grad school Graduate Admissions Insider Tips Interviews Top Tips

Master Your Graduate School Interviews

Post by: Dr. Kristen Willmott

“What will they ask me?” “How can I leverage a Zoom interview?” “What if they offer an in-person interview?” “Do I meet with a graduate school admissions rep or a faculty member, or both?” “How big is a ‘panel?’” “Is this a true ‘admissions interview’ or more of an ‘informational interview’ offer, and what’s the difference?” These are all common questions we receive from our graduate school admissions consulting clients who are targeting some of the best Master’s, PhD, law school and MBA programs in the nation and overseas.


The bottom line is that graduate school interviewing can be intimidating even for the most prepared candidates, and most top schools have so many applicants each year that they don’t even offer interviews beyond a casual sit-down alumni interview once an application has been submitted.  So, college seniors and working professionals could easily have their first ever admissions interview at the grad school level, NOT college.

I urge graduate school applicants to head into the interview process informed and in the know so remember the following:

  • First, congratulations on securing an interview! Not everyone gets that option and it shows that you’ve done something very right so far. The competition amongst top applicants is fierce, even as enrollment numbers dwindle at some programs, and it’s a win to be offered an interview.
  • Second, it’s a two-way street. They are interviewing you to assess your fit with the program and what you will bring to them. BUT, you have every right to pose questions and go into the process assessing the program’s fit for YOU at this point in your life.
  • Third, all top graduate school programs think highly of their offerings; they have to, they should. They know/believe they offer a great program, have unparalleled facilities and resources, and renowned faculty who are at the height of their fields, so they don’t need you to tell them in an interview how great they are. They already know that; it’s on the website, they put it there. They want to know why YOU are great, why this program is the only one for you, and what you’ll uniquely add to their already-impressive program and department and curricular/research/on-campus offerings.


With that in mind, the main questions that any interviewer likely wants to know are super simple. In fact, they are SO simple that across almost every graduate school program, in almost every field, I can streamline them into 4 core questions that boil down to the following:





Simple, right?… Of course, they won’t likely be phrased in this specific manner, and there are always going to be more long-winded questions that admissions reps and faculty will toss out to you in your graduate school interviews. Given that, here are some questions for you to practice if you have been offered an interview OR if you are planning for graduate school admissions and you want to know what to expect in the interview process.


  1. Tell me about yourself. (VERY open ended… this one can be tough.)
  2. What do you believe your greatest challenge will be if you are accepted into this program?
  3. In what ways do you think your previous experience and coursework have prepared you for succeeding in our program?
  4. What do you know about our school/program?
  5. What is your philosophy regarding this profession?
  6. Explain a situation in which you had a conflict and how you resolved it. What did you learn?
  7. Describe a group project you’ve worked on and the role you took.
  8. How will you be able to make a contribution to this field?
  9. What can you offer this program that other applicants cannot?
  10. Tell me about your last X experience (internship, research, job, volunteer, etc.). What was a challenge? What was a key contribution you made?

At the end of the interview –you’ll be asked if you have questions for your interviewer. Don’t say you have none. You don’t know everything about the program, the faculty, the interviewer himself/herself, the student experience, etc. Jump on this opportunity to assess fit with the program AND give them even more information about you by what you are asking.


Practice and plan to ask 2-3!

  1. What future changes do you see in this program/profession?
  2. What professional associations have you joined that you’d recommend? (question for faculty only, not an admissions officer)
  3. What can you tell me about the student culture in the on-campus academic climate?
  4. What are the defining characteristics of the program’s character and/or mission?
  5. What advice do you have for me at this stage in the admissions process?


Complete needed self-prep before the day of. Practice not in front of a mirror (we have cell phones now!), but by recording yourself and your answers to the above questions on your cell-phone or computer. Then, watch it twice. Do you love what you see and how you answered?  Or, are you just wanting the video to be over? How does that candidate appear and come off as in his/her responses? Excited and knowledgeable about the program and his/her direction, or panicked, rushed, and unprepared? Then, record it again. It’s a painful but purposeful strategy to prep, I promise!

