Graduate School Interviews

This information will be tailored to the graduate school interview. For general information on interviewing such as dressing for success, answering behavioral (situational) questions, or mastering an effective introduction, please visit the interviewing component of the Career Services website.

The interview is a place that you can shine beyond your test scores and GPA. Please take advantage of this opportunity to make a good impression by preparing for your interview, dressing and acting the part the day of, and following up to confirm your interest.

How to Prepare (Before the Interview)

How to Perform (During the Interview)

Follow Up (After the Interview)

Graduate School Interview Resources

Most Commonly Asked Questions

Questions for you to Ask at the Interview

How to Prepare (Before the Interview)

 

Self-Examine

Why have you chosen to pursue a career in your field? Why do you want to be a lawyer, scientist, or educator (for example)? Are you ready and able to discuss your personal skills, abilities, strengths and interests in relation to the field? Can you talk about your experiences enthusiastically and reflect on how they have impacted you? What are your future goals, and how will this program help you reach them? If it is difficult for you to think of your motivations for pursuing this program of study, you should probably rethink your desire to engage in a rigorous and expensive academic pursuit.

Research Your Field

As an interviewer, there is nothing worse than hearing an applicant declare that a certain academic program is all they have ever been interested in, but not be able to name a sole book/article/event that inspired them to join the field. Make sure you are informed about current events in your field, major movements, and key research/researchers. Having true knowledge about the field in which you are entering sincerely shows that you are passionate about the subject. Being caught unaware will undermine the interviewer’s perception of you as a future dedicated graduate student. Finally, contemplate how you think you can contribute to this field.

Research the Program/University

Read the catalog thoroughly for prerequisites, course requirements, and opportunities within the department. Be prepared to talk about what elements of the program attracted you (i.e. research opportunities, large practical component, interesting elective choices) as well as what you have heard about faculty, campus, location, etc. Speaking to current graduate students before you go to the interview would be helpful to gain their perspective. Be able to articulate where you would be a good fit for the program as well as where you can be an asset. Avoid using the one sentence answer of… “You have good rankings in the US News and World Report” as this should NOT be your sole reason for attending the program!

Anticipate questions and prepare and practice your responses. Be prepared to explain any glitches in your resume or on your transcripts (i.e. The D you received in Calculus or the year after college when you were unemployed).

Do a Mock Interview

Make an appointment with Career Services for a mock interview. A counselor will ask you some typical questions, take notes, and then give you constructive feedback on your performance. Practice makes perfect, and you may be able to take a practice round more seriously if it is not your roommate conducting the interview!

Review your statement of purpose, application, and resume before the interview to ensure all information is consistent and your strengths, skills, and interests are highlighted.

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How to Perform (During the Interview)

 

Dress Professionally

When in doubt of the dress code for the interview, a suit is best. Coming to an interview underdressed can be a sign of disrespect and lack of care. Sometimes interview dress can be business casual, but talk to an admissions representative or the person/people conducting the interview before you make this assumption. Give yourself enough time the morning of the interview to do your hair, and get a haircut if you need at least a week in advance to avoid the “fresh haircut” look. Some programs are more conservative than others about unnatural hair colors and alternative looking hairstyles. Use your best judgment and/or talk to an admissions representative to see if you should do away with the Mohawk and pink hair. Any makeup or accessories you wear should be subtle. If you are still uncertain about what to wear, ask a career counselor or trusted faculty member what they think is appropriate.

Be Punctual

Plan to be ten to fifteen minutes early to plan for any mishaps that may occur. Take into account time for parking and getting lost. If possible, try to find the location the day before so you know how to get there. Campuses can often be confusing, and you do not want to be sweating bullets when you finally show up for your interview!

Game Face on the Entire Time

This includes being courteous to EVERYONE you meet. Often graduate school interviews will have multiple stages, including a meal with current students or fellow applicants. Do not speak freely about this actually being your third choice program, or what you thought about that dimwit professor that conducted your interview in the morning. While you may be trying to bond by sharing information, negative comments have a way of spreading, so keep your guard up! You never know who has influence or say on your admittance, so treat the front desk manager and the Chair of the department with the same level of respect. This is good practice in general as a good human being and for the fact that the front desk person is usually the one that runs the show!

Be Confident

They invited you to campus for a reason, so rest assured of your right to the interview. Walk into the interview with a smile and shake the interviewer’s hand with a good grip. Maintain good posture and eye contact and try to be as natural as possible (letting some of your personality/sense of humor show through). Be aware of the speed with which you are talking as well as the tone of your voice. Be curious and persuasive, but not overbearing.

