Episode 25: You’ve Got Questions…

We answer your questions as we find ourselves in the thick of the application season.

If you have questions for us, please send them to pritzkerquestions@gmail.com. Or, call or text (773) 336-2POD and leave us a message.

[Music: “The Area” used with permission from Eliot Lipp. “Shiggidy” used with permission from Greg Spero and GMG.]

Episode 25 Transcript

Ben Ferguson: Hello people. Welcome to Episode–what is it?–25 now that we’re on? I think it’s Episode 25. Yeah, it’s been a long time. We’re getting up there. We’re getting aged (and ancient also). I am here with Joni Krapec, who is the Director of Admissions at the Pritzker School of Medicine. And Joni, I always forget–what’s your extra title?

Joni Krapec: Director of Admissions and Outreach.

BF: And also Mary Bister is joining us. Hey Mary.

Mary Bister: Hi Ben. Hi Joni.

JK: Hey Mary.

BF: So, we thought we’d take the opportunity today to sort of do another update episode wherein we’ll answer some of the outstanding questions that some of you have, if you’re still waiting for decisions and interview invites from Pritzker. We’ll talk a little bit about money. We’ll talk a little bit about some other random questions that some of you have. So, Joni if you don’t mind, I’ll just start jumping into a lot of these questions. And I should mention, a lot of these questions came directly from a pretty active thread on studentdoctor.net. I think it’s called like “University of Chicago Applicants” or something like that. And so, we’ve just gone through and we just wanted to clear up some of the answers from that thread.

So, I guess the first one that comes up a lot is from people who have already interviewed and they’re wondering how much longer they have to wait to hear a decision. A lot of people have quoted four to six weeks. A lot of people have quoted six to eight weeks. Which of those is most accurate would you say, Joni?

JK: Right now, the six-to-eight weeks is most accurate. Unfortunately, those people who interviewed, kind of early November onward are getting tangled up in holiday breaks. So, the committee takes breaks for Thanksgiving, as well as for winter holidays. So, they’re looking at closer to six to eight weeks as opposed to the four to six, which we were doing pretty good with at the beginning of the year.

BF: Okay. Another big question that people have is if they’re waiting for an interview or even if they’ve already interviewed and perhaps they’re held or continued–and we’ve talked about this a little bit on a podcast before–but what do you recommend people do in terms of updating you guys or sending in letters or sending in extra letters of recommendation perhaps? What do you guys like to see in terms of people showing their continued interest?

JK: Sure. For those people who have already interviewed and been continued, I would say it’s always good to be in touch with us and let us know that you’re very interested in Pritzker. If you have updated information, like different extracurricular activities, fall grades, things of that nature, extra letter of recommendation, we’re always happy to receive that information. A lot of people also ask about letters of intent. Should I say Pritzker is my number one choice? And really the simple answer to that is only if it really is. If you still have a lot of places to interview, then don’t say to us “Pritzker is absolutely my number one choice” if you don’t fully mean it. The committee is kind of most convinced by letters of interest that say things like, “Now, I’ve explored 10 other schools through interviews. After going on all of those interviews, Pritzker is absolutely my number one choice for these reasons.” That helps the committee to understand what you’re interested about in terms of Pritzker. When we get letters kind of immediately after an interview saying, “I loved Pritzker. It’s my number one choice. I’ll definitely go there.” That’s great. And we’re always excited to see that, but we know that that can change as time goes on as well.

BF: Okay. Good to know. I would say another really popular question is from people who are specifically on hold, I believe, and they had been told previously that they should be hearing something. Some have said early December. Some have said early January. Where do those people stand?

JK: So, when someone was placed on hold, what that meant is we did an initial read of their application to consider them for interview and then placed them on hold as not yet having a final decision on whether or not they would be receiving an interview. Those decisions–right now, we have about 230 to 235 people who are on hold. At the same time, our final decision, or our final application deadline outright, was December 1st. So, we’re still in the process of reviewing new applications as well as the hold applications. A little bit earlier in the year, we were very optimistic in thinking we could get back to our hold students by early December. Early January is looking like the much more realistic outcome. So, that’s something that will likely happen within the next couple of weeks. We have January 1 as our internal deadline to let those hold candidates know whether or not they’re being invited for an interview. We had optimistic thoughts but that seems to have slid a little bit as we’ve seen the number of applications pour in for our December 1 deadline.

BF: Okay. And what about MSTP applicants? What’s their timeline like?

