: A PA program might have interviewees interpret chest x-rays. The point in this example would not be for applicants to demonstrate expertise, but rather to demonstrate some knowledge of physiology and the ability to think on their feet.
- At a different station in the same PA interview process, interviewees might be taught how to tie a suture knot using surgical tools, and then be asked to teach what they've learned back to the interviewer. The purpose of this exercise would be to assess the interviewees' ability to learn, to maintain their poise, and to clearly convey information in an accurate, clear, articulate manner.
- If a strong applicant cannot travel to the program on interview day, some, though not all programs, may be willing to arrange a telephone or Skype interview. While you should not assume a distance interview will be possible, if you are invited to interview, and travel is a serious problem (not merely an inconvenience), you could ask if something can be arranged. It is probably not worth thinking about these circumstances until if and when they arise.
We suggest you read this section thoroughly and prepare yourself according to the guidelines therein. They contain easily digestible info items, as well as interview prep tips that are easily acted upon!
- Check the web sites of individual programs and see if they provide more specific information about the manner in which they conduct interviews. Once you have done so, it also okay to contact programs and ask if they can tell you anything more about their interview process.
- In the days leading up to the interview, refresh your memory about what the profession is and is not; what its practitioners' day to day responsibilities and work involve, and do not involve; the different settings in which practitioners can work, and so on.
- Do so by reviewing the notes you took in relation to your clinical experiences.
- Review career information on the professional organization sites pertaining to your field (e.g., AOTA, APTA, AAPA).
- Utilize the professional resources linked from the bottom of the HPPLC OT, PT, and PA sites.
- Pre-PA students: Also re-read the top portion of the HPPLC PA page, including the sections, Description of the Profession and Description of Physician Assistant Programs.
- From the perspective of the interview committee, one central purpose of any admission interview is to determine whether you have made the effort to understand what the profession involves, and have also taken the time to become familiar with the program that is interviewing you.
You don't need to memorize reams of esoteric information about the program, nor should you try to; but prior to the interview you might, for example:
- Review the program's philosophy, mission statement, and teaching outcomes, to gain a sense of what ideals and goals seem important to them.
- Read faculty profiles to form an idea of what kind of research they are collectively undertaking, and in what settings they practice their profession, be it OT, PT, or PA.
- Learn what settings clinicals are held in, whether there are special programs, like clinicals abroad, and so on.
- Related to the point above, the interview is also your opportunity to ask questions about the program, and to gauge whether the program seems like a good fit for you.
- Research the program as part of your interview preparation, and come prepared with two or three questions you want to ask; for instance, about the program, the faculty, the clinicals.
- You can ask anything relevant, and to which there is no obvious answer to be found on the program's website, or for which you would like additional details not provided elsewhere.
- Going to the interview prepared in this way also shows that you are conscientious and inquisitive, two characteristics that will be critical to your success in graduate school and in your subsequent career.
- The personalities of individual interviewers will of course vary. In any case, your job is to respond by being knowledgable about the profession and your reasons for pursing it, and to be enthusiastic, engaging, and professional.
- If you encounter an interviewer or a committee who seems curt, very formal, or just extremely neutral, do not allow yourself to take it personally, and don't let it throw you. Sometimes it is just a matter of interview style; sometimes it really is their personality. On very rare occasions, an interview may even seem unfriendly, in which case you can take this into account as you decide whether or not the school is a good fit for you. In any of these situations, just be your congenial, informative, professional self.
- If you encounter an extremely friendly and down to earth committee or interviewer, certainly allow this to set you at ease during the interview. But remember it is still an interview, no matter how genuinely friendly it might be. Be yourself, while still maintaining an amiable professionalism.
- Remember: No matter how informal the breakfast or lunch might be, it is still a part of the interview. It's fine to relax a bit as you eat, but comport yourself with amiable professionalism at all times, and with everyone, including other students and applicants.
- Oftentimes, a certain question is posed not because there is a particular right or wrong answer, but in order for the interviewers to gauge how well you think on your feet, or to gain some insight into your thought processes, your personality, or how you might interact with peers, clients, and colleagues when the time comes.
- Be aware that Interviewers will also be gauging your communication skills, and your level of professionalism.
- As you consider your responses, remember that your top priorities as a practitioner in your field will be to do no harm to your patient, to act as an advocate on behalf of your patient, and to conduct yourself ethically and with professionalism with regard to both patients and colleagues.
- There is always a way to respond to a question in a manner which is both honest and which illustrates your strengths (even the "What is your greatest weakness" question!).
- Prior to the interview, refamiliarize yourself with your personal statement.
- Have in mind two or three additional specific anecdotes about moments you experienced during clinical observation, volunteer work, or patient care experiences, which impacted your decisions to work in the field, or which taught you something important about the field.
- Don't try to anticipate every question or memorize canned answers beforehand. Being well-prepared (by researching the profession, the schools, your reasons for choosing this career) will allow you to be spontaneous during the interview, which will in turn help you be more relaxed and natural.
