By Dr Holly Anne Hills MRCVS
Firstly – congratulations on getting an interview for vet school! For most applicants, studying veterinary medicine has been a long-standing dream, and the application process is not only challenging but also heavily oversubscribed, so it is a huge achievement to be offered an interview.
But now that you have your interview offer, how best can you prepare to make sure you ace it on the day? It’s essential to be prepared and to know what to expect, and there are several things you can do both beforehand, and on the day, to make sure that you are ready and to ensure the day goes well for you.
Before your interview, you will be sent some information about the day and what it will involve. You will know beforehand whether your interview will have practical or group elements, multiple stations, a panel interview, or a combination of these.
Preparation is key, but it’s also important not to over-prepare. You should have an idea of how you might answer certain questions, but try not to learn your answers. It can be tempting to prepare answers to questions such as why you have chosen to apply for veterinary medicine, but there is a danger it can come across as too rehearsed. Instead, try to think about the key ideas you want to get across, but leave the actual answers to form naturally on the day. Your interviewers want to get to know you, and questions might not always get asked in the way that you have prepared. If you have a genuine interest and passion for your chosen subject, and the placements and studying you have done, this will come across naturally in your answers.
You do, however, need to know your application inside out. Your interviewers will use your application to guide some of their questions – they may ask you about a particular case, a placement, or a hobby that you have discussed. Go through your application, and remind yourself of the details of a case you mentioned, or brush up on a topic you have stated an interest in.
It is also helpful to be aware of current affairs within the veterinary profession, as you may be asked about this. There may be a high-profile case or disease, politics, or a contentious issue at the time – it is useful to have basic knowledge of these.
On the Day
Your vet school interview is a formal event, so you should dress smartly and professionally, but also remember that it’s important to be yourself. Your appearance is one of the first things that the interviewers will notice, and although you will not be judged on your appearance, what you wear should be a reflection not only of yourself, but of your preparedness and consideration for the day. Bear in mind that your interview may have practical elements, so for example, a skirt would not be suitable. You should avoid jeans, leggings, hoodies, and trainers, as this would be considered too informal and can look scruffy. Remember that you are interviewing for a place on a professional course.
“I dressed smartly but wore a hat and the Cambridge dean of admissions said that was one of the reasons she fought to give me a place because she remembered me so vividly. So my advice would be to dress appropriately but with some personal flair.” – Dr Hannah Godfrey MRCVS
“I wore black trousers and a button-down shirt, which was about right for formality. But after I started the course, one of my interviewers said he remembered me best for my confident smile” – Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS
Punctuality is very important, so make sure you allow plenty of time for travel and finding the right place to be on the day. If you are early, you can always get a coffee and relax, or use the time to explore the campus and your surroundings. Remember that the interview is also for you to decide if this is the right course and university for you!
Steer the conversation in a particular direction, and in group settings you can take the position that suits you
Different vet schools have different interview techniques – some may use group and practical sessions as well as panel interviews, whilst others might use several stations. You will have prepared some topics and answers, and should also have experiences to draw upon. You can use this knowledge and experience at any time to steer the conversation or next questions to a topic that you want to discuss.
“Try to keep the conversation flowing and draw on the experience that you do have rather than panicking that you don’t know an answer. For example, they were asking me if I’d seen eye problems in the dogs I’d seen. My answer was no, but instead of just saying ‘no‘ I said ‘no I didn’t see any issues in the dogs, but I did see cases of eye problems on another placement…’” – Dr Rebecca MacMillan MRCVS
In a group interview, you have a choice on what position you take within the group. Don’t stay too quiet, as they will be looking for a contribution from everyone. But it is up to you if you feel you want to volunteer as a team leader for a task, or to be the second or third person to speak. In interviews with different sessions, you have the chance to show them different aspects of yourself, so make sure you show off those skills as well as your knowledge!
“I decided to take control of the group task as I’m naturally bossy, but used the opportunity to make sure everybody got a turn to speak. However, several of my group got offers, so taking charge wasn’t the only way to impress them” – Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS
Answer the questions, but don’t be afraid to say you don’t know!
You will be asked a range of questions at your interview, and it’s important to make sure you are answering the questions being asked. Even if you are uncertain of the answer, you should always make an attempt, and explain your reasoning and try to talk them through your thought process. They will not always be looking for you to answer a question correctly, but they will be interested in your approach to the problem.
There is a chance that you might be asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, or are confused by. If this does happen on the day, don’t panic! There is nothing wrong in saying that you do not know, or in asking them to repeat the question. If you can make an educated guess, or demonstrate some logical thinking here your interviewers will be impressed! Remember that they will not expect you to know everything.
If you are unsure of the question, you can ask them to repeat it. Counting to three, and taking a deep breath before answering is a good technique to make sure you answer thoughtfully rather than in a panic!
“Even if I didn’t know the perfect answer to what they’d asked I tried to treat it more like a conversation so I made sure I had something interesting to say anyway (on topic of course!)” – Dr Hannah Godfrey MRCVS
“If you are asked a question that requires a bit of thought, it’s fine to say ‘Can I just take a minute to think about that?’, before you answer.” – Dr Gemma Cliffin MRCVS
Ask some questions of your own
Throughout the day you will have various opportunities to ask questions of your own. This may be when you are being shown around by current students, or at the end of your interview. You should prepare a few questions to ask if you can. Try to use the opportunity to speak to as many people as possible, as it’s also important to decide whether the course and university are right for you. Don’t forget to be polite and friendly to everybody — you never know who might be watching and reporting back to the admissions team!
“I think manners are vital – be polite, be happy to be there, and don’t be afraid to say you’re not sure. I think my interview went well because when a question went over my head, I acknowledged I was out of my depth.” – Dr Rebecca Nicholson MRCVS
Your vet school interview is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and passion for the course to your interviewers, as well as for your interviewers to get to know you. You should be prepared for the day, and know what to expect, but also remember to relax and be yourself!