Finally, plan for logistics. What are you wearing the day of? Have you checked your Zoom settings and background? How/when are you getting there if it’s on site vs. virtual? My advice: Dress professionally but comfortably. Get there 20 minutes early but not 60 minutes early. Bear in mind that you’re likely being watched so no cell-phone calls as you sit in a chair outside the office. No obsessive texting either, that can wait; soak up your surroundings instead. Bring your resume/CV (and know your resume/CV). Get some sleep the night before and if you’re headed to campus, allow for time to walk around/tour for a bit first. Can you see yourself living there? Are you happy as a grad student-for-a-day there? Pretend you’re headed into a meeting with your advisor vs. an admissions interview.  Is that overwhelming or exciting? Is it frustrating because you wish it were on another campus or exhilarating because you’re so glad you’re there? These are all important questions to ponder as you walk one step closer to your graduate school admissions acceptance.

Headed down that path?  Let us help!  Seeking a mock interview with guidance and coachingLet’s chat!

Admissions BS/MD Programs college admissions Insider Tips Top Tips

Fast Facts: Combined BS/MD Programs


Washington University in St. Louis is no longer offering their University Scholars Program in Medicine (USPM) due to budgetary restrictions.

Most students apply to medical school after they complete their undergraduate degrees. Others, who have dreamt of being a doctor their whole lives, are ready to commit to a medical program much earlier. If this sounds like you, it is worth researching the 80 or so institutions that offer a combined BS/MD program (or “direct medical program”). This competitive option allows undergraduates to proceed directly into medical school without having to go through a separate admissions process. Once accepted, students can obtain their Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree along with their MD in 7-8 years (depending on the program). Brown is the only Ivy League school to offer this “fast track” to an MD, in partnership with the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.


Requirements: The exact requirements and features of these programs vary by school. While “Combined BS/MD Programs” accept high school applicants into the college and medical school at the same time, other programs, “Early Assurance Medical School Programs,” wait to formally admit a student to the medical school until sophomore or junior year. Either way, during the undergraduate portion of the program, students are expected to fulfill the standard pre-med requirements, and are sometimes limited in terms of the majors they can select. Students must also complete their undergraduate studies successfully while maintaining a minimum GPA (at Georgetown, for instance, the minimum GPA is 3.6).

The application materials for these programs can be quite intensive and require a number of secondary essays, similar to the standard med school application process. Brown, for instance, asks three required essay questions for seniors applying to their joint-degree program:

  1. Committing to a future career as a physician while in high school requires careful consideration and self-reflection. What values and experiences have led you to believe that becoming a doctor in medicine is the right fit for you? (250 words)
  2. Most people describe a career as a physician/doctor as a “profession”, beyond a job. Describe for us what “professionalism” and “the profession of a physician/doctor” mean to you. (250 words)
  3. How do you envision the Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) helping you to meet your academic personal and professional goals as a person and as a physician of the future? (500 words)

Our senior counselors can help guide you through these essays and offer proven strategies as you craft a compelling application. Click here for more information about our Essay Guidance Package.

In addition to strong essays, you will need to demonstrate significant experience in the medical field such as shadowing a doctor, research and clinical experience, or related volunteer work in addition to high AP and subject test scores (especially in the sciences).

At the Northwestern University Honors Program in Medical Education (HPME), one of the best BS/MD programs, the acceptance rate hovers around 2% (19-23 students per incoming class). The average test scores from the 2018–2019 application season were:

SAT ERW: 762

SAT Math: 792

ACT Composite: 35

SAT Chemistry: 777

SAT Math Level 2: 790


Pros: Why should you pursue a joint degree program? If you’re 100% sure you want a career in medicine, this joint program allows you to skip the highly stressful med school application process and guarantees you a spot at a prestigious medical school. This saves significant time and money since you won’t need to visit schools for interviews later on. Additionally, most schools that offer this program don’t require their students to take the MCAT, which alleviates a significant source of stress.

