I Have an Interview! Now What? Demystifying the Graduate School Interview Process
James J. Hodge
University of Vermont
You’ve just received a phone call or e-mail inviting you to interview at one of the programs on your list. Now what? After months of stressing over the GRE, graduate school applications, letters of recommendation, and personal statements, you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, in order to reach that light, you must first successfully navigate through the graduate school interview process. Applicants often have questions about the interview process, and knowing the answers will help pave the way towards a successful interview. This article addresses some of these common questions and helps demystify the graduate school interview process.
How Should I Prepare for the Interview?
Preparation is everything. Before you venture off to your graduate school interview, you should take time to ensure that you are prepared and organized. Create an interview folder with copies of your curriculum vitae, personal statement, senior thesis (if applicable), and any other scholarly work that you described in your application. Questions about your academic skills and accomplishments are sure to come up during the interview. You may want to rehearse your answers to make sure you’re ready to address them. If you’re visiting a research-oriented program, you may want to carefully read through recent articles and research statements by the faculty that you’d like to work with before your interview, so that you can ask good questions and speak articulately about the faculty member’s research.
What Should I Wear?
First impressions are powerful. One of your main goals during the interview is to portray yourself as a budding academic professional, and that starts with your appearance. Ripped jeans and your favorite polo might look good on a Friday night downtown, but graduate interviews aren’t the venue for this outfit. Business attire is the (only) way to go. It’s better to err on the side of too dressed up rather than too casual. Avoid wearing things that are too flashy or revealing – again, you’re not going to a club! Bottom line, you took the time to travel to this interview because you’re serious about your future, so dress like it!
What Kinds of Questions Will They Ask Me?
Graduate school interviews are like job interviews. You’ll meet with faculty and possibly graduate students who want to gauge how well you fit in with their program. Each interview will vary, but most of the questions you’ll be asked will give you the opportunity to explain and expand upon the skills and accomplishments you listed in your application. You should expect questions about how you became interested in your particular field of psychology, your major strengths and weaknesses, your goals for graduate school, and where you see yourself after the program. In addition, if you’re interviewing at a research-oriented program, you’ll likely be asked to describe your undergraduate research, what you found challenging and rewarding, what you learned, and what type of research you hope to conduct in graduate school.
Should I Ask Questions Too?
Yes! Interviews are a great opportunity to ask your potential advisor, other faculty members, and graduate students questions that will help you decide whether their program is right for you. Asking questions is also a great way to express your interest in the program. Take advantage of this opportunity! If you’re interviewing with your potential advisor, you should ask questions about their mentoring style, such as how closely they work with their students, frequency of lab meetings, expectations of their graduate students, and opportunities for publications and presentations. If you’re interviewing with other faculty members or graduate students, general questions about course work, comprehensive exams, day-to-day schedules, and graduate stipends are all appropriate. Your graduate interview should be a mutual assessment process by which the program learns more about you while you learn more about the program, and the best way to learn about the program is by asking questions!
How Should I Behave During the Interview?
You will be nervous during your interview. Bank on it. How you cope with these nerves, however, is what really matters. Appearing overly anxious to the point of shaking excessively, sweating profusely, and randomly speaking in tongues probably won’t assure the faculty that you could perform successfully in a similarly stressful climate (i.e., graduate school). Try to relax, maintain a good posture, smile, make eye contact, and speak clearly and concisely. If you become overly anxious, remind yourself of the preparation you put into the interview and remember that the people sitting across from you were once in your shoes. They are genuinely interested in getting to know you and, most of all, they want you to succeed! You wouldn’t have been invited for an interview if the faculty didn’t think that you would be a good fit for the program.
How Should I Behave “After” the Interview?
Programs often organize a social event during your visit. These events can be a great way to ask faculty and graduate students questions that you didn’t have time for or forgot to ask during your interview. These events also provide a venue for getting to know each other outside of the academic setting. After all, what they know about you up until this point comes only from your application and your formal interview. Take advantage of this time to reveal a well-rounded version of yourself. With this in mind, be aware that your interview technically doesn’t end until you leave campus; your behavior at these events will be noted. You are expected to relax and enjoy yourself, but don’t be the person who drinks too much and makes inappropriate remarks. It’s not flattering and will severely damage the professional image that you worked so hard to create. When you leave, don’t forget to send your potential advisor (if applicable) an e-mail expressing your interest in working with them and thanking them for taking the time to meet with you. Also, if you stayed with a graduate student host, sending them a thank you e-mail doesn’t hurt either!
American Psychological Association (2008). Applying to graduate school in psychology: Advice from successful students and prominent psychologists. A. C. Kracen & I. J. Wallace (Eds.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
American Psychological Association (2007). Getting in: A step-by-step plan for gaining admission to graduate school in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
James Hodge is a fourth-year doctoral student in the Social Psychology program at the University of Vermont. Broadly, his research explores stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Current areas of exploration include sexism and sexual harassment, mental health stigma, HIV/AIDS stigma, weight stigma, and stereotype threat. James is the former APSSC Undergraduate Advocate and current President.
Kris Gunawan and Nicholas R. Eaton served as the editors of this manuscript.