Be Specific in Your Answers

Select relevant information that will demonstrate your strengths for the program you have chosen. Use specific examples to support your statements, and do not avoid difficult questions. If an interviewer asks about your weaknesses, they actually want to hear a weakness; you can, however, quickly turn the answer into a positive by telling them how you are taking proactive steps to overcome the weakness. Answer questions directly, or you run the risk of coming off as insincere.

Be Prepared to Answer Different Types of Questions (Hypothetical, Problem Solving Situational, or Research Related)

All interviewers have a different style and protocol. There are genres of questions that are more typical for certain programs, but you should be moderately prepared to answer any of the types of questions mentioned above. Do not be caught off guard by hypothetical questions that present a scenario and ask you what you would do (especially in pre-professional program). Also prepare 6-8 anecdotes of your accomplishments, leadership skills, teamwork skills, etc. that could answer the situational questions “tell me about a time when…” Be able to speak about the research in your field of study, and where you think you might be able to add to the body of literature. For a more complete guide to answering different types of questions, please refer to the interviewing section of the Career Services website.

Have a Contingency Plan

If you absolutely cannot think of how to answer a given question, follow these steps:

  1. Buy a small amount of time by asking if they can repeat the question (do not do this every time because it gets annoying and they will question your ability to listen).
  2. Calm down. Silence feels like an eternity to you as the interviewee, but a few moments of silence as you gather your thoughts is worlds better than you launching into an ill-prepared response. You may think of a brilliant answer!
  3. If you have your resume with you, you can briefly scan it to see if anything jogs your memory.
  4. Give the closest example that you can think of (i.e. if they ask you about a time that you led a team and you cannot think of one, tell them about a time you were a crucial member of a team).
  5. Check in with the interviewer. Say something like “I am not sure if that fully answered your question, would you like me to try again?”
  6. If you absolutely cannot think of anything, ask the interviewer if you can move on and come back to that one. While you are thinking of other responses, you might think of an answer to the question that evaded you before.

Be Sincerely Interested

Show by your attitude that you really want to attend this program and university. Be enthusiastic and participate fully by preparing questions for the end of the interview. Ask meaningful questions that show you have researched the department as well as ones that show you have been listening to the interviewers. You are as much interviewing the program as they are interviewing you, so you want to ask questions of importance to you. When the interviewer is answering your questions, make sure to listen actively by leaning in, nodding your head at times, and asking follow up questions when appropriate.

Conclude Strongly

At the end of the interview, you can briefly summarize the key points you wanted to get across and/or say anything you may not have been able to imbed in your responses. Thank the interviewer(s) for their time and make sure you get a card or at least an email address for follow up purposes. Shake the interviewer(s) hand and exit the room confidently.

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Follow Up (After the Interview)

 

Send a Thank You Letter and Forward Additional Materials Promptly

Immediately following the interview, write a brief note to all interviewer(s). Thank them for taking time to see you, and reiterate your interest in the university and the specific program to which you have applied. Also send thank you notes to anyone else you ate a meal with or interacted with in a meaningful way. If anything additional is requested, or if you discover anything that is missing from your file, follow up immediately.

Follow-Up

If you do not hear back from the admissions people within the timeframe they suggested you would hear news, call or email your interviewers to check in.  If you are not accepted, call (or email) to ask what you can do to improve your chances in the future. If possible, personal appointments might also be appropriate for your top choice schools. It is better to swallow some pride and receive constructive feedback then to make the same mistakes repeatedly.

Keep an Optimistic Outlook

Applying for graduate school is stressful for everyone, but having a negative attitude will make the experience that much worse. Even if you do not feel that your interview went as well as you would have hoped, you never know when the acceptance might be just around the corner.

Use Career Services

For more detailed and personalized advice, take advantage of our services.

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Further Graduate School Interview Resources

About.com

GradSchoolTips.com

Most Commonly Asked Interview Questions


General

  • Tell me about yourself. How would you describe yourself to someone wanting to know about you.
  • Why should I select you over other qualified applicants?
  • What are your career goals?


