Finalist interviews and campus interviews

Interviews are an integral part of the selection process for many prestigious scholarships and fellowships. For the Carnegie Junior Fellows, Gates Cambridge, Luce, Marshall, Mitchell, Rhodes, and Truman, a limited number of finalists are invited each year to interview with a selection panel appointed by the scholarship foundation. To be invited for a finalist interview is a distinct honor. Along with the formal interview, you may be expected to attend a social function with the other finalists, selection panelists, and foundation staff. When candidates must travel to a finalist interview, the travel expenses are in some cases covered, or partially subsidized, by the scholarship foundation. Scholarship finalists may also consult the University’s national scholarship advising office about the possibility of a travel grant. The national scholarship advisor helps finalists to prepare by offering scholarship-specific advice and arranging practice interviews. If you apply for a scholarship that involves interviews at the national level, you may be invited to a campus interview as part of the institutional nomination process. These interviews are conducted at the U by campus nominating committees for particular scholarships. Campus interviews are also conducted for Fulbright Grants for all applicants who are currently enrolled at the U, and for Boren Scholarships for undergraduate study abroad.

What will the interview be like?

Scholarship interviews are almost always committee interviews in which the candidate interacts with a group of people who are involved in the selection or campus nomination process. The interviews are typically 15-30 minutes in length. The committee members will have read your application prior to the interview. They may have decided in advance on a set of questions to be asked of every interviewee, but some of the questions may flow from the discussion or focus on specific information you provided in your application. The committee will be interested in getting to know the person behind the application. They will want to observe your communication skills and probe your knowledge of subject areas and issues you addressed in writing. They may challenge you to defend your positions or to back up claims with specific examples. They may ask your opinion about current events pertinent to your interests and activities.

What do I need to know about my interview?

Know where and when the interview is scheduled, and how long it will be. If possible, learn the names of the people who will interview you, their titles (i.e., how they should be addressed), and their academic or professional fields. It is not necessary, and may be counterproductive, to know about them in more detail. The scholarship foundation’s website and the campus scholarship advisor should be able to provide you with some scholarship-specific interview tips and advice. You should not expect to be informed in advance what questions you will be asked, but it is useful to have a general idea of the types of questions typically asked.

How should I prepare?

Know the scholarship you’re applying for: its history and purpose, the qualities sought in candidates, and the selection procedures. If the scholarship is for graduate study, know the graduate program you intend to pursue in detail. Consider what you would like the committee to know about you, and think of specific experiences—personal stories—that highlight your best qualities. Reread your application, and consider topics you’ve mentioned that they may want to know more about. Compile a list of questions you might be asked and think about how you would answer them. Stay abreast of current events by reading a newspaper with in-depth coverage such as the New York Times, listening to public radio, and/or attending forums on campus. Most important, have a practice interview. Before your interview with the campus nominating committee, ask a faculty mentor to interview you and then offer feedback. Give your practice interviewer a copy of your application beforehand. If you are invited to a finalist interview, the University’s national scholarship advising office can set up a practice interview with a mock selection panel.

Making a good impression

Your answers are important, but so is making a good general impression. Being a bit nervous won’t hurt your chances, but you’ll want to relax before the interview by going for a walk, reading a favorite poem, or taking a few slow, deep breaths and focusing your mind on something pleasant and calming. Prepare yourself to be alert, lively, open, and interested. When you are introduced to the interviewers, give a friendly acknowledgement of each in turn; shake hands if it seems appropriate to do so. Listen carefully to each question. If you need clarification, ask for it. If you need a moment to reflect, say so and take your time. Try to answer the questions directly, rather than in a round-about way. Since the interviews are brief, you may be cut off if you don’t get to the point quickly. Keep in mind that the question has no single “correct” answer. An effective answer is one that offers insight into what you know, what you value, how you think, and how you express your ideas. Think of the interview as a conversation, not a quiz. You may be able to help shape this conversation and gently open up opportunities to emphasize your strengths. When answering, keep in mind which person asked the question, but try to “include” everyone in your response by making eye contact with each person. The committee probably will not expect you to have questions for them, except perhaps about when and how you will hear from them. It is best to ask such questions only if you are invited to do so. Thank the committee at the conclusion of the interview. Post-interview thank-you notes are not necessary. Now reward yourself for your hard work!

Sample Questions for Practice Interviews

  • Why do you want to go to [Oxford] to study [psychology]?
  • How did you first become interested in [particle physics]?
  • What do you consider to be a particularly pressing issue or challenge for scholars in your field right now?
  • In your application essay, you mentioned that you are interested in doing research on [gender relations in early modern Japan]. If I wanted to learn something about this subject, what is one book or article you’d recommend?
  • In your application, you use the term [public history] more than once. How would you define [public history] in one sentence?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • Name a book you’ve read recently that was NOT for a course. What did/didn’t you like about it?
  • What is one social problem that especially concerns you? How do you believe this problem could be solved? What do you see as the biggest obstacle to be overcome in order to solve this problem?
  • You’ve been involved in a number of [co-curricular, community service, political] activities while in college. Tell us about an activity that you’ve found especially rewarding, and why.
  • What are your plans for next year if you don’t receive this scholarship?
  • Is there anything else you’d like the committee to know about you?