Dos and Don'ts of Grad School Interviews
Updated: Mar 16, 2022
We know that interview season is upon many students, and this can be both such an eye-opening and intimidating experience at the same time. These interviews are very different from a more traditional interview that you might expect from a company or an internship. It’s important to know that you’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you! Now that many schools are offering in-person interviews once again, you might have some questions about how the process works and what you should expect out of an on-campus interview. We’ve definitely been there before, and now that we’re on the other side, we’ve got some advice to share with our readers about the Do’s and Don’ts. Good luck out there Helicuties!
Interact with the grad students
No one will be more honest about a program than the grad students. It’s no skin off our bones if you don’t join our program, so we will spill all of the tea. If you choose to join that program, you’ve already made a few friends in the area! They’ll also be a great resource for good restaurants, fun local activities, and (possibly) helpers to unload your Uhaul.
Sign up for as many events/meetings as you can
This is a chance to network and explore the place you will potentially live for the next few years. Take advantage of this opportunity!
Many grad schools will have activities fairs set up by student organizations across campus. Definitely make sure to check out the various groups that you can interact with during your time in grad school.
Take your time to explore the surrounding city!
You’ll be there for many years, and you want to make sure that you would enjoy living there. Check the cost of living in the city, transportation options, and what students’ housing situations are like. It’s really important that you also get an idea of what activities you can do for fun around the area. Work-life balance is critical to dodging burn-out, so ask students about where they like to go on the weekends.
Bring a water bottle with you!
Trust us on this. You’ll be walking around and talking to people all day at a new campus whose water fountains you won’t know the location of. The last thing you want is to have trouble talking to your interviewer because you have a dry throat!
Wear comfortable shoes
Depending on the campus, you may be walking A LOT. Ayumi got in roughly 20,000 steps in one day on her visit to Seattle. Luckily, she had on some comfy boots to help with both the rain and urban hike.
Make friends with fellow interviewees
They’re just as nervous as you for their interview and are likely also looking for friends! If you both end up attending the same grad school, it definitely makes the experience less stressful to have one familiar face. Bonus points if they could also make a great roommate for you. Stay in touch with these folks, as you're probably going into similar fields. They may be future colleagues!
Record your memories and thoughts
Whether this is through journaling or taking excessive amounts of photos, it’s important to be able to record how you were feeling during the interviewing process, and the culture of the grad school. Be as detailed as possible! This becomes especially handy when you’re split between several options and need to remind yourself of the small details that might make or break your decision.
Have an open mind
This is self-explanatory but just as important as all of the other tips. You might think that you know which school to go to, but visiting in-person and experiencing the culture first-hand might have you thinking otherwise. Keep your options open and make sure to experience different aspects of every school you visit before judging them.
Thank your interviewers and the other grad students/staff who have helped you over the weekend!
Seriously, recruitment is a big deal, but it does take a lot of time and energy to make it happen. Make sure you thank them for their time!
Cancel your trip a day or two before because you decided you don’t want to attend
The staff who run the visitor’s weekends put a herculean amount of work into organizing a logistical nightmare. Flights are booked, hotel rooms are reserved, and a great deal of money is spent on each prospective student. They put a lot of work into making it a useful, fun visit. Don’t be casual about canceling at the last minute, unless it’s an emergency.
Get blasted at the welcome reception/dinner
Your conduct while under the influence might affect admissions, current students’ first impression of you, and/or lead to a hangover so you can’t be your best self during meetings with faculty. Keep it light during any pre-meeting happy hours, and save your partying for after meetings are done.
Though it may not seem like it, you’re still being evaluated during parties by folks in the program to gauge your fit. Staff and faculty often attend the reception/dinner, so you definitely do want to be on your best behavior.
Sign up for so many events/meetings that you are overwhelmed
We realize we just told you to sign up for a lot of events, but we want to emphasize that you should only do as many as you can handle. If you will be burnt out or too busy to everything in, then the trip may not be as useful for you
Be rude to other interviewers and interviewees
Alright, we KNOW this sounds OBVIOUS right? Believe it or not, it’s more common than you think. Phuong has had first hand experience of other interviewees saying rude things to one another or even about the program in front of interviewers! Some students already know where they want to enroll at, but still attend the interviews for a free trip. As a result, these students may think that it’s an opportunity to speak without a filter, simply because the interview process for them doesn’t matter if they aren’t planning to attend anyway. If this is your situation, please be respectful of others’ experience even if you already know you will be going to another school. You can still meet new people and learn about a new institution. Who knows, you might want to return for post-graduate opportunities there!
Assume that you will automatically be offered admission
Though it is true that some schools offer interviews as more of a formality (and end up accepting everyone who gets an interview invite), people are still evaluating you on non-merit based factors such as your personality and overall ‘fit.’ Going around assuming that you have already been selected and being arrogant about it does not give you a good image to others.