I just submitted my clinical psych apps...now what? Tips for Interviews

Now all your applications are in and right about now, you’re starting to worry about the next step…INTERVIEWS. No need to panic. The first step is just to take a deep breath. Applying to graduate school in clinical psychology is a long and stressful process. Once you’ve gotten your applications in, take a break. Enjoy the holidays. Interview season will be upon you before you know it. I am by no means an expert, but here are some little tidbits of knowledge I’ve acquired as someone who’s recently gone through the process.  Between now and getting an offer…

  • Before interview offers even go out, it is helpful to start thinking about where you’d really like to be. What kind of research do you want to be doing? Which professors really match your research interests? Which programs offer you the kinds of opportunities that will help you become the clinical psychologist you want to be? I’m sure you’ve already done this in choosing the schools you’re applying to in the first place, but a second consideration never hurts. Your goals and desires can change throughout the process.
  • Because interview season is so short (typically around 5 weeks) and since most programs try to schedule the weekends (Thursday – Monday), many interviews will overlap. Having an idea of which programs you are more excited about can help you decide where you should go if you get multiple offers for the same weekend. Some schools even post information on their websites about when they have scheduled them.
  • Programs vary in how long their interview days last. Some schedule up to 3 days, whereas others schedule just 1 day (I know that the 1 day interviews are especially true for the NYC area schools).
  • Clean up your Facebook profile. Make it private. Deactivate it. Grad students can and will look you up.

 Once you get an offer…

  • Interview offers will generally start going out around mid- to late January. Most programs will call to make the offer and then send you additional details via email. Some programs just send out an email and ask you to call and confirm.
  • Regardless of how you receive an offer, don’t feel pressured to give a reply right away, unless it’s one of your top choice schools. That being said, do be considerate, people work very hard to coordinate interview weekends and too much delay in RSVPing can be a hassle for them. I think most people respond within 3 days or so of receiving an offer.
  • In the case of conflicting interviews, you might have to get a little creative. Obviously, you should try to spend more time at the programs you like better. Programs understand that promising students will get more than one interview offer. Most are willing to allow you to stay for just a portion of interview weekend, or in some cases, allow you to reschedule for another date. If you do want to reschedule, keep in mind that you will be interviewing with multiple faculty members and students. It is difficult for people to clear time in their schedules separately from the set interview weekend.
  • Read up a little on the professors you’ll be interviewing with. Again, you’ve probably already done this in picking schools to apply to, but refreshers aren’t a bad thing. You don’t have to be an expert on everything they’ve done in their career, but try to get a general sense of what they’ve been up to and what their interests are. I always read a recent paper or two theirs on my flights. It’ll help you think of good questions to ask them.

 Logistics

  • Booking flights is probably one of the most stressful things of the whole process. They can get expensive since you will not be booking far in advance.
    • Sometimes it makes more sense to go straight from one interview to the next. I did three in one weekend and it just didn’t make sense to go home in-between. Do make sure you have a place to stay though if there’s any gaps between interview dates.
    • If the airline offers flight insurance or a ticket change option, opt for it, even if it is a little more expensive. Not all schools make interview offers at the same time, so you may not know if you’re getting an offer somewhere before you need to start booking tickets. Trust me, you do not want to be paying the exorbitant ticket change fees if you could have paid $20 upfront to have more flexibility.
    • If you can, sign up for frequent flyer miles programs. You may be able to book multiple trips through one airline or their partners and rack up a lot of miles.
  • Transportation arrangements to and from the airport are another detail to think about. Lots of schools will arrange for graduate students to shuttle interviewees to and from the airport. If it’s not specifically mentioned, ask the person who is coordinating the interviews if there are recommended ways of getting to and from the airport.
  • Get a suit or make sure your suit fits and is clean. Looking professional is important. Grad school is basically the start of your career, so think of it as a job interview.
    • Gentlemen, a clean haircut, nice tie, crisp shirt, and clean dress shoes are standard. If you have a blazer or suit jacket, those are nice additions.
    • Ladies, no low cut tops, please. If you’re wearing a skirt, make sure it’s not too short (I think knee-ish length is good). No outrageous make-up. Keep perfume at a minimum. It can be really off-putting if the scent is too strong. Don’t wear your party shoes. Plain pumps or flats are common. Basically, it is an interview, not a nightclub.
  • Most programs will arrange some sort of housing for you, typically with a graduate student.
    • This is a great opportunity to get some insider information on what life is actually like at that school. Remember though, they are also representatives of the school and may share their opinions about you with the admissions committee.
    • Ask your host if you need to bring a sleeping bag or anything. Usually, they’ll have extra blankets and things for you, but better to ask.
    • Wear appropriate pajamas.
    • Bring a towel. This also varies by host, but just in case.
    • If your cell phone doesn’t have an alarm clock, you might want to think about bringing one.
  • Bring a pair of comfortable shoes or get comfy dress shoes. There will probably some tours and things.
  • Bring some more conservative casual clothes for any social events. Ladies, same conventions as above apply.