Cons: College is often a time to explore a range of academic interests and take advantage of a flexible curriculum. By committing to a medical program so early, you are limiting your ability to take a diverse array of classes or change your career path. You are also no longer able to apply to some of the best medical schools in the nation (Harvard, Stanford, etc.) since you will have already committed elsewhere.



Who’s eligible? Middlebury College and Dartmouth College Students

Who’s eligible?  Georgetown undergraduates only. Must be in your fourth semester at Georgetown and completed 4 of 5 pre-med courses by the end of May (one of the four completed courses must be Organic Chemistry).

Who’s Eligible? Tufts University sophomores. Tufts also offers an early assurance program for their Maine Track program, which is focused on rural medicine. Students who are sophomores at Bates College, Bowdoin College, Colby College, and all University of Maine campuses are eligible to apply.

Who’s Eligible? Undergraduates at Amherst College, Bowdoin College, Carleton College, Colgate University, CUNY Hunter, Hamilton College, Haverford College, Middlebury College, Swarthmore College, Williams College, and Xavier University of Louisiana. Students apply in May-June following sophomore year.

Who’s Eligible? Wake Forest undergraduates only. Note: EAP acceptance is conditional upon completing the MCAT with 509 or higher prior to matriculation.

college admissions coronavirus COVID-19 Insider Tips

A Sample of Test Optional Schools for Fall 2021 Enrollment




Amherst College Fall 2021 enrollment
Babson University for high school class of 2021, then will review
Boston College Fall 2021 enrollment
Boston University for high school class of 2021, then will review – students will chose in-person or remote classes for fall
Butler University moving to test-optional
Caltech 2-year pilot – SAT Subject Tests no longer required but will be considered
Carnegie Mellon University Fall 2021 enrollment
Case Western University Fall 2021 enrollment
Clarkson University Fall 2021 enrollment
Colgate University Fall 2021 enrollment
Davidson College 3-year pilot
Duke University Fall 2021 enrollment
Elon University 3-year pilot
Emory University Fall 2021 enrollment
Fordham University 2-year pilot
Gonzaga University Fall 2021 enrollment
Hamilton College shift from test-flexible to test-optional for Class of 2021
Harvey Mudd College Fall 2021/2022 enrollment, SAT Subject Tests no longer required
Haverford College 3-year pilot
Johns Hopkins University Fall 2021 enrollment
Kent State University Fall 2021 enrollment
Lehigh University Fall 2021 Not Required (still required for Div I athletes)
Loyola University New Orleans shift to test-blind permanently
Loyola Marymount University Fall 2021 enrollment
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Fall 2021 enrollment, SAT Subject Tests no longer required but will be considered
Middlebury College 3-year pilot, previously test-flexible
Northeastern University Fall 2021 enrollment
Northwestern University Fall 2021 enrollment
Notre Dame University Fall 2021 enrollment, 1-year pilot
Penn State University Fall 2021 enrollment
Pomona College Fall 2021 enrollment test-optional
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) for high school class of 2021, then will review
Rhodes College 3-year pilot
Rutgers University Fall 2021 enrollment
Santa Clara University 2-year pilot
Scripps College Fall 2021 enrollment
St. Thomas Aquinas College Fall 2021 enrollment
Stanford University Fall 2021 enrollment
Swarthmore College 2-year pilot
Syracuse University Fall 2021 enrollment
Texas A&M Fall 2021 enrollment
Tufts University 3-year pilot
Tulane University Fall 2021 enrollment
UCalifornia– all campuses Fall 2021/2022 enrollment (CA students) – test blind for 2023/2024 (new test for 2025 and beyond)
UCLA Fall 2021 enrollment
UIllinois Fall 2021 enrollment
UMichigan SAT/ACT required; students can send other exam scores if necessary; that those without ACT or SAT scores must explain why they don’t have them; and that their applications will be reviewed without ACT or SAT scores
University of South Carolina Fall 2021 enrollment
UT Austin Fall 2021 enrollment
UVA Fall 2021 enrollment (new ED date 11/1)
UVM Fall 2021 enrollment
UWashington Fall 2021 enrollment
UWisconsin-Madison Fall 2021 through Summer 2023
Vanderbilt University Fall 2021 enrollment
Vassar College for high school Class of 2021, then will review
Virginia Tech Fall 2021 enrollment
Washington and Lee University Fall 2021 enrollment
William and Mary 3-year pilot
Williams College Fall 2021 enrollment test-optional