JK: So, there are two different statuses with MSTP. So, the applicants have the option of applying MD/MSTP or MSTP-only. If somebody applied MSTP-only, they are only being looked at by the MSTP admissions committee and they will be hearing decisions about interview typically within the next several weeks. MSTP interviews in January, February, and March, whereas the MD side, we will be done interviewing by the end of January. So, we have a much earlier timeline. So, if somebody is MSTP-only, those decisions are just starting to get rolled out by the MSTP office.

If somebody applied MD/MSTP, what happens then is that they’re first reviewed by the MD office and then we can make a decision on whether or not we choose to invite the person for interview. Then they’re reviewed by the MSTP office. So, what has happened is when we have an MD/MSTP student come to interview, Jose Quintans, who is the Director of the MSTP, meets with them while they’re here for an MD interview and then the MSTP committee will make a decision on whether to bring that candidate back for an MSTP interview later on in the year, which is January, February, March. That interview does come at the MSTP office’s expense. We don’t ask the applicant to pay to come here twice. And those interviews are typically two to three days. You’re doing a lot of interactions with PhD faculty and things of that nature. So, those MSTP decisions are likely to be coming January, February, March for those interview days.

BF: Cool. It’s an intensive process though, it sounds like.

JK: It very much is.

MB: Wow. So, the next subject I’ve got on my list is money. So, people are curious now about merit scholarships. They’re hearing from people who said they’ve heard from Pritzker about yes, they’re getting a scholarship. And so, there’s a lot confusion over when people are told. Is it with the acceptance offer or is it with the financial aid package later on in the spring? How do people find out how much it’s going to cost for them to go to Pritzker?

JK: That is a really good question. And there’s actually a little bit of inaccurate information that’s on studentdoctor.net that a couple of people wrote in about. So, that’s something that I would love to clear up. So, for merit scholarship money, first of all, we have two different pools of money. We have merit scholarship money and we have need-based scholarship money. I think on studentdoctor.net, somebody said that we’re merit only. That’s not true. We have both types of scholarships. And what happens is the need-based scholarship money is actually a larger pool than the merit-based money is. So, what happens is we try to kind of ride this balance between being able to offer merit-based scholarship money based solely on the person’s application. But also try to recognize if we think somebody would qualify for need-based aid to be able to spend down all of that scholarship money as well.

So, what happen is for some of our applicants, they will receive a scholarship offer at the time of acceptance or within a couple weeks of acceptance. And that’s something that happens starting October 15 and moving onward through the process. But the vast majority of all scholarship money, both merit-based and need-based, will happen in the spring once we receive people’s financial aid information. So, I know a lot of applicants think, “I don’t think I would qualify for need-based money because my parents’ income” or whatever that might be and that could definitely be true but what we’re trying to do is to get out as much of that need-based money as possible so that if there’s any chance somebody qualifies for need-based, we get that taken care of. And then we can also still have merit-based money available as well in the spring to kind of do a balance between the two and get all the scholarship money committed. So, really the kind of short answer, I guess, is that it can happen anywhere from now until the time that you submit your financial aid application and you get your financial aid award letter in the spring. That process starts in early January so we’ll be sending out emails to our accepted students to let them know how to start that process as well. So, that’s kind of the short answer to that situation. And really I think if somebody is very interested in Pritzker, it’s always a good idea to wait to go through the complete financial aid process. Get that award letter. See exactly how much money you’re able to get from this institution and then make your decisions accordingly. But that will come kind of in its final form during the award letter process.

The other component to it is, as most people know, medical schools over-accept when it comes to their applicants. So, we all don’t expect that every single person that we make an offer to is going to come to our school. So, we tend to kind of overpopulate the class and that gets kind of sorted out. We do a little bit of the same thing with scholarship dollars, but with scholarship, there’s not a ton of wiggle room. We can’t really go to the dean and say, “We kind of overextended it by $2 million,” and think that that’s going to be okay, nor can we personally make up the difference if we happen to do that. So, we are much more conservative in terms of offering scholarship money early in the year because we don’t want to run the risk of overextending our budget by that amount. Because what would ultimately happen is it would cut out the scholarship for the next year’s class. That’s how they would make up that difference.

So, along with that, the flip side is as we know who is coming to Pritzker, for example, you might get your financial aid award March 1, see what your scholarship is, you commit to come to Pritzker and then as we know who is coming for sure and what our total scholarship output is, there have been situations where I called somebody in May, June. I’ve called people a couple weeks before their school year with us started to say, “Hey we have an extra $60,000 and it’s yours because somebody else made a decision not to come to Pritzker and they had scholarship money.” So, it can really come at any time. You know good to kind of wait until you get your final financial aid award before you know for sure whether or not you’re getting a scholarship with us.