 INTERVIEW! AH!

  • Don’t panic. It’s okay to be a little nervous or anxious, but there’s a point where the nervousness or anxiety will stop being helpful. Keep breathing.
  • Have some questions prepped for faculty members and students you will be interviewing with. This is kind of a big deal. I’ve heard of some professors who ask you if you have any questions straightaway before they even ask about you or your interests and experiences. Others wait till the very end. You will get asked at least once. Here is a small sample of questions. These are pretty broad. There are tons of examples of other good questions if you look online.
    • Questions about the program
      • Is it a collaborative atmosphere?
      • Are graduate students supportive of each other?
    • Questions about the professor’s research
      • What got you started in this line of research?
      • Where do you see yourself going next?
      • How would a new graduate student fit into the lab?
    • Questions about training
      • Are there opportunities to do symposia and poster presentations?
      • Are there opportunities to publish? What is the expectation to publish?
      • What kind of clinical opportunities are there?
    • Questions for graduate students (a lot of the above questions also apply)
      • Is the professor easily accessible?
      • What is the lab environment like?
      • Is it difficult to balance classwork, research, and clinical work? How do you do it?
      • What is it like to live here? What’s there to do for fun?
  • If you’ve done a thesis in undergrad or contributed to a publication or had a poster, know what it’s about. Know the specific questions you were looking at. Know why you ran the analyses that you ran. Know what your results were. Be able to discuss your project intelligently. Don’t assume that the professor knows what you’re talking about, especially if it is project specific.
  • Have some ideas for what kinds of things you’d like to accomplish during grad school. By this I mean things you’d like to get training in or exposure to, not the exact number of publications or fellowships you hope to get.
  • Have an idea of what you’d like to do after grad school. One professor asked me for specific ideas of how I might implement certain aspects of my research. We ended up brainstorming some creative ways for raising awareness of mental health in the community and how to make therapy more palatable to the everyday person.

 Post Interview

  • There will probably be dinners or other social events with faculty members or graduate students. These are still part of the unofficial interview process. Keep alcohol consumption under control. No matter how many shots a grad student (or faculty member!) offers you, keep it classy.
  • Do write thank you emails within a day or two of interviewing. It’s just polite.
  • Be patient. Some programs are really quick about making decisions (like a week or so). Others take a few weeks. It may be that they still have a few applicants left to interview. There might be some funding issues they want to work out. Sometimes, they have accepted other applicants and are waiting to hear if they are accepting the offers. Whatever the reason, be patient.
  • If you do receive an offer but are waiting to hear back from a program higher on your list, remember that there may be other applicants whose admittance depends on your decision. While thinking through your decision, don’t wait too long to get back to people. I think common convention is to pick between two offers, so you’re only holding on to one if you’re waiting for other offers to come in. This also makes it more manageable for you to make your final decision.
  • However, don’t feel pressured to make your final decision before April 15th. It’s a big one, so make sure you’ve thought it through.
  • Don’t worry about turning down offers of admission. Professors are pretty understanding.

 MOST IMPORTANTLY!

  • Professors are people too. The best interviews I’ve had have just been really good conversations. I’ve left feeling like I’ve really learned something.
  • Keep in mind that you are interviewing the programs and professors as much as they are interviewing. This doesn’t mean that you need to grill them about everything and anything, but it does mean that you need to think about whether or not you actually want to be at the program and work with that professor. There are tons of horror stories about people just picking the best ranked school they get into even though they aren’t thrilled about their mentors. Think about what you really want and how that program can help you get that and be happy. Graduate school is hard enough without you hating your mentor or your program.

Again, this is not a comprehensive guide to all things interview, but just some things I learned through the process last year. Mitch Prinstein, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill, has a funny and informative guide from a faculty member’s perspective.

If other people have suggestions, please let me know!