If you've gone through the rigor of grad school applications, you know the process can be trying. Many undergraduates are surprised at just how focused on a seemingly small area of the subject they'd like to study they can be, with a level of comprehension of the material that is of greater depth than they might be accustomed to.
The Interview: Meeting the Gatekeepers
For many, the aspect of the application process that is most stressful is the interview. Students grow accustomed to working on their own in school, and being faced with one's potential colleagues — and making a good impression — can feel like a tall order.
But with the right mindset, an interview can be the best part of the process — and often one where you'll learn the ropes of your future in a way that is concrete and applicable to your interests. And using guides such as this excellent list by the prestigious University of California Davis will give you many great pointers to get you on your way.
Dress the Part
While you usually don't have to wear a suit to a grad school interview, it doesn't hurt. And don't worry about breaking the bank — grad school interviewers who see a student dressed to the nines in an Armani suit might not get the best impression! Even inexpensive outlets such as department stores will carry nice suits for under $100, and a bit of thrift store hunting can provide even more options — you might even find a Brooks Brothers or Ralph Lauren in your size if you're lucky. If you do go the suit route, play your look a bit on the conservative side, with a charcoal gray or dark blue color for your suit. If you're looking for a conservative but less formal look, try an Oxford cloth dress shirt and tie with a pair of ironed khakis and a belt and dress shoes. You'll still look professional, but in a more "dressed-down" way.
Be Polite — to Everyone!
Remember, just because the secretary who points out the office where the interview will take place won't be making the final call doesn't mean her opinion won't carry weight. In fact, it makes a good impression if you take the etiquette advice of the great Emily Post, whose rules apply from the most aristocratic functions to the grad school interview itself — be kind to everyone, and effusive to no one. No one likes flattery, and everyone is equal, so treat them that way!
Know What You're Talking About
As a grad student, you will be expected to meet the highest levels of research to earn your degree. Show the admissions committee that you're genuinely passionate about your subject, and show them why you'll be able to do the work. Ask them their professional opinion about the field, show some knowledge about current areas on the cutting edge, and at the end of the day, just make sure you know your stuff! Admissions committees easily spot people who are unprepared, since they were once grad students themselves, and often know the ins and outs of the field like the back of their hand.
Get Some Rest
While preparing for an interview is crucial, having a good night's sleep beforehand is a great way to appear energetic and enthusiastic. Show up to the interview a bit early — say five minutes or so (and try as hard as you can not to be late). Make a good first impression, and it will carry through your entire interview.
Remember, this process should be 100% positive, however stressful it might appear. After all, you're probably going to graduate school because you've found a field of study you're completely enamored with. Showing that passion, and showing how you're committed to contributing to the field, are just a few of the major principles in being sure that a committee knows how valuable an asset you are. And with that, you may find yourself being seen as a feather in any grad school's cap.