MB: Interesting. Well, that’s great information to know.

BF: Yeah, we got question over email actually last night, about that exact thing. Someone was wondering if the amount offered was sort of absolute or whether it can go up later in the cycle. So that makes perfect sense.

JK: And I think somebody else brought up the question, too, about if I get a better financial aid offer from another school, should I be in touch? Should I not be in touch? We obviously can’t say that, “Yeah, you can absolutely be in touch and we can meet or exceed that other offer.” Obviously that’s not something that we can guarantee.

MB: There’s no price-match guarantee?

JK: No. No. There’s no coupon you can cut. There’s no double bonus points or anything like that. But we always encourage students to be in touch if that is their concern and we’ll see if there’s anything more we can do based on what we know at that time. And kind of the easiest approach, I think sometimes applicants feel like that seems slimy on their part or is it okay to ask for more money or does that make me sound rude? And the easiest way to phrase it is to just send us an email and say, “I’m really excited about Pritzker. I’ve been accepted to another school. This is the financial aid award that they gave me. Is there–I would prefer Pritzker but the price difference is weighing on my mind. Is there anything else that we can do?” That’s absolutely fine to say and we can obviously look at the other award. See what else is going on and see if there’s anything more we can do.

BF: Yeah, that makes perfect sense because you’re right, it does sound sort of slimy or it feels slimy to talk about money issues, but they’re not issues that are to be taken lightly necessarily. It’s sort of a big decision.

JK: Exactly. And different schools have different ways of calculating what your need is. So, that’s partly what we can try to figure out too. Did that other school–how did they run the math because if there’s a way that we could do it that makes you qualify for more money, we can definitely try to do that.

BF: Right.

MB: Okay.

BF: Joni, just as a follow up question, do you have any sense of what proportion of the class ends up getting either merit or scholarship money?

JK: I do actually have that proportion. I just had to fill out a report about it. So, it’s typically about 85, 86% of the class that will get some form of scholarship.

BF: Wow. I imagine that’s gone up recently since the class size has gone down, right?

JK: Exactly. That was one of the things that we were very happy about with the administration’s decision that as the class size reduced, part of their goal in reducing the class size was to be able to bring down student debt. So, even though our class size over the last two years has gone down from 112 to 100 to 88, our scholarship dollars have stayed the same, if not increased by a little bit. So the amount of scholarship that students are able to get is higher because there’s fewer students to divide it between. I personally, honestly, wouldn’t have batted an eye if they would have said, “Well, we’re bringing down the scholarship because we’re bringing down the number of students.” But the administration is very concerned with student debt level and how that influences decisions for people in terms of their career. And so they said the scholarship dollars are holding but we have fewer people to divide it among.

BF: Cool.

MB: All right.

BF: Another question that came up, I believe on that same thread–and it’s not a common question obviously but it’s worth talking about–and the question was regarding full-ride tuition scholarships or–I don’t know what the actual terminology is–but when people say full-ride at Pritzker, does that mean that it just covers tuition or is that also including room or board or is it including anything else?

JK: It just includes tuition. So, our official term for it is a “full tuition scholarship”. And just to be sure to be clear, I know we say this on interview days, all of our scholarships are committed for the four years that you’re enrolled in school. So, it’s not the case that you need to worry about how are you going to renew your scholarship for the next year. As long as you’re showing up and still being a student, you keep your scholarship. So, it is full tuition for all four years. It includes obviously only tuition. Living expenses, books, things like that is a separate category. So that is something that the student needs to consider how they’ll make up the difference and paying for that and most students are able to do with a pretty minimal amount of loans. But we also build into the full tuition scholarship if there is tuition increases every year, which there typically is at any university, we build that in as well. So, when we commit full tuition, it’s not what we project out as of 2009-2010 numbers; it’s projecting out each year, what will your tuition be and we will cover that cost when it’s a full tuition scholarship.

MB: Yeah, that’s super important too because things change.

JK: Exactly.

BF: You would know.

JK: Yeah, you guys would definitely know. You’ve been here long enough to see the tuition do its magic every year and move upward every year.

BF: I’m sure Mary knows that intimately now.

MB: Well, yeah. And I mean, just even without any changes, years three and four are significantly more expensive than years one and two. So, it’s good to know that that’s all accounted for in a full tuition scholarship.

