Graduate School Admissions Interview: Dos and Don'ts

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If you have been asked to come in for an admissions interview, congratulations! You're one step closer to being accepted into graduate school. The interview is typically the final evaluation stage in the graduate school application process, so success is imperative. The more prepared you arrive, the more likely you are to leave a lasting, positive impression on the interviewers.

Remember that for the institution, the purpose of the interview is to get to know the applicant beyond his or her application materials. This is your chance to distinguish yourself from the other applicants and show why you belong in the graduate program. In other words, it's your chance to make your case for acceptance over other applicants.

An interview also gives you the opportunity to explore the campus and its facilities, meet professors and other faculty members, ask questions, and evaluate the program. You are not the only one being evaluated—you too have to make a decision about whether the school and program are right for you.

Most, if not all, applicants view the interview as a stressful experience: What do you bring to a graduate school interview? What do you wear? Most importantly, what do you say? Help ease your nerves by learning what to expect and, specifically, what you should and should not do during your graduate admissions interview.

What to Do for Your Graduate School Admissions Interview

Before the Interview:

  • Make a list of your strengths and achievements, as well as any recognitions you've received.
  • Complete thorough research on the school, graduate program, and faculty, especially the person conducting the interview.
  • Be familiar with common admission interview questions.
  • Practice answering questions with friends, family, and graduate school advisors.
  • Rest the night before.

The Day of the Interview:

  • Arrive 15 minutes early.
  • Dress professionally and with polish—no jeans, t-shirts, shorts, hats. etc.
  • Bring multiple copies of your resume or CV, relevant papers, and presentations.
  • Be yourself, honest, confident, friendly, and respectful.
  • Shake hands with the interviewer and anyone else you meet during your visit.
  • Address the interviewer by both their title and name (e.g. "Dr. Smith").
  • Make eye contact.
  • Stay alert and attentive.
  • Use body language to convey your interest by sitting up straight and leaning forward slightly.
  • Smile as you interact with the interviewer.
  • Express your ideas and thoughts in a clear, straightforward manner.
  • Demonstrate your interest in the school and program with genuine passion and enthusiasm.
  • Discuss your achievements and goals.
  • Explain flaws that exist on your academic record—without making excuses.
  • Keep your answers consistent with your application.
  • Ask knowledgeable, specific questions that show you've done your research (e.g. questions about the school, program, or faculty).
  • Ask for clarification if you don't understand a question.
  • Sell yourself.

After the Interview:

  • Try to relax.
  • Send a brief thank-you email to the interviewer.
  • Stay optimistic.

What You Shouldn't Do for Your Graduate School Admissions Interview

Before the Interview:

  • Forget to research the school, program, and faculty.
  • Neglect to review common admissions interview questions and brainstorm your answers.
  • Cancel or reschedule the interview unless you absolutely must.

The Day of the Interview:

  • Arrive late.
  • Let your nerves get the best of you. Practice deep breathing to relax.
  • Forget your interviewer's name
  • Ramble. It's not necessary to fill every silent moment, especially if you're not saying something worthwhile.
  • Interrupt the interviewer.
  • Lie or exaggerate about your accomplishments.
  • Make excuses for weaknesses.
  • Criticize yourself or other individuals.
  • Speak unprofessionally—no slang, curse words, or forced humor.
  • Cross your arms or slouch in your chair.
  • Broach controversial or ethical issues (unless asked to).
  • Let your phone disrupt the interview. Turn it off, put it on silent, or activate airplane mode—whatever you need to do to ensure it remains quiet.
  • Give one-word answers. Provide details and explanations for everything you say.
  • Say only what you think the interviewer wants to hear.
  • Forget to thank the interviewer before you leave.

After the Interview:

  • Go crazy overthinking about your performance. Whatever will be, will be!