Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner
You’ve been waiting for what seems like an eternity. You practically snatch the mail from the mail carrier as it is delivered. Then 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. Upon opening the letter, 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), 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 alone to a new city and make a favorable impression upon admissions committee members. 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 this and can offer valuable advice. If you don’t feel like perusing pages of threads to get the answer to those questions, this article is what you need.
Plan your Budget
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. Paying less for a plane ticket because of a longer trip will mean paying more for a hotel and rental car. Conversely, if you stay only one night, you may have a more expensive flight.
Find a Flight
The first thing to do is 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 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, such as Southwest and JetBlue, do not list their flights on third-party website sites. Referring to the airline’s webpage can sometimes reveal cheaper flights or extra departure times and dates. Sometimes browsing for and booking flights on a private or incognito browsing window can save you money, which is something that benefits everyone.
Check surrounding airports, not just the one closest to the school. You may be able to save 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 to the need for extra ground transportation. If you are lucky, there will be a shuttle from the airport to 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 less than $50, and rental cars can be less than $20 a day. But don’t expect a blue Cadillac or a chocolate truffle under your pillow.
Pack the Essentials
The chances of being separated from your checked baggage are slim, but keep your interview outfit in your carry-on luggage if you can. You absolutely do not want to be the person that arrives at his interview in a pair of jeans. I recommend you also pack the essentials such as a small snack, deodorant, music player, reading material, and a neck pillow in your carry-on luggage. Remember, however, that there are restrictions on the amount of liquids you can take on board a plane. For more details, check the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website for all the latest regulations. If you carry-on toiletries, pay attention to the restrictions or get yourself some of Travelon’s dissolving toiletries: “just add water!”
Get Plenty of Sleep
While smelling like a gorilla because your toiletries were 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. If you try to save a few dollars by sleeping in the airport, odds are you will look like you slept in the airport. Get a good night’s sleep before your interview so that you can put your best foot forward.
If you can’t afford a hotel, don’t think that sleeping at the airport is your only option. Some SDN members have graciously offered to house interviewees. This is extremely helpful if you don’t mind sleeping on a couch or using someone else’s bathroom, and it’s a lot cheaper than a hotel room. Alternatively, medical schools often provide hosting through current medical students. It can give you the opportunity to talk with someone on the inside. Plus, 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, like COVID-19. Consider yourself lucky if you find cheap airfare, catch a shuttle to campus, and stay with a student. Examine all your options before booking that trip and your travels on the interview trail will be much less stressful. Play it smart and you just might save enough money to splurge on a hoodie showing off the school emblem.