Graduate School Preparation: The Interview

Receiving a letter requesting that you come for an interview clearly indicates that the graduate school you applied to is seriously interested in you. The large volume of applications has meant that admissions officers have to be highly selective in granting interviews. At the outset, it should be realized that the interview is not just a brief exchange between yourself and one or more representatives of the school that has requested your appearance. The interview should not be looked upon as a one sided affair, but rather as an opportunity for a dialogue that has advantages for both the school and you.

1. If your personal attributes are as appealing as your academic record (this goes, of course, for a student who is already academically acceptable), and if your personal attributes will enable you to overcome any deficiency that may appear;
2. If your personal attributes will place you in the overall acceptable range (if you are borderline);
3. If you are considered to have some obvious academic or physical deficiency, whether you have the personal attributes to overcome the deficiency.

1. Have an opportunity to sell yourself by projecting as favorable an image as possible, and thus overcoming any deficiencies in your record;
2. Familiarize yourself with the campus, its facilities, and with the members of its student body; 
3. Obtain first hand answers to questions about the school that may not yet have been answered.

What is the Interviewer Looking for?
Remember that the interview is another chance to sell yourself so make sure you dress appropriately and be friendly. The interviewer, often times a faculty member, will be looking at:

  • Communication skills: Can you express your ideas clearly and intelligently.
  • Motivation: Do you have goals for yourself and do you seem interested in the program?
  • Maturity: Are you responsible enough to be successful in the field?
  • Interests: What educational, social, and cultural interests do you have?
  • Emotional Stability: Do you maintain composure under pressure?
  • Intellectual potential: Have you demonstrated superior intellectual ability?

Pre-Interview Suggestions
There are many things that you can do to help you prepare for your interview:

  1. Make a list of your experiences and talents relating to the field of study you are pursuing.
  2. Read the school’s catalog and become familiar with any special facilities or programs it has to offer.
  3. Discuss with fellow applicants from Wartburg their experiences at interviews at various schools.
  4. Be prepared to explain your specific interest in the school you are visiting.
  5. Be prepared to discuss, in detail, any research or projects you have completed.
  6. Practice with friends and colleagues.
  7. Be well rested, alert, and honest.
  8. Dress appropriately and arrive early for the interview.
  9. Be yourself. Do not exaggerate your scholastic achievements or activities.
  10. Answer the questions raised without trying to anticipate with you think the interview wants to hear.
  11. Sell your favorable assets by fitting them into the interview (i.e. related work, research experience, community activities, research articles published, etc) Know your strengths.
  12. Avoid controversial subjects and do not raise ethical issues.
  13. If you “flub” a question, do not let it bother you for the rest of the interview.
  14. Do not hesitate to ask questions about the school or program-or about the interviewer’s activities (i.e. how much time does he/she have for research).
  15. Talk to a classmate who has had an interview at the school. Get his or her impressions of the school and the interview. Remember that it is unlikely that you will get the same interview-but it is possible.
  16. Write thank-you notes following your interview.

Typical Interview Questions

  1. Why do you want to become a _____?
  2. What other schools have you applied for?
  3. Why did you get a poor grade in____?
  4. Did you participate in any special projects in college?
  5. Why do you think you are better suited for admission than your classmates?
  6. What has been your most significant accomplishment to date?
  7. Describe any research project you’ve worked on at Wartburg College.
  8. What will you do if you are not accepted?
  9. How do you rank among other students in your major at your school?
  10. Have you ever worked with people, and if so in what capacity?
  11. What made you apply to our school?
  12. What are your weaknesses?
  13. Describe your exposure to (subject) at Wartburg College.
  14. If you are accepted to more than one school, how will you decide which to attend?
  15. How do you see yourself ten years from now?
  16. Can you explain why your admission test scores went up (down) when you took the test a second time?
  17. What message would you like me to convey to the admission committee in your behalf?
  18. What were your most favorite and least favorite courses in college?
  19. Have you been interviewed or accepted at any other school?

Questions to Ask

  1. How many students will be in my entering class?
  2. What is the average time to obtain a Masters/Ph.D?
  3. Who selects the thesis/dissertation committee?
  4. Is the support offered in the form of a teaching or research assistantship? How much is the stipend?
  5. Are you guaranteed support for the entire time, or is it on a year by year basis?


  1. Do the students have enough time for a social life?
  2. 2. What is the academic social environment like?
  3. 3. Is the atmosphere highly competitive?