Interview with Darrel Nabers, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Recruitment at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine [Show Summary]
Darrel Nabers, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Recruitment at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, is our guest today, and he shares details about the differences between Stritch and other allopathic medical schools in Chicago, how Stritch winnowed their initial applicant pool of 15,000+ to a class of 170, what they are looking for in a successful candidate, and how the admissions process works. Listen in!
Get into Loyola Stritch School of Medicine [Show Notes]
Our guest today is Darrel Nabers, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Recruitment at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Darrell earned his bachelors and masters degrees from Whittier College and Golden Gate University respectively. He then held various admissions positions from 2000 to 2005 before joining the University of Chicago’s admission staff, where he served in different roles until 2015. He joined Loyola Chicago Stritch in 2015 as Director of Admissions and became Assistant Dean for Admissions and Recruitment in February 2019.
What is distinctive about the Loyola Stritch approach to medical education? [2:15]
A Jesuit education is pretty rare, and we are the only one in Chicago, though there are five other allopathic schools in Chicago. Having been at another medical school what I think is different is the service orientation, with the program actively promoting service-related events, advocating for DACA students when no one else was admitting them. It becomes clear when you are here that students are positive and compassionate people, and receptive to insights of people from lots of different backgrounds and experiences. They also have global networks from conducting service each year. In terms of relationship with the community, students possess an effective sense of inquiry and love of learning, with students taking that inquisition and looking at society in very different ways with the aim of improving society, assistance, care, and empathy, especially with those on the margins of society.
Bioethics and ministry are also part of the foundation in the coursework. With the global health honors track the coursework is elective based, and you become a member of the bioethics team. With the ministry effort, it is a physician vocation program, an immersive track that is an elective and covers a different set of goals each year of the program, in order to achieve understanding of the Ignatian spiritual dynamism and focus on medicine and medical care.
Last year you received 15,015 applications per AAMC and you whittled it down to 165 students. How did you do it? [9:30]
We made a concerted effort to focus our recruiting on Jesuit undergraduate schools. We also are largely attracting students from out of state, so to find those students we focus on the west coast, southeast, and northeast. The largest number of students come from California. 1 out of every 4 people west of the Mississippi River lives in California, so with population dynamics, age, and the dearth of medical school programs on the west coast, we become an automatic consideration, as the next largest metro area going east is Chicago. We also utilize the MCAT registry as kind of a cold call.
Once we receive the primary application, just about everybody receives the secondary application (one exception is the citizenship issue). Our secondary application is quite dense, and that automatically narrows the field (this past year down to 10K) since some applicants choose not to complete it. We have a rigorous holistic review of the secondary, with staff, students, and faculty reviewing each application, and by internal scoring method applicants are considered for interviews. Each admissions cycle we invite 700 interview candidates, and we start interviews in late August. So, for those who are interested, start early, otherwise there will be a long line of students in front of you. Fortune favors the early mover, and if you are fortunate enough to get an interview, recognize that you are within the top 5% of our pool in terms of holistic scoring.
So do I understand correctly that you have no preference for in-state vs out of state? [22:40]
We are a private institution and obviously have a broad recruitment platform. We do a lot of recruitment within state, but we are competing with five other allopathic programs, and four out of five have more students apply from out of state. The one exception is UI-Chicago as they do have in-state requirements.
Do you have a preference for domestic applicants over international applicants? [23:40]
They have to be permanent residents, and we have students born in 18 different countries but they all have permanent resident status or DACA, or are U.S. Citizens.
What are you looking to learn from the secondary that you don’t get from the primary? [24:24]
The primary application is very general. The personal statement is obviously the most personalized of the application, but even that has to be general overall to encourage consideration from every school an applicant is applying to. The secondary is really the way to further understand the candidate’s commitment or motivation to attend a specific school, so we are looking at thoughtful reflection about our mission, with questions designed to understand the personal motivation for our specific environment of care. Out of 700 candidates, we could have 650 remarkable candidates who have 3, 5, or 10 other schools they prefer. With 165 as an enrollment goal, knowing that there might be other schools that desire our applicants equally, you want to be able to say these students we are making an offer to are compelled to come as they have told us specifically this is the right place for them, and we find that information in the secondary.
What is interview day like at Loyola Stritch? MMI or traditional? [27:09]
It is traditional. We have two structured interviews per candidate. It is a full day of activities. Arriving at 8:30, orientation at 9am, then doing an activity to qualify why they were chosen. For the activity, the first few years after it was developed, it was fascinating to see how many students would fall into the construct we expected, and we could see on their faces when they completed it, wow, they must be in the right place. It helps us help them understand they are in the right place and to focus our commentary and questions on things important for them to understand each interview day.
