Being well prepared for your graduate school interview plays an important role in getting accepted into your chosen graduate program. This article covers all you need to know to be confident and prepared during a graduate school interview to maximize your chances of success.
Definition: Graduate school interview
When applying to graduate school, many institutions (but not all) will want to meet candidates in person to assess their suitability to the program. This is done during a formal graduate school interview, where one or several faculty members will ask about your background, interests, and goals1.
Graduate school interview: Preparation is key
To be successful at a graduate school interview, you’ll need to be prepare so you make an impression on faculty members. Let’s look at how to prepare for your graduate school interview.
Gather documents in support of your application. In most cases, you’ll need to take the following to your graduate school interview:
- Your undergraduate or college diploma.
- Your resume.
- Any published papers or research work.
- Any presentations given at conferences or academic events.
- References or letters of recommendation.
You’ll need to practice your answers to questions you’re likely to be asked during the graduate school interview. Make a list of questions (or use the list we provide in the section below) and write down an impactful answer for each.
It’s important to avoid rambling during the graduate school interview and to answer in a way that portrays you as a confident and ambitious candidate. These qualities are also reflected in your body language, so be sure to practice in front of a mirror. To project confidence during the graduate school interview, you want to give good eye contact, sit upright, and keep your shoulders relaxed.
To create a positive impression during the your graduate school interview, add storytelling to your answers. This means bringing real-life examples into your answers, which earns you extra points in communication skills and keeps the graduate school interview fluid. If you’re not good at storytelling, think about any relevant experiences you’ve had and describe them following a basic storytelling formula: Situation – Action – Result2.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with common questions and answers, get a friend, classmate or family member and do a mock graduate school interview with them.
You want to be well rested on graduate school interview day, so prepare in advance to ensure nothing is left to the last minute. If your graduate school interview takes place in another city, plan to be at the destination at least two days before. Also, make sure you plan your route to avoid getting lost or being late.
It’s helpful to spend the day previous to the graduate school interview date doing something relaxing so that your mind and body are in top condition. Avoid partying, drinking, or anything that could ruin all the hard work you’ve put into preparing for the graduate school interview.
Graduate school interview questions: How to answer them
This will probably be the opening question during the graduate school interview. Your answer should include life experiences that made you into the person you are today and that are relevant to the program.
Graduate school interview: What to ask
During a graduate school interview, you may be asked if you have any questions for faculty members. It’s important to prepare some questions of your own to show genuine interest and commitment.
Some questions you may want to ask include:
- What do you value most about teaching at (institutions name)?
- How many students do you accept per year for this particular course?
- Are there teaching / research assistant positions available?
- What advice would you give to a student interested in a teaching / research assistant position?
- How would you describe this department’s organizational culture?
- What qualities do your most successful students have?
- What type of facilities do students have access to, and are there any upgrades planned for the near future?
- When should I expect to hear from you if I’m accepted into the program?
Tips for your graduate school interview
- Dress for success: Take the graduate school interview as a job interview. Always dress professionally, pay attention to personal hygiene, and avoid making any flashy statements with your appearance.
- Send a thank-you message: Within 48 hours after the graduate school interview, send your interviewer/s a thank-you note or email. Keep it brief, but be specific about what you valued about the graduate school interview.
Incorporate compelling storytelling into your answers and pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal language. Rehearse your answers until you’re confident and can answer them naturally.
Yes, questions reflect your interest in the program and highlight your commitment to making a solid contribution.
Be honest, authentic, thoughtful, and specific. Always avoid bragging and being vague or rambling.
In most cases, you should expect the graduate school interview to last between 30 minutes and one hour. Don’t be nervous if the graduate school interview ends earlier or later than you expected – each interview is different!
1 Neimeyer, Greg. & Fowler, Garth. “Five FAQs about interviewing for graduate school.” American Psychological Association. January 2015. https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2015/01/interviewing-grad-school.
2 Diamond, Alice. “Harness the Power of Storytelling in Admissions and Job Interviews.” Accepted. September 29, 2022. https://blog.accepted.com/harness-the-power-of-storytelling-in-admissions-and-job-interviews/.