JK: Exactly. And that’s again advice that I would give to applicants as they’re comparing financial aid awards. Don’t just look year one to year one, try to project out four years versus four years because part of why third and fourth year is so expensive is because you’re going to school year-round as opposed to three quarters. So, you have an extra quarter of tuition and an extra quarter of living expenses that you have to deal with. And that’s the case that most schools but it’s good to be able to make that exact comparison and not just go year one versus year one.

MB: Yes, definitely. All right, anything else on the money front we want to talk about?

BF: Not in my camp, no.

JK: I think we’re okay. Just again, the reminder it all kicks off January 1 with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) which you can find online. So, if you’re an applicant, who’s been accepted, go ahead and do that. And if you are continued at Pritzker, you can always add in our school code to your FAFSA that you do for other schools. That way if you are admitted to Pritzker, we can get you financial aid award much more quickly because we can automatically then download your information from FAFSA.

BF: Any idea what the code is off the top of your head?

JK: Oh Ben, you ask me these questions… Let me see if I can. I have my internet open so you guys can come up with another question and I’ll see if I can find it while you’re talking to me.

BF: No problem. I don’t think that’s very important anyway.

MB: Yeah, as I recall. It was fairly intuitive when I was doing it.

JK: I have it. It’s G10141.

BF: G, like “girl”?

JK: Yes.

BF: What was your suggested word Mary?

MB: Golf?

BF: Golf, well…

MB: Yeah, I don’t know.

BF: All right. So yeah, if there’s no more money questions, I think there’s a few other, just sort of random potpourri-style questions that I think we can talk about really quickly…Joni.

JK: Yes.

BF: When people get accepted, most people get a phone call. Some don’t. And some are concerned that they haven’t gotten anything in the mail after some specified time, after they’ve gotten that call. So, once they get the call–if they get the call–when can they expect to get information in the mail that sort of officially says from Pritzker that you’re accepted, these are the next steps to take and so forth?

JK: Well, the first part is if somebody did not receive a phone call, that is a mistake. So, we either do not have the correct phone number for the person, or the person is out of the country, and if that’s the case then we send them a personal email to let them know that they’ve been accepted. So, if somebody did not get a phone call, that is definitely a mistake on our side and that’s really too bad because we love making those phone calls and we definitely want to reach everybody in person. The written material should follow within about 7 to 10 business days. So, typically we send out that information on Fridays. So, for example, say you get a call this afternoon, your acceptance material should go out on Friday and then reach you through the US Mail with 7 to 10 business days after that.

It has been the case before that people have not gotten that packet of information. Sometimes for the couple of students that I’ve talked to, we have the address exactly right and we have no idea where that thing went. It disappeared somehow in the Chicago mail system. So, if you did not receive your information within like 10 days of getting your phone call, be in touch with us. We can FedEx you another packet. We can also send you the information electronically. I know a lot of times people want to be able to kind of see the words in writing as soon as humanly possible. So, we can always email you that information as well and then follow up by FedEx-ing you another hard copy.

BF: Okay. Another common question, I think, is–comes up when people feel like they’ve got good enough numbers and good enough applications as a whole to have gotten into Pritzker but perhaps they’re held or they’re continued or even they’re flat-out rejected. And a lot of people become confused with this because maybe they’ve had success at other similar schools and so forth. And so, do you have any advice for them on what might have gone wrong or is there anything they can do to contact you folks in admissions to sort of discuss their application and see what mistakes they might have made? What typically goes wrong with those people that you don’t accept them despite the good numbers and the good application?

JK: What we are ultimately looking for when we review applications is who is the best fit for Pritzker. And so, what it can oftentimes mean, if somebody has a really, what they consider to be a really strong application–if somebody has phenomenal numbers and there’s really not much else there, they’re not going to get an interview here. We need more than just the pretty numbers. We’re looking for leadership. We’re looking for experience with diverse populations. Somebody who’s committed to service. Somebody who has an interest in research, kind of broadly defined, more of like the intellectual curiosity that they want to go out and explore things. Somebody who will thrive in a collaborative environment. Those are the kinds of things that we’re looking for. And so, sometimes an application, we just don’t see evidence of that throughout the course of the application. If somebody in their application is coming off as being very competitive and very driven, a lot of times that’s not a good fit here. We have a very collaborative environment and if we think somebody is going to be a gunner and me-first in a class, we’re typically not interested. Because that can certainly be a disruptive presence for the rest of the students who have a very collaborative approach to what it is that they are doing. So, it is kind of broader than just numbers and we are looking for an overall good fit.

