Interviews for graduate school can be daunting, especially when the stakes are high and competition feels fierce. Remind yourself that interviewing is a two-way-street: this is also your opportunity to assess whether the program is a good fit.

Proper preparation is the key to a successful interview, and here are some guidelines that should help.

  • Getting the interview. You already got an interview, which means that one or more people have reviewed your application and feel confident (at least on paper) that you have what it takes to succeed in graduate school. Now you just need to prove that they are right.[Read more: How your grad school interview is evaluated]
  • Phone Interview. Often the first interview will be on the phone prior to receiving an invitation for a face-to-face meeting. Believe it or not, research shows that smiling while talking on the phone and dressing up for the phone interview can help to demonstrate professionalism, confidence and personability!
  • Elevator Pitch. “Tell me about yourself” is usually one of the first questions asked during any interview. This is an open-ended question that nobody has an excuse to mess up. Prepare a 30 second narrative that combines a bit of individual history, education/work background and something a bit more personal like hobbies or interests.[Read more: Interview Tips: Tell me about yourself]
  • Resume. Anything that you provided on your resume is open for questions, so be ready to address them when they come up.[Read more: How to fill gaps in your résumé]
  • Why are you interested in…? You applied for the graduate program, and you need to be able to articulate what it is that attracted you to it. Be specific, concise and confident in your answer. Prior to the interview, do some research – more than just a quick review of their website. Look up some articles and pick something that truly interests you. This will impress the interviewer as you show your initiative and dedication.
  • Common Questions. You should prepare for questions about accomplishments and successes, as well as failures and challenges. When answering questions about negative information, be sure not to provide information that could cause concern. These are delicate questions that need to be answered with care, so it is very important to prepare for them in advance.[Read more: The Grad School Interview: How to explain a flaw in your record]
  • Ask Your Own Questions. Prepare at least five good, thoughtful questions for the end of the interview. When you are asked if you have questions, saying that you don’t have any may be interpreted as a lack of enthusiasm or that you weren’t listening. If you are prepared with several questions, it is an indication of your interest. This is also your chance to gain information for your own benefit (remember the two-way street). The very last question you ask should be what the next steps/timeline for the process is.[Read more: Questions you should be asking about graduate school]
  • Thank You Notes. Within 24 hours of your interview, send thank you notes to everyone you spoke with. This is the perfect time to reiterate your interest. Emails are fine, the most important thing is that you do it in a timely manner.
About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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