Educational

  • Why did you choose your major? Why did you choose to go to Fresno State?
  • Best class? Worst class?
  • Scores: GPA? MCAT? DAT? GRE? GMAT? LSAT?
  • Why did you get 2 B's last quarter?
  • Any courses or subjects where you didn't do well in school, but did better on the standardized test, or did well in school but not on the test?
  • Senior Project? Research interests? Research projects?
  • What have you learned from your course of study to prepare you for graduate school and/or this profession?
  • Extracurricular activities/hobbies/community service?


Work/Research Experience in the Field

  • Have you had any clinical, volunteer or work experience? What have you learned from jobs/research?
  • Strengths? Weaknesses?
  • How do you handle frustration? Stress?
  • What qualifications do you have that make you think you will be successful in ...
  • How would an employer/professor/friend describe you?
  • What suggestions have employers/professors made to help you improve your performance?
  • Knowledge of Issues in Field
  • With what theoretical/research/philosophical approaches to the field do you identify?
  • If you had to pick a topic for a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation, what might it be?
  • What journals do you read? Professional organizations belong to?
  • Who (within the field) has influenced you the most? What books have influenced you the most?
  • What training model are you interested in?
  • How will you contribute to this field?
  • What do you consider the biggest issue facing the profession today? Next 5/10 years?
  • Knowledge of Specific University and/or Program
  • Why are you interested in this program? What are your qualifications for our program?
  • Why should we take you? Why is our program right for you?
  • What do you know about our program?

Personal

  • Why do you want to be a ...?
  • Why do you think you are personally suited to provide clinical (or...) services to others?
  • Are you interested in a particular specialty?
  • How do you feel that your background will influence your research, clinical work and areas of interest?
  • What will you do if you are not accepted?
  • How will you finance your education?
  • How do you feel about giving up a paying job for several years?
  • Will it be a problem for you to live in the city?
  • What other schools have you applied to? Been accepted by?
  • What do you do to relax?
  • Do you have any fears about attending ... (this) school? What are they?
  • Questions about reading, movie, or music tastes; most recent films seen or books read
  • Questions about influences in your life: person/books/family member

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Questions for you to Ask at the Interview


Professional and graduate schools, like individuals, are very different -- in their philosophies, faculties, curricula, and the type of students they attract. Consequently, selecting the "best" school for you can be very challenging. The following set of questions was compiled to help you in evaluating schools you will visit. This list is by no means complete; it was designed to serve as a base for your own questions. Keep in mind that the interview represents a wonderful time for you to learn, so don't be shy about asking anyone your questions.

Curriculum

  • Are there opportunities for students to design, conduct, and publish their own research?
  • Is there flexibility in the coursework (the number of electives) and the timing of the courses (accelerating, decelerating, and time off)?
  • Has this school, or any of departments, been on probation or had its accreditation revoked?
  • How do students from this school perform on licensing exams ? How does the school assist students who don't pass?
  • What is the faculty to student ratio?
  • What's the retention rate?
  • Are there minors available or required?
  • What is the average number of years that most Ph.D. candidates stay in the program?
  • What kind of practicum/internship opportunities would I have? When would these begin?


Evaluation

  • How are students evaluated academically?
  • Is there a formal mechanism in place for students to evaluate their professors? What changes have been made recently as a result of this feedback?


Counseling/Student Support

  • What kind of academic, personal, financial, and career counseling is available to students? Are these services also offered to their spouses and dependents/children?
  • Is there a mentor/advisor system? Who are the advisors -- faculty members, other students, or both?
  • How diverse is the student body? Are there support services or organizations for ethnic minorities and women?


Facilities

  • Tell me about the library, laboratory and extracurricular facilities (i.e., housing and athletic/recreational).
  • Are there computer facilities available to students? Are they integrated into the curriculum?

Financial Aid/Teaching and Research Assistantships

  • How are research and teaching assistantships assigned?
  • What is the current tuition and fees? Is this expected to increase yearly? If so, at what rate?
  • Would I be likely to get financial aid in my first year? Will the aid increase or decrease over time?
  • Are there stable levels of federal financial aid and substantial amounts of university endowment aid available?
  • Are there students who have an "unmet need" factor in their budget? If so, where do these students come up with the extra funds?
  • Are spouses and dependents/children covered in a student's budget?
  • Is someone available to assist students with budgeting and financial planning?
  • Does this school provide guidance to its students, and to its graduates/alumni, on debt management?
  • Are there jobs available? Is it possible to work and go to school successfully?

Policies

  • Is there a school Honor Code?
  • Is there a graduate student union? Are the students involved?


Career Services

  • How successful are graduates of this program in getting jobs? What kinds of jobs?

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