How to Prepare for a Graduate School Interview

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Last updated on June 13th, 2018 by our Product Team

Before fretting over an upcoming graduate school interview, take a moment to stop and congratulate yourself. Graduate school admission boards don't extend interviews to every applicant; they only interview those whom they consider a solid candidate for their program. Take pride in the fact that your application has been impressive thus far. You should think of an interview as an in-person introduction between you and the program, a way to showcase your personality and individuality, and a means to learn more about program specifics.

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So, how do you prepare for your interview? Practice. Have a parent, sibling, roommate, partner or colleague set up mock interviews. You may think you know the material—because most of it is about you—but don’t become complacent. Your interviewer is likely to ask at least one question that stumps you. Know the different ways a question can be asked. For example: “Tell me a little about yourself” can be rephrased as “What experiences led you to choose our program?” Be prepared for a some variability and don't bank on classic interview questions being asked word-for-word.

You will want to think about who you are—and what your goals are. Know these goals inside and out and be able to talk about your experiences in a way that shows your interviewer that you aim to meet those aspirations. For example, if you want to be a social worker, to prepare for your interview for a spot in a social work graduate program, make sure you’re able to talk about what you learned from your internships, what you learned from your favorite class and professor or mentor, and where you have completed volunteer work. You will almost certainly be asked the whopper of all interview questions: “What are your strengths… and weaknesses?” You have to be able to answer this one with grace. One suggestion would be to describe a time that you faced a problem and how you overcame it. These types of questions are designed to make you think about areas where you can improve—and that’s what you should focus on when you answer. Also, don't be afraid to admit faults or failures - nobody is perfect.

You should also know about every aspect of the program for which you are being interviewed. This means online research, calling ahead of time, and asking your mentors their thoughts. Of course, you can ask questions during the interview, but you don’t want them to be amateur questions. You want them to be deeper and focus on the intricacies of the program. You want the interviewer to feel like you really want the spot in the program. In fact, you want it so badly, you were willing to spend a great deal of time on research. After researching, carefully craft some questions for your interviewer.

Remember your interviewer’s name (maybe review it a couple of times). It seems obvious, but be sure you don’t confuse one program with another, especially if you’re applying to similar programs. If you have other interviews lined up, be sure to keep track of your various appointments. A missed interview could very well be the catalyst that leads to your rejection from a program. It’s not easy to reschedule these appointments and a no-show could give the interviewer the impression that you are irresponsible with time management or that you do not care about their school. You have heard this a million times before: arrive early to your interview (it can never be stressed enough). Traffic or parking issues are not the interviewer’s problem. Know where you’re going and map the route out ahead of time. If your interview is taking place on a virtual platform like Skype, check out these additional tips to help you in this setting.

Lastly, expect the unexpected. When doing mock interviews, have your interviewer ask questions you may not be able to answer quickly. You’ll inevitably be thrown a couple of curve balls. Pause and think for a moment before you tackle a tricky question during your interview. This conveys to your interviewer that you are being thoughtful in your answer, rather than quickly regurgitating a rehearsed response. And finally, because it’s worth repeating, practice!

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