NOTE: Even if a top school has suspended standardized test scores, this isn’t a free pass.
We recommend students WHO ARE ABLE sit for fall tests.

Here’s how the Ivies are handling testing for the upcoming semester.

Brown Class of 2024 Cornell Dartmouth Harvard Insider Tips Princeton Seniors Stanford UPENN

COVID-19 Related Closures: Impact on Colleges and High School Seniors


As of today, on-campus activities for prospective students have been canceled at these schools, but DAILY other cancellations are happening and it appears that most every state is closing all schools. Assume you will not have revisit days or info sessions/tours. Please scroll down for additional updates on testing cancellations.

UPDATE April 15, 2020 from CollegeBoard:

The June 6, 2020 SAT and Subject Test administration is CANCELED.

UPDATE March 24, 2020 from CollegeBoard:

Free, live AP review courses available beginning March 25, 2020.

Daily schedule for 32 courses

UPDATE March 19, 2020

Students in England and Wales learned yesterday that the UK government had taken the unprecedented step of canceling this summer’s GCSE and A Level exams because of COVID-19. Instead, students due to sit for these exams this May and June will be awarded a “fair grade” to recognize the work they have done thus far in their coursework.

For sixth-formers (equivalent to U.S. high school seniors) applying to U.S. universities, your predicted A-Levels marks have already been sent to colleges, so your U.S. college decisions won’t be negatively impacted. However, information has yet to be shared with students and families about how the cancelation of these exams will impact admission to UK universities.

This will be tough for UK students in Year 11 since U.S. admissions offices rely on GCSE scores. They do have your mock GCSE results from December/January but those may not be as strong in all cases. The question of how a “fair grade” will be determined will be addressed by UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson this Friday.

Regardless, with extra time on your hands now, we strongly suggest that UK students planning to apply to U.S. universities next year sit for additional SAT subject tests – especially if you can squeeze one or two into your schedule this June.

Students seeking to sit for the TOEFL exam will find cancelations at test centers worldwide. Coronavirus-related closings and postponements can be found online here.

UPDATE March 16, 2020 from CollegeBoard:
May 2020 SAT administration canceled

“In response to the rapidly evolving situation around the coronavirus (COVID-19), College Board is canceling the May 2, 2020 SAT administration. Makeup exams for the March 14 administration (scheduled for March 28) are also canceled.” Click through the CollegeBoard link above for the full information.

UPDATE March 16, 2020 from AP Central Update:

“The AP Program is developing resources to help schools support student learning during extended closures, as well as a solution that would allow students to test at home, depending on the situation in May. Additional information will be posted by March 20.”

UPDATE March 16, 2020 from ACT:

“The safety of students and test center staff is ACT’s top priority. ACT has rescheduled its April 4 national test date to June 13 across the U.S. in response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). All students registered for the April 4 test date will receive an email from ACT in the next few days informing them of the postponement and instructions for free rescheduling to June 13 or a future national test date.”

Are you planning on visiting colleges over spring break or later in the spring semester? Seniors, are you hoping to attend the college preview weekend for your dream school later in April? Are you scheduled to take the SAT or ACT in March or April? Before heading out, check the websites of colleges and universities on your list for updates on COVID-19 related closures.


