It’s February 2011 and graduate school faculty members all across the country are sifting through massive stacks of applications, deciding who will be invited to attend the oh-so-exciting INTERVIEW DAY! Not all graduate school programs require in-person interviews, but for most, it is a vital step in the application process.
This time last year, I attended five interviews in five different states within a two-month timespan. I was completely physically, emotionally and financially drained. The format varied from school to school but the purpose was the same- assessing whether the applicants are a) not sociopaths and b) a good fit for the program. Given the kind of programs I was applying to (Clinical Psychology) and my own neuroses, the event felt like an episode of “Survivors” in which the judges were psychologists and the grand prize was a graduate school education.
As someone who survived the process and is now a student interviewer, I hope graduate school applicants find the following suggestions constructive.
Interview Day Tips
1. People are watching!
Consider every minute you are around students and faculty as part of the interview process. The formal one-on-one closed-door meetings are the most important aspects of the interview but it is imperative to be on point at all times. If there is a social event with alcohol, have ONE drink! If you are a smoker, throw on a patch! If you have gastrointestinal issues, eat wisely!
2. Practice Practice Practice!
Think about what kind of questions will be asked and do a mock interview with a friend. Be prepared to answer any question the interviewer may ask. There are many books and online resources discussing the kinds of questions that are asked.
3. Prepare Questions!
Have a list of questions ready to ask the interviewers. There will be an opportunity for you to ask questions. Having a pre-written list of program-specific questions demonstrates maturity and a genuine interest in the school. Consider the day also as an opportunity to interview the school.
4. Be Confident but not Arrogant!
It is a major accomplishment to be one of the top applicants who receives an interview. Be proud of yourself for reaching this point but remember, you have not been accepted yet. Similarly, do not come off overly eager or desperate.
5. Be Emotionally Prepared!
Interviewing is an anxiety provoking process. The first one is the hardest but it definitely gets easier. Self-care is crucial during this time so know what it takes for you to be at your best. For example, get as much sleep as possible before the interview, eat well, and go easy on the caffeine.
One final thing to note is that by the end of the interview day, you will have a much stronger sense of whether or not you belong at that particular school. After meeting the faculty, touring the campus, and exploring the city at my fourth choice school, it immediately became my number one. A few months later, I showed up with a moving truck!
Best of luck as you commence upon this next stage of the graduate school application process.