10 steps to acing the graduate school admissions interview

Grad School Admissions


In addition to submitting your application, it is very likely that you’ll also have to partake in an interview as part of the graduate school admissions process. Take solace: Although the interview can be a stressful experience, the fact that you have made it to the interview round tells you that you are a serious contender for a seat in the program—and that means it’s a cause for happiness and celebration!

Interviews may be presented as a mandatory or optional part of the process—however, even if they are optional, I recommend that you take full advantage of the opportunity to meet with a representative of the school in an interview setting. All things being equal, it is likely that candidates who have had an interview will have an edge when it comes time for schools to make decisions.

Interviews can be conducted by one (or more) of the following groups of people: faculty, admissions staff, current students, or alumni. Regardless of who does the interview, though, they are all looking for the same things—to put a face to the name, to get a sense of you as a person, and to corroborate the information that they gathered from your application.

There is no “script” for the interview; your interviewer can (and will!) ask you about anything relating to your application, background, employment history, educational goals, and anything else that he or she feels will help round out your admissions profile.

What should you do in order to give yourself the best opportunity at a stellar interview and first impression?

Know what you’ll talk about and what you’ll say

Don’t go into the interview cold! Know what you’re likely to get asked about, and prepare accordingly. You’ll likely end up talking about the information you put in your application, the experiences you discussed in your essays, your accomplishments, your goals and aspirations, your hobbies, and your background (both academic and professional). Don’t just know what you’ll talk about, though—know what you’ll say! Make notes on points that you really want to get across and items you don’t want to forget about; in this way, you’ll reinforce that information in your mind, and will be more likely to bring it up during your interview.

Re-read your application and essays

Don’t just give a cursory glance to these materials—read them thoroughly, and read them multiple times. Remember, this is all the information the school has on you, so it’s very likely it’ll come up in the interview. Make sure you know what you said, so that you can reiterate, corroborate, and back up your claims!

Practice your answers

A great way to prep for an interview is to put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes—what would you ask yourself? Jot down these questions, then write out your answers—and then, as a final touch, practice saying these answers out loud. Some applicants even practice answering them in front of a mirror, and watching their facial expressions. This will help cement these answers in your mind, and will make for easier, more flowing conversation.

Research the school, program, and interviewer

Just like you’ll know your own information inside and out, make sure you know the school’s information inside and out. What do they specialize in? What is their approach to teaching? Who are their well-known professors? What kinds of programs do they have? What programs are you interested in outside of the one into which you're seeking admission? What do you want to study? Who do you want to study with?

In addition, ask if you can get the interviewer’s name and position ahead of time, and do some research on them—who they are, what their background is, what they teach (if they are professors), where they work (if they are alumni). This could help you tie in your answers with that information, which will look both well-prepared and organized.

Come with questions

Asking questions is not limited to the interviewer! Candidates who ask questions about the school they are interviewing with and the program they’re considering exude enthusiasm, interest, and preparedness. Just make sure the questions you’re asking aren’t something that can be easily found on the school website, and make sure you let your interviewer ask their own questions!

Bring copies of your CV

Just in case the interviewer doesn’t have a copy.

Dress professionally

Although the interview is likely to be relaxed and informal, that doesn’t mean you can slouch on your attire. When in doubt, dress business casual—however, some schools may require more a more formal outfit. If you’re unsure, call the admissions office and ask.

Show confidence and enthusiasm

Shake hands, smile, be genuinely interested in what the interviewer is saying, come prepared with questions, know your answers—all of these add up to a candidate who looks like they know what they’re doing and are happy to be at the interview. Remember, this is the first and only chance admissions representatives will have a chance to meet you—make it a good one!

Watch your tone

It’s not just about smiling—your tone can say much more than your facial expression, and your word choice can say much more than your tone. Practice your answers, and listen to how you sound and what you say—make sure you exude confidence, positivity, and enthusiasm. And be careful when speaking about your accomplishments—it’s fine to be confident, but don’t cross the line into overconfident. If in doubt, have someone do a mock interview with you before the big day, and have them give you feedback on how you sound.

Say thanks

After you’re done, make sure to send an email thanking your interviewer for their time. It ties everything up with a nice little bow, and makes the very last impression you leave a good one.

Are you nervous about having a grad school interview? Are you preparing for it in any way? Tell us in the comments!

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