Personal statements, letters of recommendation and interviews all serve to make an impression. They show potential programs that you have a track record of success and a future direction that aligns with their goals. Let’s make the right mark.

Personal Statements

Personal statements typically cover research interests, achievements and sometimes identify possible faculty who you are interested in working with. Sometimes you will receive a general prompt about what to write and other times you’ll respond to a specific essay question(s) tailored to the program.

This document is used by graduate programs' admissions staff to assess potential matches for their programs. And while the primary goal is to determine educational goals and interests, reviewers also are evaluating your writing skills. Writing is often a big part of graduate school, whether it’s law school or a Ph.D. in physics.

Graduate school is competitive, so your personal statement should effectively advertise your skills and background. Covering your unique qualifications, experiences and connections is important. There's a lot to think about, but there are plenty of people at Oregon State to help you through the process. Tutors at the Writing Center can help you brainstorm ideas, organize your thoughts and revise your statement, or you can work with the CDC staff to gain feedback about preparing a strong personal statement.

Letters of Recommendation

A letter of recommendation is a written document from a supervisor, professor or other non-family individual who has observed your successes, character, progress and other impressive achievements. Letters of recommendation should be written by those who hold great respect and appreciation for you and can communicate that. The more advance notice you give, the more likely someone will be able to accommodate your request, so aim for a minimum of two weeks.

You must ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation before you list them on an application. When you do ask them, you need to explain what program you are applying for and why you are interested in pursuing graduate school. This will help them gauge what to highlight in the letter. You also need to clarify the deadline and how to submit it (to you or the employer directly, electronic or hard copy, etc.).

Graduate School Interviews

Graduate and professional school interviews can take various forms: one-on-one meetings, group interviews, campus/faculty visits, panel interviews and/or phone interviews. Not every program requires interviews, but if your program of interest does, here are some tips. This is also your opportunity to learn more about whether the program would be a good fit for you.

  • Do your homework. Know the school, program and faculty, especially those with whom you want to work (use the web and your networking skills). Contact graduate students to get the real scoop on the department and faculty. There was a reason you applied to this school and chose this field—recall why and convey that during the interview.
  • Know your goals. Consider whether your goal is to teach, do research, go into the industry, etc. Really think about what area you’d like to specialize in and what topic you might pursue for your dissertation/thesis.
  • Review your transcript. Be aware of “glitches” in your transcripts and be prepared to explain them (just as you may have done in your statement of purpose). In addition, remind yourself of commitments outside of academia that may contribute to making you a strong candidate to succeed in graduate school.
  • Practice. Do a virtual practice interview through StandOut and/or schedule an interview practice appointment with your college-specific career advisor.

Common Graduate School Interview Questions

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What do you want to get out of completing this program?
  • How would this program complement your career aspirations?
  • What would a supervisor or professor tell me are your strengths?
  • What challenges or weakness do you think you might face in the program?
  • What would you change about yourself and why?
  • Why did you major in _________?
  • When did you choose to enter this field and why?
  • Which courses have you enjoyed the most and which were most difficult for you?
  • Do you feel your academic record accurately reflects your abilities and potential?
  • What will you do if you are not accepted into our program?
  • What activities do you enjoy most outside of the classroom?
  • Tell me about a group in which you were involved. How did you contribute to make this group achieve a goal?
  • Tell me about a time you assumed a leadership role.
  • Tell me about a time you were faced with a difficult situation and how you handled it.
  • What do you believe to be the major current trends in this field?
  • Tell me about your past experience doing… (operating XX machine, using XX statistical model, writing in XX style, analyzing XX data).
  • What problem in the world troubles you most? What would you do about it?
  • What characteristics distinguish this program from others in the same academic field?
  • How long does it take typically to complete the program?
  • Where are recent alumni employed? What do most graduates do after graduation?
  • What opportunities are available through the program to gain practical work experience? Are there opportunities such as assistantships, fellowships or internships available?
  • Do most students publish an article/conduct research prior to graduation?
  • I've read articles written by ________ and ______. To what extent are students involved in assisting these faculty members with related research projects?
  • What types of research projects are current students pursuing?
  • How are graduate test scores, grades, letters of recommendations, and personal statements evaluated for the admissions process?
  • What is the selection timeline? When will candidates be notified about their acceptance into the program?