Congratulations! The graduate school admissions committee has decided your application for admission is strong enough to merit an interview.
Go ahead and pat yourself on the back or unleash an enthusiastic fist pump, but not both. Save one for later, because you still need to prepare for the interview to put yourself in the best position to celebrate an acceptance letter.
The school is investing time and money to get to know you better — assessing maturity, interpersonal skills, and what motivates you — while determining if you will be a good fit for their school. Just as importantly, this is your opportunity to get a close-up of the school, faculty and perhaps even a new city as you decide on the best place to advance your career goals.
This is your guide to clearing the interview hurdle.
What to expect
Depending on the school, each faculty interview will last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours complete with a lab tour, and the entire visit may take two to three days, especially if you’re traveling from out of town. A typical itinerary might look like this:
- Day One: Flight arrival and dinner with a group of current graduate students or alumni.
- Day Two: Formal interviews with faculty members, and meetings with the deans and students. You may also tour scientific laboratories, research facilities.
- Day Three: Departure.
You will meet faculty who will want to gauge your ability to critically and analytically think. They may ask you about any previous research you have pursued and about your future research goals to understand whether you will be a good fit in their lab, department, or school. One of those faculty members may be your research advisor one day, so investigate their research ahead of your visit — make Google and PubMed your friends!
During your tour of the campus, laboratories, and facilities, ask questions about areas that will impact you that are hard to learn from websites: Are there student support services? What about core facilities and other shared laboratory resources? What fancy pieces of equipment are available that will allow cutting-edge research? You should also try to get a sense of the culture within the graduate school and in your program of interest, as well as the institution and the community. After all, this may be your new home for the next several years. Interactions with current students are invaluable because they will give you a point of view from the ground floor. Do they seem excited about the program? What do they have to say about the curriculum and faculty?
The admissions committee already knows all about your GPA, coursework and research accomplishments. The grad school interview will help you and the school understand whether you will be a good fit for their programs. Is your passion for their research obvious? Are your research interests aligned with those of some of their faculty so that you will have a potential lab home? Are you excited about their programs or particular labs?
How to prepare for a grad school interview
“You will receive your interview schedule before your visit, so understanding the research done by faculty members that will interview you as well as information about the programs and school will help ensure that your interview goes smoothly,” she says.
Other grad school interview tips for the big day
- Consider your entire visit as part of the graduate school interview process. You need to always be professional — from the time you arrive to the moment you leave.
- You are not only trying to impress faculty. You might meet staff who will share notes with deans of admissions.
- You may feel more at ease talking students, but keep in mind that they may also be asked to provide feedback about you. Speaking negatively about a faculty mentor or your graduate school interview experience is frowned upon, so refrain from discussing your interviews in settings with faculty, administrators and students. Read the room and know your audience.
- Limit your alcohol consumption during social events.
Grad school interview questions
Interviewers have different styles, so no two interviews are alike. There are, however, some things to keep in mind to help with preparation.
You may get one or two basic questions (e.g., "Tell me about yourself. What type of research interests you?"), but the interviewer has limited time and already knows many of those details from your application.
“That takes a lot of the guesswork out of which questions to ask,” Wilson-Pham says. “Much of the interview process is about your research interests and mitigating any potential red flags. Why did you take four years to complete a master’s degree that normally takes two? Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances. What we don’t want to hear is, ‘I hated my mentor. I hated my research project.’”
You are also likely to be asked about your involvement in research projects that you found to be particularly exciting. Why was the project significant? What role did you play in the project? What did you learn? Were the results exciting and why? These types of questions allow the interviewer to get an idea of your knowledge and level of thinking about the “big-picture” and whether you are able to put your work into a larger context.
You might be asked about other schools to which you have applied and why you are eying a specific city. Yes, Chicago has great shopping and restaurants, but those should not be your main reasons for applying to graduate school. Perhaps the area and institution are a hub for experts in your area of interest.
Remember that the grad school interview is a two-way conversation. Ask questions that show you are knowledgeable about the research and faculty. Displaying your knowledge about the school sets you apart from other candidates and tells the interviewer that you have done your homework.
After the interview
Your application is likely already strong if you have made it to the grad school interview stage. The interview is meant to confirm everything that the admissions committee has gleaned from your application.
Faculty interviewers assess your interview and provide input to the admissions committee. The admissions committee will either make an admissions decision or present your case for admission to the dean, who will make a final decision.
In most instances, you will receive a formal decision letter fairly soon after your interview — perhaps even within a week. Graduate schools know that you are considering multiple schools, and they do not want to risk losing you by waiting too long to make a decision.
If you have prepared properly, hopefully you will receive some good news from your school of choice. Then it will be high time for some high-fives.
Rush Unviersity's Graduate College offers programs in Integrated Biomedical Sciences, Clinical Research and Biotechnology. Learn more.