Campus Tours and Information Sessions

Prospective students hoping to visit colleges this spring should check the website or call the admission office before heading to campus. As of today, on-campus activities for prospective students have been canceled at:

 April programs for admitted students

As of today, the following schools have announced that all on-campus programs for admitted students this April have been canceled:

SAT and ACT Test Centers PLUS Major UK Test and TOEFL Exams Latest Cancelations

For the most up-to-date information on exams scheduled for March and April, the best option is to regularly check the College Board and ACT registration pages. Here, you’ll find information on what to do if your test center is closed.


As we know, the situation with COVID-19 is a fluid and fast-changing one. Be sure to regularly check university and testing websites to stay abreast of most recent developments regarding closures or travel restrictions.

Know of any other closures? Let us know in the comments.

Graduate Admissions Insider Tips Top Tips

Get Into Grad School With a Low Undergrad GPA

By: Dr. Kristen Willmott

We are often asked “How can I fix my undergrad GPA?” by those considering grad school admissions consulting. How low is too low? What’s the cut off and why don’t more programs publish that? How holistic is a “holistic graduate admissions review?”

How does a 3.2 or 3.4 happen? It’s more common than you’d think.

  • Perhaps it’s a family situation that meant missing a high number of classes and finals;
  • OR initial difficulty adjusting to college life and challenging freshman year courses with high expectations,
  • OR, a needed switch of college majors and fields,
  • OR, as is unfortunately the case more and more often these days, anxiety and mental health challenges that were not addressed until later in the game.

Any of the above can result in a smattering of B- grades on an undergraduate transcript (it doesn’t take many of those to pull you under a 3.4!), and the trouble is, when you apply to graduate school, they want the full transcript, not just the GPA. So, the letter grades are reviewed, the course levels are reviewed (please don’t take all 100-200 level courses even if your advisor lets you!), the major GPA and undergraduate cumulative GPA are also reviewed, but that GPA is not the only data point (of course, there is the GRE, GMAT or LSAT, but that’s a topic for another post.)


The good news is that almost everyone on the planet needs some time to adjust to college life (new bed, new room, new location, new people, new community, new food, new weather, new freedom, new rules –ahh!) and coursework freshman year, and graduate school admissions officers and faculty know that and have lived it themselves; their children might even be living it right now. The other good news is that the undergraduate transcript and the GPA are not the only pieces that make up a complete graduate school application. The trick is using that fact to your advantage when you apply, and determining what ELSE you can submit that bumps you in.

Sometimes I chat with potential applicants who are considering graduate school but they’ve been out of college working for years and they’re concerned that B- and C grades will again fill their graduate transcript despite working hard, OR, they want to be 100% certain of their selected graduate school field, and even institution, before they jump into a set 1-2 year program, or 4-7 years for PhD programs.

I remind them:  you don’t have to jump into the graduate school pool until you’re ready.


You could start by dipping a toe in as a non-degree student taking graduate school level courses, either for-credit (they might transfer!) OR non-credit, online OR on campus. There are tons of options –you just have to know where to look and when.

When you take a grad level course for credit online or on-campus pre-grad school, you walk out with:

  • A letter grade
  • A (hopefully) solid faculty connection
  • Connections to peer scholars in your field
  • Access to unique campus offerings like advising and writing services/coaching for that term of the course, even for online students
  • A potential supplementary letter of recommendation
  • And, a graduate level transcript that gets virtually tacked onto that undergraduate transcript you may previously have preferred to keep under lock and key.

So, how can this really play out?

  • An A grade in a 4-credit Global Sustainability Anthropology graduate level course from the Harvard University Extension School cannot “fix” or erase the 2 C grades you have on your undergraduate transcript freshman year in 2012, BUT it shows your commitment to the field and offers evidence that the older, newer, more professional and dedicated YOU can ace a graduate level course in your targeted field. (That’s a win for your Tufts University application to the Environmental Policy and Planning Master of Science)

Here are 5 examples of graduate level courses you could take and key info on how it works:

  • Back story: You’re targeting a Master’s in BioTech and you’ve worked in a lab for a while but you’ve been a bit out of the game in terms of academics. You work 60 hours a week so an online, non-credit but graded course is your best option.

