Getting into graduate school isn’t easy, especially if you want to study international relations, one of the highest-paying master’s degrees. In addition to learning more than one language and earning a bachelor’s degree in political science or another related field, preparing for graduate school often means preparing for a formal admissions interview. Although it’s not a job interview, you should treat this meeting with the same importance. One sure way prospective students of international relations can get ready for an admissions interview is to prepare to answer the most common graduate school interview questions.
Dealing with Questions About Your Fit for the Program
IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain
When you go through the process of applying to graduate schools, you have already become familiar with their programs, their institutions and their curricula. As you get farther into the application process, the graduate school admissions team may want to get to know you better, too. An interview is the school’s and program’s way to better evaluate whether you are the right fit for their program.
Why are you interested in this degree? Why did you choose this school? While questions like these are about you, it will be nearly impossible for you to answer them successfully without a thorough knowledge of the program itself. Being able to speak to your interest in particular courses, concentrations or experience and research opportunities, especially the ones that will help you develop specific skills for international relations,
By the time your interview rolls around, the reasons you decided to apply to that specific program in the first place may not be as fresh in your mind as they were when you submitted your application. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to refresh your memory by doing a little bit of background research into the particulars of the curriculum and the graduate school.
Just remember not to get so carried away with this research that you treat the interview as a pop quiz. The point isn’t to show that you have the school’s curriculum memorized, but instead to prove to the admissions team that you are the right candidate for the program.
Fielding Questions About Your Career Background and Aspirations
One factor that separates graduate school admissions from undergraduate admissions is that prospective students at this level are expected to have more work history to speak of. Even if you are a recent graduate from a bachelor’s degree program, you hopefully have some experience working in an internship role that relates, in some way, to the international relations program. Applicants with a more established work history, either in this field or in another field, also have more experience to draw from in an interview.
The experience you have and your own explanations of your future career plans – which include a graduate education in international relations – will showcase to the admissions team what your interests in the field are and how this program will help you reach your career goals. Whether you are trying to advance your current career or working to change job fields, questions about your past and future employment are your opportunity to tell your story and show that you are on a logical path to an end goal. If your past work experience seems jumpy, try to explain that while your work history isn’t linear, they were steps to your career goal.
One of the most popular interview questions asks applicants to describe their dream job. More so than learning about your dreams, what the admissions team really wants to find out from your answer to this question is whether you have thought through your career goals and have a concise plan. Ideally, your response will show that you know what international relations jobs are on the market and that this graduate degree is the right path for you to your desired job.
Besides just asking where you have worked and what you did there, admissions personnel may ask about current issues your current employer is facing as a way of finding out how involved you are in your current job and how aware you are of the industry as a whole.
Answering Questions About Your Work and Study Style
In addition to finding out how you are as a worker, the admissions team will also want to ascertain how you learn in the classroom setting. Are you a team player? Will you fit in with the student body? Perhaps most importantly, are you up to meeting the rigorous academic demands of graduate-level work?
Some of these questions are straightforward, such as whether you prefer to work alone or with others. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer, but how you approach the question can reveal a lot about you. Even if you would prefer to work by yourself, you can still show how you contribute to the team’s goals.
The admissions team might also ask about times you have failed or had to deal with a difficult situation. Although you naturally want to make yourself look good to your interviewer, no one is perfect. This question, while potentially uncomfortable, is a good way to show how you have overcome issues and learned from mistakes in the past. Perhaps even more importantly, your answer can reassure admissions personnel that you can deal with future problems that arise in your education or your career. This knowledge is especially useful in the field of international relations, where you will be dealing with issues on a global scale.
Remember, when you are talking about past mistakes or problems you have overcome, your answer should spin the example into an overall success by focusing on what you learned and how you improved.
Addressing Questions Geared to Have You Stand Out
What makes you unique? That may be a difficult question to answer, especially while under the pressure of an interview, but it’s a topic to which you should give some thought as you prepare to meet with admissions staff. When they ask questions like “What is one thing would you improve about yourself?” and “What are some of your hobbies?”, admissions personnel get to learn more about your personality, behavior, and extracurricular interests. In other words, they have the chance to learn what sets you apart.
Although you don’t want it to sound like you’re not a well-rounded person with a full life outside of school and work, you should also try to relate your interests back to the field of international relations when possible. For example, you might bring up learning about other countries or mention your experience learning about a different language or culture. If you like to travel, you can bring up the different countries you have been to and showcase your interest in being a part of the world in a global sense.
Toward the end of your interview, you might be asked what questions you have. Make sure you are prepared with some insightful questions to ask the interviewer, and avoid asking surface-level questions that can make it seem like you haven’t done your research.