The time has come for you to interview, and congratulations are in order. The hardest 3 years of medical school are behind you. But you will hemorrhage money during the next few months if you are not adequately prepared. In order to prepare well and travel efficiently, consider each dimension of your travel (airfare, hotels, car rentals / transportation). Let's start with the most expensive piece: airfare.
This is where most of your travel dollars will be spent. The more competitive the specialty you’re applying to, the more locations you’ll want to visit, and the harder it will be to coordinate them by region. If possible, try to cluster a few interviews in one corner of the country at once. This will save you the time, money and energy required to fly from say, California to Virginia. Kayak has a helpful feature that lets you plan multi-point (or non-round-trip) flights to facilitate such trips.
However, be aware that the more competitive specialties with small program sizes offer fewer residency interview days, and such a cross-country journey might be unavoidable. You also may have to visit the same city twice. For example, Tulane ophthalmology’s only interview days were November 5 and 12, and LSU’s only days were December 2, 3 and 4.
When to book: The first batch of interview invitations is usually sent a month before the earliest available interview days. If you have two interviews several days apart in one part of the country, you can avoid flying back and forth by calling / emailing program coordinators to see if they have room to add you to their interview schedule. Start calling the program coordinators as soon as you receive the invitations, but it is okay to wait before finally picking a date. I waited 2-3 weeks before the date I picked, waiting for other invitations to come through, so that I could schedule something else nearby r and avoid paying for multiple round trips. Between a New York ophtho interview and a Yale ophtho interview that were a week apart, I was able to add on a New Haven transitional year interview and a D.C. preliminary medicine (round trip AMTRAK) interview during the gap. Just be careful... spots can go fast!
Who to book: Kayak will compare fares among the major airlines that are its affiliates. However, it is important to consider several budget airlines that do not participate. Southwest is easy to book online and pretty cheap, but like all airlines, expensive to reschedule. Similarly, check out JetBlue especially for interviews in the Eastern part of the country.
If you get a last minute interview invitation, Priceline and Travelocity can get you a better deal, but be specific about your arrival and departure times. I wouldn’t use these to schedule an interview far in advance because your interview schedule may change. When a large city has multiple airports, it’s also helpful to consider which airlines fly to the airport that will be closer to your interview.
Hotels are very pricey in places like NY and DC. I tried to stay with friends whenever possible, and Facebook was very helpful for finding college friends who had moved to various cities. Just click the “Find Friends” tab in the upper left to reveal the drop down menu, then “See All Friends,” then find “Search By Current City” in the white drop down menu.
If you cannot find a friend to stay with, consider using sites like Priceline, Hotwire, Kayak or Hotels.com. Ideally, pick one site and use it all the time. For example, on Hotels.com, if you book 10 nights (3 nights here, 2 there, 5 somewhere else), you get an 11th night free in *any* hotel, subject to availability. There are other seasonal deals available, such as: Orbitz Winter Hotel Sale: Save up to 50%! The offer is running until January 23, 2011.
If you can’t get rides from friends or book hotels within walking distance of the interview, Hotwire (specifically Hotwire Hot-Rates) and Priceline are the cheapest for renting cars, and this can be done in short notice. Many cities and hotels have airport shuttles that are cheaper than cabs, but these might take too long if you have an early flight for an interview the very next day. Check a city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority website or even Google Maps to see if you can plan a route by subway. Program coordinators have helped interviewers with these kinds of issues every year, and they are a helpful resource for answering questions regarding what’s practical. The main point of this section is to avoid using a cab. Try your best to get a deal, but remember: at the end of the day, the goal is a successful interview, no matter the cost!
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