Course to take: Take MIT’s EdX course called The Science and Business of Biotechnology. It starts 2/12/20, is 16 weeks long, requires 10-12 hours of work per week, and is only $50 total to earn a grade and a course certificate from the 3 top MIT faculty who teach it. Bonus: you get to add it to your resume/CV pre-application and the course description and this video make it seem like a truly beneficial and unique course.  Weird thing about this option: if you live in Iran, Cuba or the Crimea region of Ukraine, you can’t take it  –mysterious.

  • Back story: You’re graduating college this May, but you want your next step to be a graduate program in data analytics. You’ve switched majors 3 times (the norm!) in college and you’re not certain of the field, but you believe data analytics is the one. You’re looking at spring application deadlines (April 2020 –they do exist) that would let you start graduate school in August but your spring schedule at your college is locked, though you’d love to explore more.

Course to take: Register for the 4-week Graph Analytics for Big Data Coursera online course via UC San Diego. It’s a self-paced, graded (though non-credit) course with an added option to earn a course certificate to note on your resume/CV. The professor, Dr. Gupta, is a research scientist at the UC San Diego Supercomputer Center. They’re doing some neat things over there right now, like helping the world predict future carbon dioxide levels on our planet (hugely relevant only to those who breathe, smile).

  • Back story: You’re targeting a Master’s in Psychology and have hit a wall professionally where graduate school is the next needed step but you want to “try before you buy.”

Course to take: Apply (by 4/15/20) to Teacher’s College at Columbia University as a non-degree post-college student to then take graduate level courses there. Take the summer session A (May 21-July 1, 2020) Psychology of Thinking graduate course for 3 credits online OR the on-campus (in NYC) Summer A 2020 Psychology of Memory graduate level course for 3 credits.

  • Back story: You’ve worked in healthcare engineering for several years post-college and you’re moderately ready to tackle an MBA but you’re not 100% certain, especially as your undergraduate transcript features some grades you’re not proud of, though you co-launched a successful healthcare management app recently that you are proud of.

Course to take: Apply to NYU as a non-degree graduate student via NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering  (where you can take up to 9 credits) and take the summer 2020 online course called Operations Management May 26-July 12 for 3 graduate credits.

  • Back story: You’re planning to apply to top Economics programs. Your resume/CV needs a boost to show you’re still an academic and your undergrad GPA has some red/yellow flags on it you fear. Also, you majored in French Literature and have never taken an economics course, so you’re about to embark on a big field switch.

Course to take: Consider an online, hybrid or on-campus (if you’re local to Cambridge, MA) Harvard University Extension School course. If you moved fast and applied by 1/23/20, you could’ve started in their spring 2020 term (1/27/20). Take Economic Justice for 4 graduate credits online and on-demand. (“On-demand” is great as you can do the course requirements on YOUR time, no required log-in times.) Another 4-credit graduate course to consider there this spring (there are summer options too!) is MacroEconomic Theory. It’s taught by Dr. Christopher Foote, Professor of the Practice of Economics at Harvard. (Might be good to have him in your corner; he’s also a senior economist and policy advisor in the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston –bet he knows a thing or two about econ.)


The above are just examples so they’re not personalized selections for you. Let us do that FOR YOU though! We’d love to review your transcript and resume/CV with you, your graduate school aims, and the various components that could and would be woven in your stellar graduate school applications. Many of our past students have had great success getting a good amount of their previously completed graduate level credits to transfer into their eventual Master’s (and even doctoral) programs. That’s a win/win for everyone in terms of effort, time, and financial savings, all while showing your scholarly commitment to your targeted field and offering concrete evidence that you can and will obtain A grades in top graduate level courses.