Last Updated: July 03, 2021
The Graduate School Interview Explained
Candidates who applied extensively to colleges and received their interview call will have to face the final step of the interview in order to procure their admission. Candidates often assume that the application process along with procuring the right kind of funding is the toughest part of the process. Because of this, they are often prone to being clueless about what to do once they have received their interview call.
For most graduate programs, the admission process includes a personal interview. Students who are invited for an interview schedule a time to visit the campus for a tour of the facilities and a face-to-face personal meeting with members of the faculty, student body, and admissions department.
Fortunately, being offered an interview puts the odds in favor of the candidate by being made an offer of acceptance. While the previous year’s acceptance rates may offer a general sense of how many students get admission, it’s generally safe to assume that applicants who attend an interview have a 50/50 chance of receiving an offer- much better odds than the often single-digit percentages of applicants offered an interview in the first place.
Even though receiving an offer for an interview is a critical step and a good indicator of potential success, it is still important to invest the appropriate time and energy in preparing to ace the interview.
Types of Interviews
The type of interview opted by colleges/universities will change from institution to institution. The most common types of interviews are practical tests, providing pre-interview tasks, doing a presentation, informal interview, Skype interview, and a formal interview.
- Practical Tests- This is conducted for subjects related to media and business where aptitude tests are provided for candidates in order to prove themselves.
- Pre-Interview Tasks- For business schools and the like, the colleges might provide candidates with tasks like group discussion to exhibit their speaking and leadership skills before they get selected for the interview.
- Presentation- For candidates who have taken courses like M.Phil. and MRes, taking a presentation about their research topic and the methodology they have opted for research is common practice. But this is not opted for all the courses available.
- Informal Interviews- Candidates will be called by a prospective professor for a discussion either in their office or in a location on campus. The informal nature of the interview should not mislead the candidate and leave them unprepared.
- Skype Interview- Due to different reasons, colleges can set up their interviews online. This is also done for international students who have enrolled in the courses. Candidates might have to face a panel or a single interviewer in such interviews and it is similar to a face-to-face formal interview they might otherwise have.
- Formal Interview- These are the most common interviews that candidates might have to face irrespective of the course they apply for. Candidates will have to face a panel of interviewers or a single interviewer who will ask them questions regarding themselves or the course they have chosen.
Key Elements for a Successful Interview
The preparation for interviews can be done by adopting different means and can differ from person to person. While some candidates will require changes in the way they carry themselves, others might choose to brush up their academic knowledge as a means of preparing for the interview. These methods are all dependent upon the character of the candidate and how they want to appear during the interview.
Essentially, the few tips that candidates can adhere to before the interview are-
Candidates are often at a loss when it comes to preparing for interviews. While preparing for an examination can be done through prep books and online classes, if need be, there are very limited ways in which people can successfully prepare for interviews without giving themselves anxiety. Preparation can include having conversations about the interview, researching the questions that have been previously asked, enquiring more about the college/university, and even paying attention to one’s own personality traits that can come across unfavorably in the interview.
In order to help the preparation, candidates can-
- Talk to the admissions counselor about the interview and take their constructive feedback on the kind of interviews former students have had. Their exposure in the matter of graduate interviews might surpass more than most of the people the candidate is likely to come across and hence can be taken on a serious note.
- Consulting former students and seniors about their interview experiences might also be a good way to take away the fear of the interview in itself. The pointers they provide from their experience might also come in handy during the interview.
- Collecting the day’s agenda from the college and enquiring about the interview set-up is also a mature and professional way of approaching the interview. By enquiring this, candidates will be able to find out whether they will be interviewed by a full panel or if the interview setting is going to be casual in nature both of which require different kinds of preparation.
- Enquire whether the panel will have the candidate’s application at hand or if they would have reviewed it before the interview. In settings where the panel or interviewer has the application at hand, it is important that the candidate keeps their answers consistent.
- Read about the most recent research done in the candidate’s area of interest. Most often, the questions that they receive will be asked to gauge the degree of interest the candidate has in their field of study.
Every college and university will have a generic set of questions that they ask every candidate that has ever been interviewed in their setting. Talking to alumni will be of great help in figuring out what these questions are. Even if candidates could not find the specific questions that different panels ask, it is quite easy to prepare the answers to the most probable questions.
