You’ve been waiting for what seems like an eternity. You practically snatch the mail from the mail carrier as it is being delivered and frantically search through the stacks of coupons and bills to find some good news; just as you are ready to steel yourself for yet another disappointment, your heart stops.
There it is.
The school’s emblem sits silently above the return address on the envelope, meeting your stare. Hands shaking, you fumble with the envelope and eventually manage to tear it open. Unfolding the letter it contained, you discover that someone out there thinks you are interesting enough to offer you an interview.
After you finish dancing with your neighbors who were minding their own business until that point and get done laminating the letter, you catch your breath and wonder, “How do I proceed now?”
It is possible that you have never been on a plane before, nor traveled out of state. Now you are expected to travel to a city you have never been to, alone, and make a favorable impression upon an admissions committee member-oh, right, and then there’s the issue of paying for the trip as well.
Luckily, on the Student Doctor Network Forums, many students have already been through what you are about to go through and can offer you some valuable advice. If, however, you don’t feel like perusing pages of threads to get the answer to a quick question, this article might be just what you need.
First of all, take a deep breath. Before you decide on an interview date (if you have a choice), review your budget. You could potentially be paying for airfare, rental car and hotel. If you’re a poor student (like most of us), you need to cut corners wherever you can. Beware, however, that cutting corners on one item, may cause you to spend more on another. For example, if you pay less for your plane ticket because you stayed longer, you will need to pay more for your hotel and rental car. Conversely, if you stay only one night, you may have a more expensive flight.
The first thing to do is to browse the internet for ticket prices for the dates you have to choose from. If you don’t need to be one of the first few candidates interviewed, you can usually save a bit of money by booking a ticket for a later date. After all, if you knock their socks off, who cares if you interview in September or October?
Don’t just look at one website for airfares. Instead, check out as many as you can. Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz and other travel websites often have different sales and promotions. Some airlines, however, such as Southwest and JetBlue do not list their flights on third-party website sites, so referring to the airline’s webpage can sometimes reveal cheaper flights or extra departure times and dates.
Check surrounding airports, not just the one closest to the school. You may be able to save a sizeable amount of money if you go to a larger airport that is farther away. Be aware, however, that the money you save on airfare might be lost due to obtain the extra ground transportation that is needed. If you are lucky, there may be a shuttle from the airport which will take you to your destination for minimal cost.
If you’re anything like me, you like to have a certain degree of control over the things that you plan. Because of this, I never book my plane tickets through priceline.com. I simply can’t take the chance of booking a ticket that might arrive too late or leave too early. If, however, you don’t care where you stay or what you drive, Priceline.com can be your best friend. Rooms can be found for fewer than $50, and rental cars can be under $20 a day-just don’t expect a blue Cadillac or a chocolate truffle under your pillow.
Although the chances of being separated from your checked baggage are slim, if you can carry your interview outfit onboard with you, do it. You absolutely do not want to be the person that arrives at his interview in a pair of jeans. In addition, I recommend you take a carry-on bag with essentials such as a small snack or two, a stick of deodorant, a music player, reading material, and a neck pillow. Remember, however, that there are restrictions on the amount of liquids you can take onboard a plane. For more details, check the Transportation Security Administration website at www.tsa.gov for all the latest regulations. If you need to carry some toiletries with you, either pay attention to the restrictions, or get yourself some of Travelon’s dissolving toiletries: “just add water!”
While smelling like a gorilla because your gel-stick deodorant was confiscated is not ideal, being sleep-deprived and fatigued during your interview is worse. Grogginess reduces your cognitive ability, inhibits your memory, and saps your energy. So if you don’t sleep like a baby when you’re on a plane, avoid red-eye flights at all costs. Likewise, if you try to save a few dollars by sleeping in the airport, odds are you will look like you slept in the airport. Make sure that you get a good night’s sleep the day before your interview so that you can put your best foot forward.
If you can’t afford a hotel, don’t think that sleeping in the airport is your only option. Some SDN members have graciously offered to house interviewees. If you don’t mind sleeping on a couch or using someone else’s bathroom, it’s a lot cheaper than a hotel room. Alternatively, medical schools often provide hosting through current medical students. In addition to giving you the opportunity to talk with someone on the inside, student housing is usually within walking distance to campus. If you choose to walk, just be careful at night.
Gas is expensive, air travel is exasperating, and motels too often are breeding grounds for who knows what. If you are able to find cheap plane tickets, catch a shuttle that stops near campus, and stay with a student then you’re one of the lucky few. Examine all your options before booking that trip and your travels on the interview trail will be much less stressful. If you play it smart, you just might save yourself enough to money to splurge on a hoodie to show off the very same school emblem you saw printed on the front of the envelope of your first interview invitation.