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All About the Graduate School Admissions Interview

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Did you receive an invitation to interview? Congratulate yourself as you've made it to the short list of applicants under serious consideration for admission. However if you have not received an invitation, don't fret. Not all graduate programs interview and the popularity of admissions interviews varies by program. Why do grad programs interview? How do you prepare?

Why do Graduate Programs Interview Graduate Applicants?
The purpose of the interview is to permit members of the department to get peek at you and meet you, the person apart from your application. Sometimes applicants who seem like a perfect match on paper aren't so in real life. What do they want to know? Whether you have what it takes to succeed in graduate school and the profession, like maturity, interpersonal skills, interest, and motivation. How well do you express yourself, manage stress, and think on your feet?

What to Expect
Interview formats vary considerably. Some programs will request applicants to meet for half of an hour to an hour with a faculty member and other interviews will be full weekend events with students, faculty, and other applicants. Graduate school interviews are conducted by invitation but the expenses are nearly always paid for by applicants. In some unusual cases a program may assist a promising student with travel expenses, but it's not common. If you're invited to an interview, try your best to attend - even if you have to pay the travel expenses. Not attending, even if it's for a good reason, signals that you're not seriously interested in the program.

During your interview you'll talk with several faculty members as well as students. You might engage in small group discussions with students, faculty, and other applicants. Participate in discussions, demonstrate your listening skills, but do not monopolize the conversation. During your interviews, the interviewers may have read your application file, but don't expect them to remember anything about you. Because the interviewer is unlikely to remember much about each applicant, be forthcoming about your experiences, strengths, and professional goals. Be mindful of the salient facts you wish to present.

How to Prepare

  • Learn about the program and faculty. Understand the training emphasis and faculty research interests.
  • Review your own interests, goals, and qualifications. Note what things make you a good match for the program. Be able to explain how your goals and qualifications match what the program has to offer.
  • Take the perspective of faculty members. What can you contribute to their graduate program and research? Why should they accept you? What skills do you bring that will help a professor advance in his or her research?
  • Anticipate questions and rehearse potential answers
  • Prepare intelligent questions to ask.

During the Interview

  • Remember your goals during your interview: to convey your interest, motivation, and professionalism, and to gather the information you need to determine if this is the graduate program for you.
  • In meetings with graduate students, try to ask questions to learn what they really think about their advisors and the program. Most students will be forthcoming - especially in one-on-one conversations.
  • Don't underestimate the potential influence of current graduate students. Present your best side because current graduate students may be in a position to help or hurt your application.
  • Some interviews include social events like parties. Don't drink (even if others do). Remember that even though it seems like a party, it's an interview. Assume that you're being evaluated at all times.

Empower Yourself: You're Interviewing Them Too
Remember that this is your chance to interview the program, its facilities, and its faculty. You'll tour  the facilities and lab spaces as well as have the opportunity to ask questions. This is your interview too! Take this opportunity to school, program, faculty, and students to determine if it's the right match for you. During the interview, you should evaluate the program just as the faculty are evaluating you.

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