Graduate Program Interviews: Clinical Psychology

This post is part of an ongoing series about applicant interview weekends in Psychology departments. Check back for posts about interviews in other areas of Psychology, and visit our Careers in Psychology section. Interviewing for doctoral programs in clinical psychology can be a nerve-racking process. Here are some tips from current clinical psychology graduate students on questions they asked (or wish they had asked) during interviews and also some questions you should prepare to answer. You may not have an opportunity to ask all of the questions in part 1, and you certainly will not end up answering all of part 2 during your interviews. So identify which topics are most interesting or relevant to you, and start from there! Good luck!

Part 1. Questions to ask about…

Your target advisor and lab:

  • Could I learn a more about the broader goals and timelines of your current studies?
  • What types of responsibilities does a graduate student in your lab typically have? (Assessment? Coding? Analysis? Recruitment or data entry? Grant writing?)
  • How would you describe your mentoring style?
  • How often do you meet your graduate students on a one-on-one basis?
  • How do students select research topics for their master’s thesis and dissertation? What role do you play in this process?
  • How successful have students in your lab been in getting extramural funding (e.g., NSF, NRSA)?
  • Is it common for graduate students in your lab to first author papers based on original ideas?
  • What types of opportunities are there for students to network with other scholars?

Clinical training:

  • Are graduate students in your lab typically involved in providing assessment and intervention for your ongoing studies?
  • What kinds of practicum opportunities would I have (e.g. age group, minorities, location, etc.)? When do these usually begin? Do students ever have trouble getting enough hours for internship?
  • What type of clinical supervision can graduate students expect?
  • Are there opportunities with work with <your specific population of interest>?

Graduate classes and general program structure:

  • What are the 3 best qualities of this program? What are 3 qualities that could be improved?
  • Are there opportunities to take classes in other areas of psychology? What about statistical training?
  • How are students evaluated outside of formal testing? When are comprehensive exams typically taken?
  • What kind of help is provided post-graduation? What's the typical success rate for findings jobs for individuals in this program? How many graduates enter academia? Where are recent graduates working? How long is the typical job search for a graduate from this program?

Teaching:

  • What types of teaching opportunities are available for graduate students? What determines whether you will get them or not?

Questions to ask graduate students:

  • Are you happy here? (or observe and assess on your own – this is 6 years of your life; it’s important!)
  • What are the 3 best and 3 worst aspects of this program?
  • When it came down to making your final decision on a program, how did you go about choosing this one?
  • Do students in the program collaborate with each other? If so, in what contexts?
  • What is it like working with <advisor of interest>? Easily accessible? Micromanager? What kind of student would not work well with this advisor?
  • How do publications work in the lab? When do students get first author? How often do grad students in the lab publish? Does the lab publish lots of articles (but maybe in lower impact journals) or only big findings in top journals?
  • What types of clinical opportunities are available? Do you feel like the clinical training is good enough to get you into the internship or career path you want? When does your clinical work begin? Is there a clinic on campus or will you need to travel to do clinical work? How is transportation to clinical sites? Do you need a car?
  • How much do you think this program focuses on students’ development as researchers vs. clinicians vs. teachers?
  • How many years does it typically take for students to graduate? Is there a max for how long you can stay?
  • What types of support are available to help students obtain extramural funding (e.g., NSF, NRSA)? Are most students expected to apply?
  • Is funding guaranteed for the time I am here? For how long is it guaranteed? Does everyone get a first year stipend? If so, how much? Are there opportunities for summer funding? Do students need to TA? Are TAships guaranteed? Is medical/dental/vision insurance included in the financial package? Financial questions are probably best to ask the current grad students about. However, if you want to play it safe, you can always ask about the financial situation after you get in.
  • What is it like to live here? What’s there to do for fun?
  • Is it possible to live comfortably on the stipend in this town?

Part II. Questions to think about:

  • Tell me about yourself. (Common open-ended question – how will you respond?)
  • Why do you care about <your research interest>?
  • What specific research projects would you like to undertake in your target lab? How would you design it? If you had to design your master’s project right now, what would it be?
  • If NIH awarded you all the money in the world, what type of study would you design?
  • How do you fit into your target lab?
  • Why did you apply to this particular program? Why is it a good match for you?
  • How did you get interested in clinical psychology and research? What drives your passion for clinical science?
  • If you love research so much, why apply for a clinical psychology program that requires hundreds of hours of clinical training? Why not apply for a purely research program?
  • How do you feel about clinical work? (Be ready to talk about any clinical experiences.)
  • What can you do for this program (e.g., skills, knowledge, experience)? What distinguishes you from 20 other people who have the same GPA/test scores and can do the same tasks?
  • What do you want to gain in graduate school?
  • Be prepared to talk about each individual research experience you included in your CV.
  • Be prepared to explain any of your major research projects  (e.g., senior thesis, publication, poster presentation, etc.), especially the methods, results, and implications.
  • What are you working on right now? (i.e., current research projects?)
  • What do you look for in a graduate program?
  • If you get multiple offers, how will you pick?
  • What do you think will be the most difficult aspect of being a doctoral student?
  • What are your long-term career goals? Why?
  • How do you feel about giving up a paying job for several years?
  • What other profession, if not psychology, would you have chosen?
  • How do you feel about the direction this profession is heading?
  • How do you work under pressure? How do you handle stress?
  • If you took time off: Why did you take time off?
  • If you didn’t take time off (or took very little): Most people take 2-4 years off before PhD programs in clinical psychology – why do you think you are ready?
  • What would you do if you committed to work with a professor, and after 2 weeks, found it impossible to continue?
  • What other schools have you applied to?
  • Be prepared to talk about things that show you have a life outside of this interview (e.g., hobbies, favorite books, interests, etc.). If you don’t, just pretend.