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.
GRADUATE SCHOOL INTERVIEWS: RULES OF THUMB
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.
GRADUATE SCHOOL INTERVIEWS: CORE QUESTIONS
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.
10 SAMPLE QUESTIONS YOU MAY BE ASKED DURING GRAD SCHOOL APPLICANT INTERVIEWS
- Tell me about yourself. (VERY open ended… this one can be tough.)
- What do you believe your greatest challenge will be if you are accepted into this program?
- In what ways do you think your previous experience and coursework have prepared you for succeeding in our program?
- What do you know about our school/program?
- What is your philosophy regarding this profession?
- Explain a situation in which you had a conflict and how you resolved it. What did you learn?
- Describe a group project you’ve worked on and the role you took.
- How will you be able to make a contribution to this field?
- What can you offer this program that other applicants cannot?
- 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.
5 SAMPLE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR INTERVIEWER
Practice and plan to ask 2-3!
- What future changes do you see in this program/profession?
- What professional associations have you joined that you’d recommend? (question for faculty only, not an admissions officer)
- What can you tell me about the student culture in the on-campus academic climate?
- What are the defining characteristics of the program’s character and/or mission?
- What advice do you have for me at this stage in the admissions process?
GRADUATE SCHOOL INTERVIEWS: NEXT STEPS
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.