On a per-minute basis, the graduate school interview is the most important step in the process of getting into grad school. This is your chance to be in control of your destiny and show the decision committee that you're a person they want to have at their school. If you can make it this far and if you're well prepared, you can use this opportunity to make the impression that will get you into the school of your choice.
You may have been told that you should do exhaustive research on every school that sounds interesting before you apply. Then, if you're granted an interview, you'll know enough about the school to impress the interviewers and show them you'd fit well in their program. This is good advice as far as it goes, and you should certainly know a lot about a school before you apply to it, but take this advice with a grain of salt.
You should save your really exhaustive research until after the graduate school interview has been granted. That way you don't waste hours and days of your time researching every detail of schools that then turn down your application before the interview process even begins. By saving your greatest efforts for those schools at which you'll actually get to face an interviewer, you'll be able to focus your energies more effectively. Otherwise, you may find that much of your research was, in fact, a waste of time.
Initially, you should do enough research to determine the type of position you want and the schools within your desired geographic areas that have those positions. Send in your applications, secure an interview, and then begin your detailed research. Don't memorize every fact about a school, but you should have a solid general knowledge of what the school and your prospective graduate program are like. Having this knowledge will allow you to ask intelligent questions, the kind that show you've been doing research and are enthusiastic about the school. Don't be afraid that asking questions will show a lack of knowledge. You're not being graded on this. The interviewers want to see if you can carry on an intelligent conversation, not that you've memorized enough information to get you on Jeopardy.
Much of the information you'll need about a school will be on the Internet and you should start at the university's own web site. Go to the section about the program that you're applying for and read what's there. Then try a local newspaper-not your local newspaper but the local newspaper for the town in which the school is located. Look for recent articles about the school. If there are message boards where students talk about the school, by all means read them. This would be a good place to post questions that you have. You'll find that this is an excellent way to learn about the culture at the school, to learn what kind of people are in the student body and the faculty. Now that you have a good basic knowledge of the school, try typing its name into a search engine such as Google and pick up random pieces of information from around the Internet. You might want to research the surrounding area in the same manner.
The reason that you're doing this Internet research is so that you can take what you learn and turn it into questions, such as, "I noticed that the graduate program received a large grant this year from the Smithson Foundation. Do you think this was related to your adoption of a lower student-to-teacher ratio?" These questions will set you apart from those students who haven't done their homework, so to speak. But just doing the research isn't enough. You need to know what to do with it. You want the interviewer to know that you've learned something about the school without having it sound as though you've memorized a set of lines to deliver during the interview. You want to come across as knowledgeable but not mechanical.
You may be applying for a position in a very specific field, but you still need to know basic background information about the school itself. You need to show that you care about the university as a whole, not just the program you're applying for. There's a good chance that the graduate school interview will end with the question "Is there anything else you'd like to know about the school?" This will provide an opportunity to take advantage of your research and ask a question or two that you've prepared in advance. Doing so will demonstrate both that you know something about the school and that you cared enough to want to learn more.
Last Updated: 10/01/2013