Scared of the HDS Admissions Interview? Don’t be!

by Kat Woodard, Samirah Jaigirdar, & Nicole Collins

Editor’s Note: In this post, three HDS Admissions Graduate Assistants reflect on their experiences this time last year, as they interviewed for admission to Harvard Divinity School. They share their apprehensions prior to interviewing, what the process of interviewing looked like in reality, and their best tips for how to prepare.

So, you’ve been offered an interview for admission to Harvard Divinity School. Now what? First, celebrate! Reaching this point is a huge accomplishment, and it’s one step further in discerning where the next chapter of your life will lead you. Take a moment to acknowledge the hard work you’ve put in to get to this point. After you’ve called a friend, completed a celebratory happy dance, or treated yourself to something fun, then it’s time to start thinking about how you’re planning to approach the interview. If you’re anything like me or my fellow graduate assistants, Samirah and Nicole, this is the moment when initial panic starts to set in; the possibility of attending graduate school is growing increasingly more real!  But don’t worry, the three of us are here to allay your concerns and to share what we wish we would have known when we were in your shoes this time last year.  

Kat Woodard, MDiv ’25:  

I was so nervous for my HDS interview. I had shared some personal (and previously private) motivations for attending divinity school in my HDS statement of purpose, and the interview would be the first time that I clearly articulated these motivations out loud. That felt like a lot of pressure to put on one moment! What I failed to remember was that the Admissions team had already read my application. The hardest part, putting my passions to words for the first time, was already over before the interview started.  

So, I decided to treat the interview as an opportunity to take the “yes, and…” approach to the materials I had already submitted. I looked at my statement of purpose and found the points that felt most salient to me. Then I asked myself, what else would I like to say about these passions? Is there a sentence or idea that got cut from the statement of purpose for sake of space that I feel like would be useful to bring up in my interview? I regained familiarity with what I had previously written, and I considered how I might like to expand on the themes I hoped to draw out in my application. 

Then, I turned my attention to my resume, and investigated each thing I included, line by line. As I combed through my previous work and school experiences, I asked myself, what relevant stories can share from each of the primary bullet points on my resume? I created a mental list of why each of these experiences were important for me, and this exercise provided me with a wealth of anecdotes to draw from that highlight what I’ve done in the past and how they relate to the work I hope to do here at HDS. 

Lastly, I spent time reviewing my transcript. I took note of the professors and courses that most informed my interest in divinity school, and I paid special attention to classes with vague, hard to pin down titles that I thought might merit more explanation. Although the details of my transcript never explicitly came up in my interview, reviewing my prior course work helped me weave together the larger story of why I thought HDS would be the best fit for my future academic study.   

Once I felt confident in my ability to expand on the materials HDS had already received from me, I got started on my favorite minor detail: thinking about what I wanted to wear! My passion for artistic expression is a huge part of my personality, and the fact that the HDS curriculum is designed in a way that embraced creativity was a significant pull for me. I wanted to wear something on the outside that reflected this interest, so I decided to go for a dress with a bright, fun pattern and some funky earrings. To be clear: what you wear to your interview will not make or break your admissions decision. I share this only to say that I chose the outfit I felt most creative and comfortable in, and it helped me channel the most confident version of myself.  

Before I knew it, I found myself staring at a little clock on my computer screen counting down the seconds until my interview began. My interviewer and I only had 15 minutes together, so we got down to business quickly. I was shocked (and so pleasantly surprised) by just how well my interviewer could recall details from my application. Now, on the other side of Admissions as a graduate assistant, this attention to detail comes as no surprise! I can attest to just how dedicated the HDS Admissions team is to meticulously reviewing every item prospective students submit. Given their familiarity with your materials, don’t be surprised by more in depth questions than what you may have received in other interviews you’ve been a part of.  

At the end of our fifteen minutes together, I ended the call feeling appreciative of how my interviewer tailored our time together to address my specific interests. My view of what HDS looked like expanded with each response my interviewer provided. I came in with specific questions about several of the resources HDS had to offer, and I left with an entirely new set of resources to explore! With this in mind, my final piece of advice for prospective students would be to use the interview as an opportunity to figure out what makes HDS distinct from other programs you’re interested in. After a semester of being a student here, I feel confident in saying that much of HDS’ strength lies in the uniqueness of our offerings and the diversity of our student body. 

Samirah Jaigirdar, MTS ’24:

An interview for any graduate school can be daunting! I remember how apprehensive I was about the HDS interview. How would I be able to fully express myself in 15 minutes? Luckily, the short time felt more like a conversation where I spoke about my different interests rather than an interrogation of what my strengths and weaknesses are, which is common in a traditional job interview.   

While it seemed scary at that time, my experience gave me some insight I would love to share! Before the interview, research HDS-specific resources, faculty members, and initiatives that interest you. I had not prepared much before the interview which added to my trepidation. Being familiar with HDS will help put you more at ease. During the interview, don’t worry if you freeze! Take a moment to gather your thoughts and then answer the question you were asked. It’s okay to say, “That’s a great question, please give me a moment to think about it.” After the interview, stop thinking critically about every answer you gave. The interview is done. So, the only thing you can do now is take a deep breath and celebrate that you gave it your best shot! 

Nicole Collins, MTS ’24:

I felt similarly to Samirah: I was worried about compressing my whole identity and the range of experiences I was hoping to communicate to the Admissions team into a fifteen-minute slot.  

In terms of advice. I think it’s useful to remember that, by the time you’re doing your interview, the Admissions team will have already read your application materials. Hopefully, this serves as a bit of comfort (regarding the compression worry) and also an incentive to strategize. This interview is meant to highlight the elements of you, as a student, that can’t be communicated in written material. This is an opportunity for the Admissions team to see the human behind the application; rehashing your resumé and personal story is, in my view, not an ideal way to let Admissions do this.  

With this in mind, I’ll echo others’ advice to be yourself. Naturally, easier said than done, and maybe my saying this stresses you out a bit. But I think stress is a sign that you should think deeply about how, exactly, you hope to represent yourself in an interview that is distinct from, yet supplementary to, what is communicated in your written application materials. For you, this might mean researching the professors and classes and areas of study at HDS you’re fascinated by. It might entail practicing responding to stock interview questions with those around you in order to see what elements of your interview presence stick, and which don’t. It might simply be helpful to jot down, off the top of your head, the gist of your application motive: i.e., what part of yourself needs to go to HDS? What elements of your personal journey would your interview feel incomplete without touching on? What does the Admissions team need to know about you that couldn’t be efficiently communicated in, say, an email? Since you’re now a month (or several) out from when you wrote and sent in your statement of purpose, this will also help the material feel a lot fresher off the top of your head. 

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