- Become at least somewhat familiar with the city / area in which the program is located. Oftentimes university websites post and / or link such information for prospective students. You can also roam around the city and state tourist bureau websites.
- Note that the tips linked below are for job interviews, as distinguished from program interviews. Professional programs do expect a professional manner of dress and presentation, not casual; but you do not need to buy expensive new clothes for interviews. IUB School of Public Health Career Services offers some useful suggestions related to manner of dress which can be adapted to professional program interviews.
- Bring a note pad and pen / pencil to the interview. It's okay to jot down notes, and also the gist of each question you are asked, so that you have something to refer back to as you respond.
- You might bring copies of your résumé to offer during the interview. Even if they decline to take them, at least you've offered.
- It's fine, and probably advisable, to bring a bottle of water to the interview, but set it aside and don't cling to it as a security blanket.
After the interview, send a brief, professorially written email thanking the admission committee for the interview, and for taking the time to answer your questions. Reiterate your interest in the program, and tell them that you look forward to hearing back from them.
Important: The purpose of this section is not to imply that you should have specific answers prepared for every question below. Rather, we are simply providing you with sample questions that students have told us they have encountered during interviews, so that you may get a feel for what might come up. Exceptions might be the asterisk * questions, which are fairly common in interviews. Even if you are not asked these exact * questions, they do relate to issues and ideas that are likely to be fundamental to the interview, just as they have been fundamental to your career choice and preprofessional process. Therefore, you should think about them as they relate to your experiences and goals.
Therefore, make note of some of the common themes and purposes which cut across many of the sample questions below: for example, a good working knowledge of the profession; an informed certainty of why exactly you have chosen the profession (and why you didn't choose something else); the ability to think on your feet; the ability to self-asses; the ability to draw upon your own experiences.
(Beneath this section you will find a few questions pertaining specifically to each field - OT, PT, and PA.)
Questions pertaining to OT, PT, and PA
- * What does a [OT, PT, PA] do?
- * Why do you want to be a [OT, PT, PA]?
- * Tell us about some of your clinical observation / shadowing experiences. What did you learn about the profession? How did these experiences inform your decision to pursue the profession?
- * In what settings might a [OT, PT, PA] work? Which interest you the most, and why? (This sort of question asks you to draw specific distinctions between different settings, not to make general statements that could apply to any setting. In other words, it is meant to discover something of what you know about the profession. This is one example of how extensive clinical observation comes in very useful.)
- * What is the most important quality a [OT, PT, PA] should posses?
- * Tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from the experience.
- * An interviewer might present you with an ethical dilemma and ask you to explain how you would respond if you were to find yourself in that situation; for example, you see someone cheating on an exam, or you are working with a group and discover someone is plagiarizing. What would you do?
- * Do you have any questions for us? (Almost always asked as a final question. It's important to have questions prepared pertaining to any aspect of the program to which you could not find answers on their website. For example, more details about clinical settings, their approach to PA education, how / why is the PA profession important to them, faculty research, common mistakes made by new PA students or common success markers. These are just examples. Ask about what matters to you or about what could matter to your future patients.)
- Why is right now a good time for you to be in [OT, PT, PA] school?
- Have you researched and / or shadowed other professions in other areas? If so, how did these experiences inform your decision to pursue [OT, PT, PA]?
- What do you think the career prospects are for this profession?
- Why will you be an effective [OT, PT, PA]?
- What about the healthcare industry is interesting to you?
- What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?
- Describe some of the current controversies surrounding healthcare reform.
- Become generally familiar with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the related controversies. Gain a basic understanding of some of the ACA's central features; for example, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage due to pre-existing health conditions; parents can keep their children on the parents' health insurance up to age 26; and so on.
- Relatedly, some programs emphasise a philosophical and practical commitment to providing healthcare to underserved populations. If you are unfamiliar with this term do some basic web research and you'll soon understand. (If time, you might even consider garnering patient interaction or community service experience through which you are able to develop informed empathy for people who belong to such groups; for example, volunteering at a community kitchen or with the Boys and Girls Club.)
Questions and tips pertaining specifically to PA
Note: the PA profession is most often referred to as physician assistant (or, with a few programs, physician associate) - usually not "physicians assistant" or "physician's assistant".
- Describe a difficult or challenging interaction you had with a patient / client during your direct care and what influence the experience had on your decision to become a PA.
- How is a PA different from and similar to a physician (whether an MD or a DO)? How do their duties and responsibilities overlap and diverge?
- Were you considering going to medical school instead? Why do you want to be a PA instead of a physician?
- How is a PA different from or similar to a nurse practitioner (NP)? (Refer to the Physician Assistant compared to Nurse Practitioner section of the HPPLC PA page.)
Questions and tips pertaining specifically to OT and PT
- How are the OT and PT professions different from and similar to each other?
- Why have you chosen this profession instead of the other?
This information was prepared for Indiana University Bloomington students by the Health Professions and Prelaw Center. Please note that specific requirements and policies can change at any time without notice. Students are responsible for obtaining the most current information directly from the application services, and the schools and programs in which they have an interest. Refer to each program's web pages, bulletins, and other publications for the most current information.