How Do I Prepare for a Grad School Interview?

grad school interview

Although interviews are not required by all graduate schools, some schools do expect students to be prepared for an interview and others include an interview as a requirement for being accepted into their program. Also, an interview may be part of acquiring a graduate assistantship. A graduate assistantship may be awarded at the same time as admission into a program based on one’s entry interview. Included in this article are questions to be prepared for as well as tips for preparing well for a graduate school interview.

10 Fool-Proof Ways To Stand Out In A Grad School Interview

Find out if your grad school of choice requires an interview.

Even though it goes without saying that a prospective student should be aware of a required interview, it’s also true that an application process is multi-faceted and any aspect of the application can easily be overlooked. Check the programs that you are applying to in order to prepare early for a required interview. Early preparation is one of the first keys to a successful interview.

Preparation for an interview requires an overall familiarity with a school’s strengths and knowledge of where you fit in with that focus. The sooner a student is aware of a prospective grad school interview the more they can orient their research of a school’s program toward a future interview alongside their application process.

Although grad school programs do not always require an interview, some programs may have an optional interview. In order to be proactive and make a good impression on a hiring committee, opting for an interview when it’s possible is always a great idea.

If a graduate school or program doesn’t require an interview, imagining an interview process while researching a school’s program can be a great way to find out if you and your skill set would be a good fit with that program. Reviewing typical questions that a prospective student may ask during an interview can also fit well with questions to ask while simply researching a school.

This brings us to the important fact that preparing for an interview for graduate school is not just for graduate school faculty to see how good a fit you are with their program but also very beneficial for you – the prospective grad school student. Aspiring master’s and doctoral students can learn much about a program from an interview process. Be prepared to glean as much information as well while highlighting your strengths and positive aspects of your personality and interests.

Research!

Determining one’s own interests and strengths is always the first step to researching a prospective graduate school. Even after potential grad schools are narrowed down and applications are finished, continuing to be aware of your own developing interests can help you find the program that is the best fit for you. Preparing for an interview at a school, whether with an alumnus or advisor, can be a perfect part of that process, so always approach preparation for the interview with a positive perspective.

An awareness of what members of a program are expecting of their future students can be gleaned through the questions that are chosen during an interview, giving an applicant the ability to realize if they actually fit into a program or not. Research and preparation for an interview should be conducted with these benefits in mind. Seeing an interview with a grad school as a mutually beneficial event can help you to feel less nervous and more confident in the process.

Research for an interview can begin at the program’s website or catalog. Be aware of the concentrations and emphases of a program as well as unique class offerings or required projects. Being able to show a strong familiarity with the ins and outs of a school’s graduate program will give a good impression during the interview process.

Department brochures and especially faculty interests can also give some great ideas of what to emphasize during an interview. Researching faculty interests can usually begin at a school’s website which often will include a profile page for each professor. Links will often be included on a profile page for a professor’s website, Open Scholar, or Academia page. Those pages will show a scholar’s Curriculum Vitae, published works and articles as well as more diverse areas of interest. Familiarizing oneself with the specialties of the professors in the department that will be conducting your interview is a really important part of preparing for an interview.

Lastly, it may be a great idea while conducting research to jot down questions about the program and/or teaching faculty that come to mind. An interview can be a perfect opportunity to find out more about a program with thoughtful questions of your own.

Some questions to ask during an interview may include:

  • What are the types of financial aid available to graduate students?
  • Are there unique aspects to the program that I should be prepared for?
  • What are the qualities that make a student successful in this program?
  • Are there Research or Teaching Assistantships available and how soon could I apply for one?
  • How successful are the alumni of this program?

Be Prepared for Type of Interview and Specific Questions

During your research, you may come across different styles of graduate school interviews as well as how to prepare for specific questions. It is definitely appropriate to ask ahead of time what type of interview you can expect.

Some interviews are accomplished face to face with only an advisor, faculty member, or teaching assistant present. Other interviews are conducted with more than one faculty or staff member. Some interviews can also be managed in a way that allows a committee to see how a prospective student or students would respond in a given situation or hypothetical scenario. Knowing what to expect will help you to prepare adequately.

A more traditional interview setting will more likely include the more traditional and expected questions. These may be questions such as:

  • What was it that made you interested in our school or program?
  • What are the goals you would like to accomplish during and after your education?
  • What types of research have you been a part of?
  • Which classes that you took as an undergraduate student were your favorite? Which were your least favorite?

Remember when answering questions, that your responses should be highlighting aspects of your success, personality, and experience that may not be included on your resume or grad school application. You want to show that you are well qualified and are bringing a unique skill set to a given grad school or program.

Although answers such as “I want to make a difference,” or “I feel like I’m a really great fit,” aren’t necessarily bad answers, they won’t be providing the information that sets you apart. If you are passionate about your interests, it is very likely that as you look more closely at your hobbies and life-changing experiences, they will provide the information you need to show how your interests have already affected you and the people around you.

Another place to look for unique inspiration may be the times in your life when you were under pressure. Thinking about how you responded to those situations can give you some ideas for relaying your positive qualities during an interview. Sometimes, a small amount of candid revelation about mistakes in your studies or career (some interview questions may include this!) and how the mistakes or mishandled situations gave you clarity and assisted you in making a better decision the next time can make a good impression on interviewers. As long the majority of interview answers focus on successful accomplishments, a humorous or personal story of growth may be perfectly appropriate.

Some schools may include a list of questions on their website as part of the job search toolkit. These questions would be great to peruse in preparation for an on-campus interview.

Dress for Success

When the day or week comes for your interview process, be sure to make the best impression you can. Although it is really important, on the one hand, to be true to yourself and show the department what you have to offer as an individual, they only get one chance to see who you are, so present yourself in as professional a light as possible.

Dressing professionally, carrying yourself and sitting upright, smiling, and being as engaging as possible will help you to stand out among many candidates. After all, these qualities will always be a necessary part of professional life so if habits of presentation haven’t been formed already, it may be a good idea to hold some mock interviews with colleagues or family members and friends who are willing to sit in for interviewers.

Be sure to get plenty of sleep the night before an interview. Also, eat well and allow yourself plenty of time to find parking so that you can arrive early and be calm. It’s very normal to be nervous about an interview. However, taking deep breaths and doing some power poses along with other methods of relaxation will help to dispel nerves.

After an interview, according to an article on the North Central College website, it is a good idea to stand up and shake hands with each member, thanking them for their time and questions. The article also recommends sending a personal thank you note shortly after the interview, either by email or in the mail referencing something specific about the conversation.

Lastly, congratulate yourself on taking a big step in your career! Accomplishing an interview for graduate school takes a great deal of preparation that can only enhance your professional skills. Also, having made it to the level of an interview means that you have a very good chance of making it into the grad school of your choice!

Additional Tips:

How To Ace A Phone, Skype, Or Zoom Interview

Grad School Requirements: The Whats, Whens, And Hows

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor