How to Prepare for a Grad School Interview

man holding paper, graduate school interview

For a lucky few, the graduate school interview is an opportunity to demonstrate a lifetime of carefully cultivated poise. Those people know the in-person interview will enhance their odds of being accepted. In fact, they’re disappointed if they don’t have a chance to interview.

For the rest of of us, the grad school interview feels more like a trip to the dentist.

Do you feel underprepared for your interviews? Perhaps, in the past, interviews haven’t been the strongest part of your application. Maybe you don’t know how to prepare effectively, or nerves get the best of you. But that doesn’t have to continue being the case! We hope that these graduate school interview tips can help you make a great impression on your school.

Things to Do In Advance of Your Graduate School Interview

Don’t wait until the night before your interview to start getting ready. If you do, you may feel extra nervous. And, unfortunately, those nerves and that lack of preparation are likely to show.

Preparing well in advance for your graduate school interviews could make the process go a lot smoother, and alleviate a lot of stress. And that 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.

  • The School Culture and Values
  • Program Milestones and Accomplishments
  • The Faculty You’ll Be Learning From
  • The 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.

But if that information isn’t available, you can still get ready. Check out our list of sample graduate school interview questions. Or start by thinking of a few “power stories.” These might be familiar to anyone who has undergone a behavioral interview, such as for a potential new job. Basically, power stories are short, true stories from your own life and career that demonstrate the qualities that make you a good candidate. For example, you could talk about leading a research team, overcoming problems, or using your expertise to help others. Preparing these kinds of stories can help ensure you have concrete examples to use when you answer questions about yourself and your experience.

Speaking of questions, there usually comes a point towards the end of the interview in which the interviewer asks if you have any. Anticipate this beforehand and come prepared with at least one or two thoughtful and intelligent questions—ones that can’t be answered by a quick perusal of the school website.

Review Your Online Presence

Are you present on social media? Have you kept a blog? Your interviewers might not look at these things, but it’s a good idea to prepare for it anyway, just in case. Make sure your presence on the internet is professional, and represents you well. And be familiar with what’s out there! That way, if your school does search for your name, you have an idea what they might find, and the kinds of questions they might ask about it.

Graduate School Interview Tips: What to Do the Day Before

The bulk of your preparation should be completed in advance of your scheduled interview, rather than at the last minute. So once that’s as finished as it can be, what do you do with yourself in the day leading up to the interview? Here are some tips on how to calm pre-interview nerves, so that you can make the most of your graduate school interview.

Get A Good Night’s Sleep

A good night’s sleep before your graduate school interview should be your first priority. But if you’re nervous, or prone to overthinking, that might seem like it’s easier said than done.  If that sounds like you, try some of these suggestions to get your rest.

  • Eat Dinner On Time: It’s tempting sometimes to eat late, or to grab that extra snack before bed. That could especially be the case if you’re busy and don’t always get home in time to cook. Before your interview, make the effort to eat a little earlier, and avoid snacking after around 8pm. You might also want to stop drinking coffee later in the day. Eating right before bed could make it a little harder to fall asleep and get the rest you need.
  • Turn Off the Technology: A few hours before you go to bed, consider cutting yourself off from your devices. That includes your laptop, cell phone, and TV. These can keep you awake. Not only are they distracting, but the light these devices emit can sometimes contribute to lack of sleep. If you absolutely need to use your devices up until bed time, man preparing, graduate school interviewtry looking for an app that adjusts the color settings to remove the blues that inspire wakefulness.
  • Chill Out: Spend some time drinking tea, relaxing on the couch, or doing other soothing activities for at least an hour before you attempt to climb under the covers. This can help you get into that relaxed mental state to fall asleep faster.
  • Do Relaxation Exercises: Still can’t fall asleep? Try using some meditative exercises to relax. Lie on your back and take at least five minutes of deep, slow belly breaths, breathing through your nose. Make sure the exhales are slightly longer than the inhales. Breathing this way sends a message to your nervous system to relax. Or try this one: starting at your feet, tense isolated muscle groups for a few seconds, then release them. Work your way up to tensing and releasing your calves, your thighs, and so on.

Eat A Healthy Breakfast

The morning of your grad school interview is not the time to skip your breakfast, or eat an unhealthy one. Each of these scenarios will wreak havoc with your blood sugar, causing it to spike, then crash. Low blood sugar can cause irritability, sleepiness, and difficulty concentrating. That’s not exactly how you want to show up for your interview! Wondering what to eat before an interview? Try and make sure your breakfast is both filling and nutritious. Preferably, it should be rich in fiber, protein, and other nutrients. Consider something like eggs, oatmeal or yogurt. You could customize each of these according to your taste, to make it both filling and enjoyable.

Another idea to make your breakfast count: dedicate time to it. It might be your habit to grab a bite of toast before running out the door, but try and change it up the day of your interview. Taking the time to prepare and eat breakfast that morning could help you relax, and arrive at your interview at the top of your game.

Bonus tip: be sure to bring a snack along to the interview in case you find yourself suddenly hungry right before. Try nuts and fruit, a piece of cheese, or some hummus and veggies.

Dress to Impress

The graduate school interview is, in most cases, your application committee’s first chance to get to know you face to face. Your choice of what to wear to grad school interview has an impact on your first impression. Clean, neat graduate school interview attire is the only appropriate choice. Basically, stick to something you’d wear to a job interview. Stay away from denim, anything too tight or too bright, and anything too eccentric.

In addition, remember that clothes are only part of the equation. Your demeanor should also echo the professionalism in your outfit. This is not the time to rant, swear, or speak in lofty, unclear metaphors. Be professional, clear, and polite, and you could present yourself well.

Prep for Your Interview

Remember what you learned during the “homework” step? A few hours before your interview, take some time to refresh your memory. Flip through any notes you made, go over your power stories, and read any materials you might have collected. Practice your responses to some of the commonly-asked interview questions.

Be sure you have accurate directions to your interview location, and enough money to cover fares for public transportation, tolls or gas. You don’t want to be rattled at the last minute by having to search for these things as you’re walking out of the door! It’s also best to leave extra time in case of traffic, getting lost, or last-minute emergencies.

Finally, leave yourself some time to relax before your interview. By taking some time to meditate, read a book, or listen to music, you could calm your pre-interview nerves so you can go in at the top of your game.

Psych Yourself Up

Last, but certainly not least… get excited! Your graduate school interview is your chance to make an impression on your admissions committee. You could show them why you’ll be a stellar admission to their program. Your enthusiasm for the opportunity, and for the school itself, will show through in your demeanor. Listening to your favorite motivational playlist, reciting your personal mantra, or reminding yourself of your qualifications could all help shift you into a positive mindset. Whatever it you choose to do, take some time to reflect on all of the ways in which you’re a great candidate. If you’re focused on your failures, your mistakes, and the stain on your skirt, your negative mindset may come across in the interview. Focus on the positives, and make a great impression.

Do you have any other ideas on how to prepare for your graduate school interview? Add any of those to this list, and use it as a resource to stay on track while you prepare. Then go into that interview, make a positive impression, and take another step toward attending the graduate school you’ve been dreaming of.

Find Schools