We have anywhere from 12-18 candidates per day, Tuesdays and Thursdays, but the thing I marvel at is how well they take to their day, the structure of the day, and how many of them remember so vividly their interview day. We put them in contact with a lot of students – we have students who interview — faculty and staff as well. It is a standard interview opportunity to spend 45 minutes with a second or fourth year student or faculty member. Questions are conversational, no stress questions, but it provides the opportunity to get to know the candidate. We give one interviewer all the info from the file and the other interviewer a truncated file (removing anything related to grades or MCAT scores and letters of rec). They do often match up pretty closely, and it is a good internal test we do of our process. We put our candidates in live lectures, give them tours of campus and the hospital, research center, clinics, the nursing program, and students provide those tours. We have a nice lunch involving students as well and then typically we have a wrap up where we provide them with the necessary information on follow up, the financial aid process, etc. The day runs from about 9am-3pm.
How can someone really blow their interview? [32:50]
The easiest way is not to show up! Think very carefully about following through with the commitment when you receive the invitation. What is really troubling is knowing you only have a certain number of interview spots, and when one is given up it is sometimes at a point you can’t replace with another candidate, and that is really frustrating. Being late doesn’t necessarily blow it, but because we have a very structured day you will miss information, so be on time or early. Inappropriate comments or dress is third on the list. Fourth, most candidates look like they are going to a funeral with a black suit – there is no problem adding some color. Fifth, don’t fall asleep!
What advice do you have for Loyola Stritch applicants who find themselves on the waitlist or just haven’t heard? [39:20]
What we don’t widely disseminate is that we accept updates during the process. Applicants can provide us with academic updates, grades or advocacy, or an additional letter of recommendation. Professional updates for those doing things more in the clinical realm are helpful as well. Personal updates may also be relevant, as it is a long cycle. Applicants are given a portal to submit their application and afterwards can submit anything supplemental to the application, freely and as often as they wish to provide updates. Interest is a metric, and we can see how many times a candidate has uploaded info to the portal, or called our office, to make it clear where the candidate is in the process. The portal lists their status, so an applicant should always know where they are in the process. They might be in a particular status for quite some time, and obviously they might be frustrated when they don’t hear anything else from us. A letter of intent is the highest level of personal update you can provide, as it hopefully gives specific reasons why you intend to matriculate with us if given a seat.
Applicants worry that they might update too much, but we are reading the updates. If they are saying the same thing it is not helpful, but if the updates are unique and show good judgment, you can send however many you want, and that won’t count against you.
As a rule we do not check applicant’s social media, but it is not uncommon for individual members to check out things, so keep that in mind. I advise applicants that they review their social media because other schools do review accounts as a part of the admissions process.
What advice do you have for applicants interested in applying to Loyola Stritch for 2020-21 or later? [52:10]
We have an applicant boot camp and with candidates we impress upon them the importance of a broad application. You have to make sure you take the requisite courses, prepare for the MCAT and take it when you have completed the core coursework. Consider the opportunities you have to get clinical experience so you can understand the work environment you want to be a part of. For us it is also important to have an inroad to service. If not in school, cultivate that in some way through work or volunteerism. Ultimately you are preparing the right way if you give yourself the appropriate amount of time to fully understand the landscape you are applying to, make sure nothing is delaying your application, and apply to the right schools,
Do you prefer applicants to have research experience? [58:45]
Academic inquiry is very important. The best way to show that is through research, as you are part of a team, there is an opportunity to contribute, learn, advance through different methods, and apply those methods in a very truncated amount of time. There are benefits in certain professional tracks as well, so if you are going to fully explore all the specialty options available, it is important to consider that if you have research, every door is open, and if you don’t, not every door is open.
What would you have liked me to ask you that I haven’t asked? [1:00:00]
Maybe why I enjoy doing this work. I love admissions and have been really fortunate. This is my third career. My first was in banking, then I went into teaching, and then decided to do something else. I didn’t know anything about admissions but knew my background was in computer information realms and education, and so it seemed like a good opportunity to focus that background in admissions. I love the energy, enthusiasm, intellect and passion students have in medical school. Some of the brightest students in the world go to medical school, and the uniqueness of that speaks to my teaching background, and as a student myself, I like to perpetuate the idea we are going to improve society. There is something very gratifying and satisfying about that.
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