How to Ace Your Grad School Interview

You made it to the interview stage! Your grad school application has passed the barrage of admissions scrutiny, so congratulations on making it this far — but you’re not in the door yet. The interview is where you get to really show who you are and what you can do.

Interviewing for grad school is a two-sided process. Each side determines if the other is a good fit. There has been much due diligence on each party’s behalf, so there’s clearly a connection. However, the interview is set up to answer any lingering questions so you can both see beyond what’s on paper.

Visiting the campus

Interview processes vary by program, so expectations will vary as well. You may meet with faculty members and existing or alumni students (in person or virtually depending on current state of COVID-19 issues). Or you may be invited to spend a couple days on campus touring labs and other campus facilities and speaking with faculty members and students in the program. If you have to travel to the campus, you’ll most likely be responsible for the expenses, but if it’s a program you’re very interested in, it’s well worth it.

Show interviewers who you really are

Consider your interview as your CV, personal statement, letters of recommendation and essay come to life. This is about all your personal and academic achievements explained with your unique personality. A grad school program doesn’t just want to know if you can handle the workload. They also want to know if you have what it takes to succeed, contribute something valuable and work well with others in the program.

How do you handle criticism? What do you consider your biggest accomplishment in school or work, and how can it be applied to this program? What are your goals once you receive your degree (where do you see yourself in five years)? What are your strengths and weaknesses? These are just a few of the things that interviewers will be interested in hearing about.

Be prepared

While not all graduate programs require interviews, they tend to be the exception rather than the rule, especially in the Ph.D. world, so assume an interview is in your future. Just as with everything else in the grad school application process, preparation is key.

Many of the questions that grad school admissions committees ask are somewhat standard, or at least similar versions. However, this doesn’t mean you can coast through on charisma alone. Though you’ve most likely already researched the program, you should dig deeper. Research the faculty members, their publications, any student reviews of the faculty and curriculum, the acceptance rate and the graduation rate, etc. You want to know as much about them as they want to know about you.

Interview preparation tips

So, what should you do to prepare for the interview?

  • Highlight everything you’ve included in your application.
  • Prepare answers to potential questions
    ahead of time.
  • Express your goals for the program and what you plan to do with your degree.
  • Ask them questions! Essentially, you should interview them as well, to show that you’re selective and
    concerned with the course of your career. Ask questions, such as:

    • What’s the graduation rate for the program?
    • How long does it take the typical student to complete the program?
    • Do they offer job placement assistance, and what’s the employment rate for graduates?
    • What do enrolled students and alumni think of the program?
  • Present yourself as someone who will add value to the program and has the academic and critical thinking
    skills to excel in it.

The interview is the final step to securing your coveted spot in the program that you want, which hopefully wants you in return. Make sure you polish the presentation of yourself so they can see what makes you shine.