The almost-there feeling of getting an interview for graduate school is both an exciting and daunting one. You feel accomplished for sending out those applications and validated that you are headed in the right direction. So pat yourself on the back for making it to the next step and get ready for your interview the right way.
First and foremost, be yourself. Your background and interests were what brought you to the interview and now it’s just a matter of figuring out if the program is the perfect fit for you. Faculty, staff, and current students that are interviewing you are looking for students who are genuinely interested in their program and have unique skills and interests to offer. Believing that you are capable and ready is the best way to start preparing. Once you have that covered, prepare with these four tips:
1. Research and Relate
You’ve researched the school in-depth and you know what it stands for. You know the school’s mission and the goals of your program of interest. Now it’s time to familiarize yourself with more specific information. Look into the course catalog and read about the classes you would be taking. Jotting down notes about the learning outcomes for each course can help give you a framework of the “language” and style of the program. Are there specializations that you are interested in? If so, ask yourself why they interest you.
If you are seeking graduate school, there has been some sort of spark within you that has motivated you to learn more. Asking yourself to examine that spark can help you verbalize how your personal history blends with your curiosity for the program. Other details to look for include what types of internship or fieldwork opportunities they offer, graduate assistantships or fellowships, and faculty-specific research interests that tie in with yours. It’s helpful to have this sort of knowledge bank so you can connect what you have learned and experienced so far with what you will be learning in the future.
2. Know the Interview Format
It’s always good to know if you will be in an individual or group interview. In many cases, a program representative will let you know via phone or email what the interview dynamic will be like. If not, it’s okay to inquire with an admissions counselor. Individual interviews allow you to be the main focus of the panel. One of the best ways to prepare is by writing a list of possible interview questions and having a friend conduct a mock interview with you. Pay attention to the length of your answers. Are you being concise or talking too long? Are you saying “um,” “you know,” and other filler words? What are your hands, arms, and legs doing while you’re talking? Have a colleague take note of fidgeting, awkward pauses, volume, and eye contact.
With group interviews, the attention is divided and things can get a little tricky. Fortunately, there are ways to make group interviews go a lot more smoothly. For starters, non-verbal communication can keep you engaged throughout the interview even when you’re not the one talking. Nodding your head in response to others shows that you are listening and open to what everyone is saying. If the panel asks a question and does not direct anyone to start answering, wait a few moments to gauge the room and be the first to answer if you are ready. If another person begins to answer first, do not worry. The most important thing is what you say, not when you say it. If you’re looking for a way to begin your answer, try short starter statements like “I’ll start this one off,” or “I agree with that and have a similar experience as well,” or “I’ve considered this a lot while applying and…,” or “There are a few things that come to mind including _____ and ______.” Statements like these will help you ease into your answer and help you sound prepared and reflective.
3. Prepare with Questions That Ask More
It is common for faculty and program directors to ask questions that dig deeper than the expected “So why choose our school?” question. Rather than asking a question at surface level, they may ask a question with a different angle to examine how you respond to more difficult subject matter. For example, rather than asking about your opinions or experience with diversity, they may ask what about diversity makes you uncomfortable and how you see yourself overcoming that. Rather than just asking what makes you a good candidate for the program they may ask what you have done to prepare yourself for the rigor of graduate studies. It’s always a good idea to ask yourself the hard questions before the real thing.
4. Absorb and Emit Positivity
Although you may be nervous during your interview, good energy can get you through it. Condition yourself with positive thoughts before and during the interview. Having good thoughts about yourself and those around you can show through the tone of your voice, facial expressions, and body language. It can also calm you down if you begin to feel anxious. Feel excited about the opportunity at hand to meet professionals at each school. Feel proud of your accomplishments and thankful for the chance to share more about yourself. Remind yourself that the outcome of your interview does not define you as a person and that whatever comes your way is for your benefit. You have come a long way to now be in a turning point towards graduate studies. Be confident and be you, and the rest will fall right into place.