There are people who when we look at their application, they have a lot of wonderful qualities. They have strong numbers. They do have that leadership. They do have those experiences that we’ve been looking for. But oftentimes it could be a situation where in the way that they’ve written about their experiences, we’re not feeling like this is the best place for them. It could be unfortunately when people get letters of recommendation and that’s not something that we can never share with the applicant because they’re confidential. There have been times that somebody’s letter of recommendation has been–unfortunately I’ve read them before where professors are basically saying, “I would not recommend this person for medical school.” And that carries along a way. And so, if you are an applicant getting ready to prepare for medical school and to apply, if a professor give you even the slightest hesitation that they’re not comfortable writing you a letter of recommendation, do not push the issue. If they say they don’t have enough time, that could be code for I’m not going to give you a strong letter. So, you leave that office and you go find somebody else because you don’t want that to be the situation.

So, we do offer our applicants beginning in the spring. They can call us and we can let them know what the committee found in their application. Basically the reason why we kind of do this in the spring is because we assume that most of the applicants who apply to Pritzker are going to get interviewed somewhere. This might not have been the right fit and it’s difficult because each admissions committee has a different personality. Each person reading your application is different. And I’ve had conversations with applicants where you know I will say, “The committee found your personal statement to be very aggressive and very self-oriented and that’s just not a good fit here.” And the applicant themselves was like, “No. No. No. I was just trying to show you that I was motivated. I didn’t mean to sound aggressive or arrogant.” It could just be you have a lot different people reading your information and some people will maybe not have a comment or something that you say kind of sit well with them. So, what we do in the spring is that people are still interested in wanting to know why they weren’t offered an interview here, we will set up appointment with those applicants to give them an idea of what our committee saw in their application and why they were not offered an interview here.

BF: Okay. Let’s see, I just have actually one more thing. And I was wondering Joni, if you can just give people maybe a brief update on sort of the application season. If you could talk about how many more interview days there are, whether people would be interviewing at this point for waitlist spots or whether there’s still spots open in the class, stuff like that, stuff that always comes up in applicants’ minds.

JK: Oh absolutely. So, at this point, we will conclude our interviews at the end of January. January 28 is our last interview day. Throughout the month of January, we have 10 more interview days and we interview anywhere from 12 to 15 people on each day. So, we have about 120 to 150 interviews left to go. So, that’s kind of where we are in terms of how many interview days are left. In terms of the overall acceptance process, we always pace out our acceptances so that we are never interviewing for waitlist spots. There will be spaces left open in the class throughout the month of January so that we’re able to consider all of those applicants that came to interview in January with just as much of a fair shake as the applicants who were here earlier in the year. So, we are not to the point that we’re only looking at waitlist individuals.

And that kind of speaks a little bit to some of the timing issues that people have been curious about. Like, how come somebody who interviewed on the same day as me has heard but I haven’t? And I think sometimes students worry that as an admissions committee, we kind of prioritize who were talking about first. That does not at all happen. So, if somebody has heard from your same interview day and you have not, it could be that we got your interview reports later than we got their interview report. And basically, as soon as we have everybody’s information complete, then they go into a line that goes before the committee. They’re kind of put into a queue and the committee talks about each applicant as they come down the line. And as we’ve had certainly more and more interview days, more and more applicants to consider and we’ve been making admission offers so there’s fewer and fewer spaces, those decisions and those kind of conversation about each applicant can get longer and longer. So, if you’re having an extensive delay in terms of hearing back from us, it does not mean that the committee isn’t interested and so they just keep kind of pushing you away. It means that you just haven’t gotten to them yet because their decisions are getting much longer at this point in the year as we have fewer and fewer spaces. So, that’s kind of overall where we are in the process.

The committee will continue to meet until about the middle of March to make decisions about everybody who will have interviewed by the end of January. So, if that helps people to kind of have an idea of when they could ultimately hear a decision. We continue meeting as a committee through the end of March to discuss new applicants as well as those who’ve been previously continued in the process. And then once that is all complete, the committee starts going back through the continued applicants again and making more admissions decisions prior to that May 15 deadline. So that makes sense, kind of?

BF: Totally. Awesome.

MB: Okay.

BF: Well, I think that’s the end of the questions. Thanks very much Joni. Thanks Mary.

JK: Thanks Ben.

BF: Talk to you soon guys.

JK: Bye.

MB: Bye.