How To Interview For Graduate School Admissions

First of all: congratulations because you have passed nearly every round of the application process, and your prospective school is ready to admit you. Now, you just have to ace your interview. Tutors who have been through the process before can help you. 

Basics: You may interview with an admissions committee group (comprised of faculty members, admissions counselors or even students), or individually with any of those. Most interviews will be in-person, but some may be over-the-phone. Typically, interviews are 30-60 minutes, but some schools will invite students for weekend-long events, full with multiple interviews and meet-and-greet sessions.

Your atmosphere: Ultimately, you want your interviewer to like you, and for the most part that depends on the atmosphere you bring into your interview. This is one of the most difficult aspects to practice. Sometimes, you just have to be likable, and that depends on your energy level, your ability to create a two-way dialogue, your confidence, how friendly you are, your etiquette, etc. So, have a few Red Bulls, give your interviewer a strong handshake, make lots of eye contact and try to be as energetic and confident as possible.

Do not restate your application: Your interviewer has probably already read your application. In fact, that’s exactly why you’re at the interview. You have already proven yourself on paper. Now, they want to see your social skills and learn more about you. But, if you are asked about a specific class, research project or internship you had, then by all means – talk at length and build it up. Try to streamline your background and discuss only your most important accolades. It’s better to discuss your practical experience (internships/research) than your grades.

Match yourself to the school: Know everything you can about the program and school you are interviewing with. What awards/distinctions have they recently earned? What kind of research or projects do students perform there? Try to prove you can add to the school’s distinctions by matching your experience and abilities to its programs.

Practice an interview: It seems incredibly tedious, but practicing with a friend/family member can help you iron out your talking points. You don’t want to be stumbling around for words at your interview. The more you practice, the more articulate you will be on the big day.

Arrive 10 minutes early: No more or no less. If you show up 30 minutes early, you’re only going to make your interviewer anxious. He/she may have something scheduled directly before your interview and may feel obligated to cut that meeting short. And if you show up late, you could be disqualified right away.

Hard copies of your work: Your interviewer should have already seen your resume and other work samples you included in your application. But, if your interviewer asks you about your research project, you need to be able to pull it out and discuss it. Please, for your own sake, spend the extra money and use resume paper and a professional, leather-bound portfolio.

Use your interviewer’s title: You are not on a first-name basis with your interviewer yet; so use his/her title: Dr, Mr, Mrs, Ms, etc. Unless, he/she tells you otherwise.

Maintain a mutual dialogue: If you notice yourself talking twice as much as your interviewer, turn it around and ask him/her a question. Ask about his/her hobbies or what he/she likes about the school. Try to talk about something completely unrelated because you will be one of the few students who does. And guess what…your interview will be remembered.

Ask thoughtful questions: Basic questions don’t do much to advance the conversation. So, ask questions about how you can get involved in research, practical applications and even internships. But, frame your questions to indicate that you know a lot about this school.

Instead of asking, “Do students get involved in research projects here?” find a group of students who published or completed a successful research project. Ask about what classes or clubs you need to be involved in to complete similar research.

Thank you note: Some students prefer to send an e-mail, but others believe there is a more personal touch with a handwritten letter. But, if you opt to send an email, wait a couple days before sending it. Personalize your thank-you letter and include something you and your interviewer talked about. Do not try to sell yourself again – just simply thank your interviewer.  

Have answers prepared: It’s impossible to predict every question you will be asked, but you can predict most. Try to show that you have met challenges in the past and are prepared to do so again. Most interviewers ask the same questions to all students; so try to give an answer they have not heard. Here is a list of probable questions:

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why did you choose to apply to our program?
  • What other schools are you considering?
  • How has your previous experience prepared you for graduate study in our program?
  • What do you believe your greatest challenge will be here?
  • How will you be able to make a contribution to this field?
  • Explain a situation in which you resolved a conflict. What would you do differently?
  • Describe your greatest accomplishment.
  • Why should we take you and not someone else?
  • What do you plan to specialize in?