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How to prepare for a grad school interview

June 22, 2021
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A formal interview is a common part of applying to a graduate degree program, especially a field of study like counseling. The purpose of a graduate school interview is to provide an opportunity for the admissions committee to learn more about you, your career goals and determine if you're a good fit for the program. But it's also your chance to ask a few questions to get a feel for the program and its expectations to see if it aligns with your interests. Grad school interviews can be competitive and make a lot of people nervous, but the key to success is preparation. With the proper research and practice, you can make a great impression and get one step further in the acceptance process and make it into your chosen graduate program.

Research and self-preparation

There are easily a dozen reasons why you decided on the program you’re applying to. It may be that you were interested in a flexible online program, or you are aware of the program because of its school’s reputation. Before your interview, it is important to do further research into the program, its faculty and its curriculum. Take notes on each graduate program you're interviewing for and pay attention to the ways each program differs from the others. You'll likely naturally come up with insightful questions that you can bring to your interview. Some things to pay attention to in your research of graduate programs include:

  • Curriculum focus: does the program align with your academic interests? Does the program's curriculum include field work? Does it prepare you for counseling licensure?
  • Faculty experience and research interests: are there experts you'd like to work with or learn from at each graduate school? Are faculty invested in student mentorship?
  • Career outcomes: What's the graduation rate of students in the program? Does this particular program provide the skills that will properly prepare you to reach your career goals?

Also, remember to do some research on the person who will actually be conducting your grad school interview. This person will most likely be from the faculty, admissions staff, or an alumni member. Use LinkedIn and Google to look up their experience, current role, publications and interests. This will help you get comfortable and could help you find commonalities that make the interview feel more like talking to someone you're interested in learning more about.

Finally, don't forget to review your own application. If a personal statement was a part of the admissions documents you submitted, be sure to look it over again. Your interviewer has most likely read your essay, so you should expect to be able to speak to and elaborate on what you submitted. The grad school interview is also a great opportunity to highlight academic success, past experiences, or other relevant interests that you feel don't come across in your written application.

Practice for the interview

Much like a job interview, there are very common grad school interview questions to expect:

  • Why do you want to earn this degree?
  • Why do you want to attend this school?
  • What do you hope to accomplish with this degree?

You should also be prepared to answer questions about yourself: for example, your strengths and weaknesses, a time you might have experienced failure, a time you succeeded, favorite undergraduate classes and even your hobbies.

It’s important to prepare your answers to these types of questions in advance. Even writing your answers down in outline form can help you organize your thoughts and remember them later on. If you know that you tend to struggle articulating yourself, practice saying your responses out loud a few times. Rehearsing talking points might seem like going above and beyond, but chances are, there are several past projects or work experiences that are very likely to come up during your interview. It’s critical to be able to speak about them with confidence and without skipping any important details.

To get the best practice, find a friend, family member or colleague who is willing to schedule some time to do mock interviews. Putting yourself in a realistic back-and-forth situation answering questions for a friend will help you down the line when you're answering actual graduate school interview questions. It's ok if you stumble over some of the answers the first time, just make sure to take note of the topics or questions you struggle with.

Asking thoughtful questions

It is almost a guarantee that after you have finished answering questions, your interviewer will ask if you have any questions for them. This part of the interview is important on two fronts: First, it allows you to gain some additional insights about the program, and second, it gives you the opportunity to show how engaged you are with the program. Sample graduate school interview questions you could ask the interviewer include:

  • If they are faculty or alumni, ask: what are the stand-out strengths of the program?
  • If they are alumni, ask: what did they find to be the most challenging part of the program?
  • What are the internship or practicum experiences like?
  • What career resources does the graduate school offer?
  • Is there an academic success department or other academic resources for students?

Asking thoughtful questions shows your dedicated interest to the program and that you are truly excited for this opportunity. While you were researching the program, did anything stand out? If you are excited about an on-site internship or a specific class, now is your chance to learn more about it. You could also seek the interviewer's advice for succeeding in graduate school or what types of students do best in the program, what the cohort is like, or how they would describe the school's culture.

Dress and presentation

Plan on dressing for your graduate school interview the same way you would for a job interview. Wear professional clothes that are pressed and neat. If you're meeting in-person, consider wearing a suit, a blouse or button-down shirt, and slacks or skirt.

Many applicants might find themselves doing video or phone graduate school interviews instead of meeting with the admissions committee in person. This should not be your opportunity to do an interview in sweatpants. When you dress the part of a qualified applicant, you also have the awareness and mindset to speak and hold yourself as a qualified applicant. Even if the admissions committee cannot see your full interview ensemble, they will be able to notice the confidence and professionalism you project through your words and tone.

Remembering the basics

Whether your graduate school interviews are in person or over a video call, remember to keep in mind these basics:

  • Bring additional copies of your resume.
  • Plan on arriving at least 30 minutes before the interview in case of traffic or public transportation issues.
  • Remember to send thank-you notes following the interview

If you are doing a virtual interview:

  • Do you have a quiet place to set up?
  • Have you double checked that your sound and audio is working correctly?
  • Do you have a stable internet connection?

While small, these details add up and can make a real difference to your interview experience

Preparing for your graduate school interview at Marquette

As part of the admissions requirements in our online master’s in clinical mental health counseling program, applicants will have an interview with a faculty member from our counselor education and counseling psychology program. This short interview is an opportunity for our faculty to get to know you better and for you to become better acquainted with Marquette University and our online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Learn more about our online program and the application process by reaching out to an Admissions Advisor today.