The graduate school interview can be one of the more intimidating aspects of the entire application process. But before we analyze exactly what to expect and how to prepare, take a minute and congratulate yourself. You have made the admission board’s short list of candidates they are really considering. They have read your resume, gone over your transcripts, studied your personal statement and decided that you could add to their campus and program. Now all you have to do is convince them that they were right to ask you to interview with them.
The Purpose of the Graduate School Interview
The first goal of the interview is to make sure the person they meet in real life is the same person they met on your application. Some people look better on paper than they do in person, and for that reason interviews will often be an important part of the whole process.
The main thing the interviewers will try to determine is whether you have what it takes to succeed both in graduate school and later in the classroom as a teacher. Character traits such as maturity, communication skills, passion for teaching and motivation will all be important.
What To Expect at the Interview
You may be interviewed by a single department head, a panel of professors or even a group consisting of both professors and students. Regardless of who does the actual interviewing, the process will be similar. Much like a job interview, you should do your best to highlight your strengths and what you can bring to the school.
Don’t worry if you feel like you are repeating information you have on your resume since the interviewers will not necessarily be familiar with your documentation. In preparing the entire application, you have most likely conducted quite a bit of research on the school and how your skills, abilities and background are a match. You will want to share this information with the interview committee.
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Preparing for your graduate school interview is key for two reasons.
- You will be better able to answer questions and make a positive impression.
- Just as important, you’ll go into the experience with a calmer state of mind. The more comfortable you are, the better you’ll be.
To prepare, first spend some time mapping out your professional interests, goals and educational qualifications. Look for experiences that make you a good fit for this particular school. For instance, does the school have a history of placing students in urban districts that matches your career goal of working with inner city youth? Then be sure to prepare an answer around that. You need to be able to explain how your goals match what the school offers.
Next, prepare some answers to the most common interview questions. When answering, remember that most interviewers will be looking for three things: your answer, how well you can organize your thinking, and how well you express yourself. Having this part thoroughly mapped out beforehand will allow you to ease into the experience. Here are the 10 most common questions. Prepare well-thought-out answers to each of them:
- Tell us about yourself.
- What have been your strengths and weaknesses as an undergraduate student?
- State three strengths that you have and why you consider them strengths.
- What would one of your undergraduate teachers say about you as a student?
- How has your undergraduate background prepared you for this school?
- What courses have you enjoyed the most?
- What courses have you struggled with?
- Why do you think you would make a good teacher?
- How did your student teaching experience prepare you for the classroom? What do you still have to learn?
- Why should we consider you for our program instead of several other equally qualified candidates?
During the Interview
Your goal during the interview is to show your interest, professionalism and compatibility with the program. Everything you say should be geared toward this goal. The interviewer is going to be more concerned with how you think and speak than what you know, so do not try to “oversell” yourself. Be honest and professional.
Remember that the interview goes both ways. Just as they are interviewing you, you are also interviewing them. Feel free to ask questions and use their answers as jump-off points to further the conversation. Here are a few sample questions to get you started:
- How is this program different from the ones at competing teaching colleges?
- Where are recent graduates employed? Do most graduates find teaching jobs upon graduation?
- I've read articles written by professor “X.” Are students involved in assisting faculty members with related research projects?
- What types of educational research projects are current students pursuing?
- What is the timeline for candidate selection?
After the Interview
Be sure to thank the committee for taking the time to interview you, and once you get home, take the time to write out a thank you letter to send to the head of the committee as well. This letter can be a chance to highlight parts of the interview that went well and to be a kind of closing argument for your candidacy.
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Steve P. Brady is a teacher and educational career consultant specializing in resumes for teachers.