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Acing the Graduate School Interview Process
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by Betty Lai, MS, MST - University of Miami (FL)
Categories: Graduate School
Graduate school interviews are a crucial part of the application process. They are
the last hurdle determining whether you enter graduate training. By the time you
are invited for an interview, programs have already decided that you have excellent
credentials and are a qualified candidate. However, schools want to interview you
to see if you are a good fit for the program. This is a daunting and potentially
stressful process. The following is a guide to interviewing, with tips for making
a great impression.
After You Submit Applications
Plan for the costs. Interviewing at schools around the country
is expensive. Nevertheless, interviewing in person may help your chances of being
offered admission; interviews are an opportunity for you to show the school why
you are a great fit for the program. If it is not possible for you to interview
in person, ask if the school offers scholarships or if they will consider a phone
Check your voicemail. Many professors will call or e-mail you to
invite you for an interview. Check your greeting voicemail. Does it sound professional?
If not, change it immediately. Also, some professors “screen” applicants by asking
them questions on the phone before offering interviews. Start to practice your answers
to potential interview questions now.
Think about scheduling. Plan well before schools start to contact
you on how you will schedule interviews. Look for interview dates on school websites,
and mark these dates on a calendar. If dates for interviews overlap, “star” the
school you favor. This will help ensure that you are aware of potential scheduling
conflicts when schools call you. When you schedule an interview, do not cancel your
interview with less than a week’s notice. This does not provide the school with
enough time to find another candidate. This leaves a bad impression on schools that
may harm your ability to collaborate with professors in the future.
After You Accept an Interview
Celebrate! Then book your flights. If students are picking you
up from the airport, book flights that are convenient (i.e., flights arriving at
a reasonable time, at a convenient airport). Booking a 4 am flight landing 50 miles
away will leave an impression, but not the type of impression you want to make.
Clothing. Buy your interview clothes in advance in case your suit
needs alterations. In general, dress conservatively: a suit in black, dark blue,
or grey. Although you may choose to wear one memorable piece of clothing (e.g.,
a shirt in the school’s colors), you want to make sure that people remember your
ideas and personality, not your clothing. Also, pack clothes for other potential
interview events (e.g., informal dinners or trips around the area).
Be reflective. Think about your goals for graduate school. What
do you hope to accomplish? What are your interests? What are you looking for in
a school? Be prepared to talk about these points in your interviews and to explain
why the school’s training is a good fit for your interests.
Do your homework! Read about your potential mentor and other faculty
members; be prepared to discuss how your interests might fit their current work.
Also read about the people in the lab. They are often the best indicator of what
life will be like as a student. Prepare a paper file with this information. Paper
copies will help you keep track of schools if you go to several interviews. Also,
practice potential interview questions with your friends. This will help you feel
slightly more relaxed during your interviews.
During the interview
Be yourself and be enthusiastic. Even if the school is not your
top choice, these are people who are potential future collaborators. Use the interview
to learn more about their work. One way to show enthusiasm is to ask questions.
When interviewing with professors, ask them about their work and the kinds of work
that you would be doing. Oudekerk and Bottoms (2007) provide a list of potential
questions to ask faculty members. Save questions about social life and funding for
Gather information. Interviews are a “two-way street,” a chance
for both you and the school to gather information about each other (Munsey, 2010).
While interviewing, ask yourself, do students seem happy? Would you like it here?
Are the courses, training, and environment right for you?
Be on your best behavior at all times. Remember that graduate students
often let their professors know their impressions of you. Even during “down time,”
be professional. Be yourself, but do not do things or say things that you would
not want professors to know about (e.g., drink a lot of alcohol or badger other
applicants with competitive questions).
After the Interview
Write down your own impressions immediately after
your interviews, because it may be hard to remember these impressions after you
have been to a few interviews. Within a few days of your interview, write thank
you e-mails to faculty and to students. Make notes personal, but keep them relatively
Finally, congratulate yourself! You have completed a difficult part of the graduate
school admission process. Keep in mind that you only need to have one successful
interview to gain admission to graduate school!
For additional reading on graduate school topics,
go online to www.psichi.org/pubs/search.aspx
and browse Eye articles by category–graduate school
Munsey, C. (2010, January). How to avoid interview missteps. GradPSYCH, 8(1),
18. Oudekerk, B., & Bottoms, B. (2007, Fall). Applying to graduate school: The interview
process. Eye on Psi Chi, 12(1), 25.
Betty Lai, MS, MST, is a fifth-year doctoral student in child clinical psychology
at the University of Miami (FL), currently completing her clinical internship at
the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford/Children’s Health Council. Before
graduate school, she taught middle school mathematics and science in New York City
with Teach for America. Her work focuses on traumatic events and health behaviors.
Winter 2011 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 12), published by
Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright,
2010, Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.