How to Ace the Graduate School Admissions Interview

What to Expect and How to Prepare

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If you've received an invitation to interview at a graduate school of choice, congratulate yourself. You've made it to the short list of applicants under serious consideration for admission. If you have not received an invitation, don't fret. Not all graduate programs interview and the popularity of admissions interviews vary by program. Here's what to expect and some tips on how to prepare so you do your very best.

Purpose of the Interview

The purpose of the interview is to let members of the department get a peek at you and meet you, the person, and see beyond your application. Sometimes applicants who seem like a perfect match on paper aren't so in real life. What do the interviewers want to know? Whether you have what it takes to succeed in graduate school and the profession, like maturity, interpersonal skills, interest, and motivation. How well do you express yourself, manage stress and think on your feet?

What to Expect

Interview formats vary considerably. Some programs request applicants to meet for half of an hour to an hour with a faculty member, and other interviews will be full weekend events with students, faculty and other applicants. Graduate school interviews are conducted by invitation, but the expenses are nearly always paid for by applicants. In some unusual cases, a program may assist a promising student with travel expenses, but it's not common.

If you're invited to an interview, try your best to attend -- even if you have to pay the travel expenses. Not attending, even if it's for a good reason, signals that you're not seriously interested in the program.

During your interview, you'll talk with several faculty members as well as students. You might engage in small group discussions with students, faculty and other applicants.

Participate in discussions and demonstrate your listening skills but do not monopolize the conversation. The interviewers might have read your application file but don't expect them to remember anything about you. Because the interviewer is unlikely to remember much about each applicant, be forthcoming about your experiences, strengths and professional goals. Be mindful of the salient facts you wish to present.

How to Prepare

  • Learn about the program and faculty. familiarize yourself with the training emphasis and faculty research interests.
  • Review your own interests, goals, and qualifications. Note what things make you a good match for the program. Be able to explain how your goals and qualifications match what the program has to offer.
  • Take the perspective of faculty members. What can you contribute to their graduate program and research? Why should they accept you? What skills do you bring that will help a professor advance in his or her research?
  • Anticipate questions and rehearse potential answers.
  • Prepare intelligent questions to ask.

During the Interview

  • Remember your goals during your interview: to convey your interest, motivation, and professionalism and to gather the information you need to determine if this is the graduate program for you.
  • In meetings with graduate students, try to ask questions that reveal what they really think about their advisers and the program. Most students will be forthcoming -- especially in one-on-one conversations.
  • Don't underestimate the potential influence of current graduate students. Present your best side because current graduate students may be in a position to help or hurt your application.
  • Some interviews include social events like parties. Don't drink (even if others do). Remember that even though it seems like a party, it's an interview. Assume that you're being evaluated at all times.

Empower Yourself: You're Interviewing Them, Too

Remember that this is your chance to interview the program, its facilities, and its faculty. You'll tour the facilities and lab spaces as well as have the opportunity to ask questions.

Take this opportunity to assess the school, program, faculty, and students to determine if it's the right match for you. During the interview, you should evaluate the program just as the faculty is evaluating you.