Graduate School Interviews
Preparing well in advance for your graduate school interviews can make the process go a lot smoother and alleviate a lot of stress, which could help you perform better. You'll go in knowing you've done all you can to get ready, and that boost of confidence may be the edge you need.
Do Your Homework
A thorough understanding of the school and what it has to offer demonstrates you care enough to take the time to do your research. Before your graduate school interview, make sure you're familiar with any and all of the information available about the school, the program you're applying to and the interview process itself. For example, you may want to research the following:
- School culture and values
- Program milestones and accomplishments
- Faculty you'll be learning from
- Student population
- Resources and opportunities offered
Anticipate the Questions
Dedicate some time to preparing for what you might be asked in your graduate school interview. If you're lucky, you might be able to find out about the kinds of things they might ask you. For example, you could talk to people who have interviewed there before, read about the process online or even get in touch with admissions or alumni of the program.
But if that information isn't available, you can still get ready. Here is a list of top interview questions and how to answer some of the more tricky/complex questions.
Why do you want to go here?
This question might be the most common. There are a few key elements you could consider:
- What you like best about that program and university
- Your familiarity with the school
- How that program could support your goals and interests
Think about each of these factors when putting together your response. That will help ensure that you're both focused and sufficiently detailed. Answering thoroughly and thoughtfully will demonstrate how much effort you've put into your application. Staying focused on these points will also help you sound professional and concise.
What are your research interests?
If you're applying to a more academic- or research-focused graduate program as opposed to one that looks toward a certain career, this question will be asked. It's important to have a detailed answer to this question. That should include a few key elements:
- Your specific topic (This should be fairly narrow! Your research area isn't the whole field of biology)
- Your background and experience with that topic (This includes research you've already done, prior coursework, work experience and similar accomplishments)
- Why you're interested in that topic (Did you have a personal experience that led you to this topic? Make it personal!)
How will you add to our program?
The school also considers what you will bring to the program. In many cases, some grad school interview questions will be dedicated to exactly that. Your answer could have to do with your diverse personal or academic background, unique skills, driven personality — whatever you see as your strongest asset. Now is your chance to sell yourself. Be honest and show the school what a valuable addition you'd be to its community!
What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
If you're applying to a more career-oriented program, this type of question could be extremely critical. You're pursuing your degree for a reason. What is it? Explain why your graduate education could be a valuable asset! If you can, connect your goals to the school or program where you're applying. For example, is there a member of the faculty whose work and career you admire and wish to emulate?
Explain why your goals are important, not just for you, but for the world, your field and your community.
What do you see as the major trends in your field?
This question is about evaluating your expertise. You might say you want to study venomous animals, but how fluent are you in that field? Before your interview, make sure you're familiar with current or recent influential research, especially related to your own topic of study. Be able to speak on the content and findings, the implications of that research and other relevant details. And don't be afraid to share your own informed opinions on these topics!
List some of your strengths and weaknesses.
When listing your strengths and weaknesses, make sure you keep your goal in mind — acceptance to a specific program. Try and focus on strengths that apply to the work you'd be doing as a student or as a member of the broader school community. Make sure you illustrate these with concrete examples. As for weaknesses, be honest, but constructive. It might be tempting, but try and avoid the somewhat dishonest strategy of naming a supposed weakness that's actually a strength. Instead, demonstrate self-awareness by naming a concrete weakness you've noticed in yourself and elaborating on what you're doing to overcome it.
What questions do you have for me?
This is definitely a question you want to prepare for! The only way you could get it wrong would be if you don't have any questions to ask. Try to prepare a few, just in case some are covered by your interviewer before you get a chance to ask. And try to be insightful rather than asking basic questions you could have figured out on your own. You could ask about research opportunities, working with specific faculty, recent faculty or student publications, what career paths graduates have pursued… whatever it is that sparks your interest! This shows that you're actively interested, perceptive and that you've done your reading.
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