How To Prepare for a Grad School Interview

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Updated August 4, 2020

For graduating college seniors who are planning to attend graduate school, learning how to prepare for a grad school interview is top on their list of things to do.

A graduate degree often allows for further advancement, higher pay, or a higher starting position than a bachelors degree in the same subject. The most popular masters program is business administration (MBA), with education trailing behind, both career-focused paths. A doctoral student may go into the workforce with even more advantage, but often doctoral students remain in research and academia after graduation. Doctoral programs are stricter with admittance, requiring higher GPAs and related community service or internships in the field of study.

Because of the benefits of getting a graduate degree, the stakes are high. Learning how best to streamline your application process and give your best possible interview is imperative. Detailed below are some tips for your grad school interview.

Before the Grad School Interview: The Application Process

Most graduate schools start new students in the fall, but many programs interview in the spring. It is wise to register for any mandatory tests, such as the GRE or subject tests, in the August preceding the year you intend to begin school. Thus the full process takes an entire year.Usually there are only one or two dates in the fall for a subject test, so it is easy to miss these deadlines. In September, professors and research supervisors must be asked for a letter of recommendation and the GRE test must be taken. In October or November, the application process begins. Applicants will need official sealed transcripts, sealed letters of recommendation, and other forms specific to each school. Applications continue until January, as different schools have different deadlines. In February and March, interview dates and even a few early acceptances begin to arrive. April is interview month, when students travel across the country to interview at each school. The interviews vary widely according to program, but what usually happens is that a group of prospective students will fly in to interview. They will be shown around the campus and have social opportunities with staff and current students, and then have one-on-one interviews with a few possible professors in their research area.

Tips for Preparing for a Grad School Interview

Your first step in preparing for your grad school interview is to research the school and, in particular, the department to which you wish to apply. By the time of the interview, choose at least two professors from the school whose work stands out as interesting and focus on them. Learn about their work, understand their methods, and prepare specific questions.

Also, rest assured that the point of multiple people talking with each student isn't to test them, it is to warn of potential personal, social, or work ethic problems. Especially with prospective mentors, most of the interview is finding out whether working together would be a pleasure or a torment. Present yourself well and have prepared answers for the easy questions like:

"Why are you interested in this school?"
"Why are you interested in this field?"
"What experience do you have with this subject?"
"Who would you like to work with?"
"What do you plan to research?"
"What are your strengths and weaknesses?"
"What are your career goals?"
"What are your questions for me/us?"

You should dress professionally, but don't act overly formal. A black suit is always a safe choice.

Most importantly, be yourself in your grad school interview and try to express how pleasant it would be to have someone like you on the team.

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