While preparing answers to each question, candidates must make a note of understanding the context of the question rather than learning it word by word since the structure of the question can change. Some of the common questions that candidates encounter during interviews are-
- The reason for choosing the college or university
- The contribution the candidate is planning to make in their field of study
- The career goals of the candidate
- To discuss a recent journal article.
- The strengths/weaknesses of the candidate
- The questions the candidate has for the interviewers
- The other institutions the candidate has applied to
- The hobbies and interests of the candidate
Presenting Oneself Professionally
The way a candidate carries themselves into the interview room and the posture they keep throughout the interview will all speak a lot about their character. It is important that the candidate stands tall, holds their chin up, their shoulders back and their eyes focused at all times. This doesn’t imply that the candidate has to be on guard at all times but they can definitely train themselves before the interview into appearing confident. Projecting confidence, competence, and warmth are all points that can act in the candidate’s favor.
It is important that candidates wear clean and presentable clothing for the interview. Though there will be no strict dress code and there is a high probability that the interview panel will be casually dressed, the candidate is expected to be dressed for the occasion. Professional attire - a suit and jacket is appropriate for both men and women. This is to be considered for interviews taken in-person and through Skype.
Polishing Communication Skills
Projecting confidence, competence, and warmth during the interview is important. Speaking with clarity and avoiding vocal crutches such as "um", or "like" are important characteristics of a good interview.
Things to Bring to the Interview
Though it is not recommended that the candidate carry a lot of things for the interview, they will be able to carry a few things that can project their personality and increase their chance of being accepted at the college/university.
- Candidates are allowed to bring a notepad and a few pens for the interview in order to note down the feedback or course information they might receive during the interview.
- Candidates are expected to bring copies of their work which they can introduce to the interviewer depending upon the atmosphere.
- It is a good practice to bring a copy of Curriculum Vitae along with copies of academic report cards and proof of other achievements.
Interview Checklist During Preparation
While preparing for the interview candidates can keep a checklist for the things they have to collect and do in order to be fully prepared before the interview day. While it might seem impossible for candidates to do all of it before the interview, it is still advised that candidates follow most of it so they can excel and not falter.
- Collect a copy of the Interview Day Agenda.
- Collect or create a list of faculty members and their professional bios. Be familiar with their research and classes, and prepare some interesting questions to discuss with them.
- Contact a current or former student about their experience.
- Write a personal introduction (500 words).
- Rehearse the personal introduction in front of a mirror or a person.
- Research twenty potential interview questions and prepare unique answers for each.
- Ask three trusted friends and/or mentors to participate in a mock interview.
- Select an outfit that is professional.
- Purchase a set of formal thank you cards and locate the mailing addresses for the admissions department and faculty members.
Interesting Facts about Graduate School Acceptance Rates
- Medical School (M.D.)
Over the past decade, medical schools across the board have seen a steady decline in their acceptance rates. A large part of this is due to a significant increase in the number of applicants. It is no surprise to learn that most medical schools have single-digit acceptance rates. But when the average acceptance rate is broken down into in-state and out-of-state components the in-state acceptance rates are often 3-5 times greater than the overall rate. Though candidates often do not apply to in-state schools, there is undoubtedly a bigger probability of getting accepted there.
- Law School (J.D.)
Unlike their medical school counterparts, students applying to law school are having a slightly easier time compared to a decade ago. With the overall number of applications to law schools in decline, acceptance rates are improving. The greatest disparity in acceptance rates is between programs ranked in the Top 15 universities nationwide versus all others. For those very competitive 15 schools, the acceptance rate has hovered consistently around 9.4% to 30%.
- Masters of Business Administration Programs (M.B.A.)
M.B.A. programs are unique in that they often divide the admissions ‘season’ into three or four ‘Rounds’. Acceptance rates are highest in the early round (Round-1) but, surprisingly, Round-2 receives the greatest number of applications.
- Non-professional Masters Programs (M.A., M.S., M.Div., etc.)
While most people are familiar with the high selectivity of medical, law, and business programs, many may be surprised to learn that other Master’s programs can be just as competitive, if not more. For instance, the most competitive Master’s program, on average, is the Masters of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) with an acceptance rate of just 1.8% in 2015. Nevertheless, candidates can safely expect any highly-ranked graduate program to have an acceptance rate below 30%.
After the Interview
The method of contacting candidates who have been accepted differs from institution to institution. While some colleges and universities might inform the students of their decision right after their interview, some others contact candidates through phone, email, or letter.