You have several options when pursuing your formal education goals: graduate programs in academic subjects (e.g., Master’s or Ph.D programs); professional programs (e.g., law school, medical school, dental school); post-diploma and professional programs at colleges that generally require a Bachelor’s degree to qualify for application and can sometimes exist as a joint program with a university; or other educational opportunities (e.g., courses offered through the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario or the Canadian Securities Institute).
Now that you have decided to enrol in a graduate or professional program, the first step is to choose the program that will best meet your needs. Talk to professors, admissions staff, graduate students, and alumni to help you determine which program to enter. Ask about each school’s reputation in the field. Contact the department or faculty of the school you want to attend to get further information; administrators may start a file based on this initial contact. Finally, a campus visit can go a long way towards helping you make an informed decision.
It may be helpful to find a professor who shares your interests and who will act as a mentor. This professor may be willing to help you identify the programs that are best suited to your interests and assist you in the selection and application processes. Also consider contacting the graduate student associations at your universities of interest as well as relevant professional associations: they may provide you with first-hand, up-to-date insights into programs.
Depending on where you will be applying, the application and start timelines, document conventions, and program structure may be different. It is important to research the conventions in the location you are applying to.
If you are applying outside of Canada you will need to meet immigration requirements in the country you will be living in. Immigration requirements vary widely; you will need to research them thoroughly as part of your planning. You may also need to show proof that you can pay tuition when you enter the country where you will study.
Depending on your immigration status in the country where you will study, you may be considered an international student. International students often pay higher tuition. Some programs in the United States give special status to Canadian applicants.
Some institutions have rolling admissions, which means applications are accepted at any time or before the advertised deadline. Admissions committees will review a complete file and make offers and funding decisions based on an applicant’s file. Applying early to a program can help you secure a spot before more competitive applications are received.
Some programs have several admission categories (e.g., regular, mature, special consideration, access). The Grade Point Average (GPA) requirement and admission test scores may vary based on competition from individuals in a particular applicant pool. It is not detrimental to apply to a category other than “regular.” Showing that you maintained a good GPA while dealing with special circumstances can work to your advantage.
Ascertain which of the following are required:
Identify what types and levels of previous education are required. For some professional programs, a completed undergraduate degree is not required. When applying to a graduate program, you usually need a degree in the same area, but not in every case.
If you are considering completing a graduate degree to boost your GPA to enter a professional program, be aware that most will not consider your graduate GPA. Most professional programs only consider your undergrad GPA.
Generally, no extra consideration is given if you are currently, or have been, a student at the university to which you are applying.
Some programs require certain prerequisites to assess whether an applicant is ready to successfully complete a program. Often prerequisite courses need to meet a GPA cutoff. Prerequisites can change, so keep up to date on each program’s requirements.
Check with the admission’s office about necessary prerequisites if the information is not clear on their website: you can send a course description (including the URL) and course syllabus for the course(s) you determine meets the prerequisite requirements. The more information provided to an admissions office, hopefully, the faster the response time. Try to obtain written confirmation from the admissions office, as a paper trail will provide proof that the courses you have completed meet the school’s requirements. There are many programs that will not evaluate prerequisites until you have completed and paid for the application. Some institutions provide a list of courses accepted from other universities.
Some programs allow you to complete prerequisites as late as the term prior to the program start date, while others do not. Always verify the latest date of graduation (or prerequisite completion) accepted.
Please note that staff in the Centre for Career Development cannot advise you about whether courses meet a program’s prerequisites.
Admission requirements usually state the minimum GPA required to be admitted to a program. If this is not clear, contact the school to find out the GPA requirement and how it is computed. Different possibilities might include: a cumulative average, your grades for the last two years, your grades in your major, the last year of study, or marks in courses related to the program, and so on. The minimum requirement varies by program and a competitive GPA is typically higher than the minimum. The minimum GPA for a Master’s program is usually 75%. If you have a lower GPA in your last or last one or two years of study, this will be a red flag for admissions officers, as it can be interpreted to indicate either that you will not be successful in a graduate program, or that you have not grasped the core concepts required for a graduate/professional program.
The required GPA for professional programs tends to be in the low 80’s. If applying while completing a 4-year degree, most programs only consider 4A term marks and earlier, or in some cases 3B marks and earlier.
Institutions use either a 10-point or a 4-point scale, so it is important to ask how your average will be converted. Visit the program website to see if GPAs are posted for previous years. If you are applying to faculties of law, medicine, or rehab sciences in Ontario, the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) has GPA conversion charts published for each type of program.
For an international or exchange term, the program may need a World Education Service (WES) conversion of your grades. Allow enough time for grade conversion through WES or to order and send transcripts by the deadline date.
When applying to any graduate or professional program, check if an admission test is required and what the deadline is for score submission. If an admission test score is required, be aware that stellar results can often balance out a mediocre GPA, and that, conversely, the opposite is also true.
Some programs accept test scores after the application deadline. In most cases, test results are available four to six weeks after the test date. If you are applying to a program with rolling admissions, a complete application package (including test scores) is required before your application can be evaluated.
Prepare thoroughly for the test you need to write; plan to write it just once. At the same time, though, it is advisable that you write an admission test early enough that you could rewrite it if necessary. Determine how recent your score must be for any given application, plus how multiple scores are handled (e.g., do they consider the highest score, or do they take an average of all scores achieved?). Do not write an admission test the first time without preparing just to “try it out,” as admission committees sometimes have access to score cancellations. Note that there is a waiting period for retaking admission tests and that they can often only be retaken a limited number of times.
Allow enough time to register for the test, order study materials, study, and, if desired, attend a preparation course. Some University of Waterloo clubs on campus hold practice tests, so check their websites for information. The Centre for Career Development has practice test books that you can borrow. A link to admission test information is available on the Centre for Career Development website. Some admission tests are written at a computer-based testing centre. On the test date, you may be required to provide a list of schools that you are applying to.
Here is a list of admission tests:
The Graduate Records Examination (GRE) may be required for application to graduate schools. There is a GRE general test and a GRE subject test, but not all schools require both test results. The GRE general test is written at a computer-based testing site and has several sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Contact the programs to which you are applying to determine if they use the results from every section. Doing so may help you to decide if you need to rewrite the test if your test results were low in certain sections.
The GRE subject test is a paper-based test written at testing sites across Canada. The test can be taken as often as it is offered (i.e., April, October, and November). If your scores are good, it may be to your advantage to submit them to all schools, even to those that do not require them.
The GRE is generally not required by Canadian programs if your undergraduate education was completed in Canada or the United States, but it is almost always required for graduate programs in the United States.
Only you can decide if you want to take an admission-test preparation course. Be sure to do your research to determine the value of such preparation. It is recommended that you check whether: the course fits your learning style; the course is offered online or in-person; the course is available weekends or evenings; the instructor’s experience teaching the course materials is substantial; the course covers topic content, strategies, practice tests, or too much of any one of these; the duration of the course is manageable. A longer course is not necessarily better; some companies include the amount of time spent on practice tests in their total time calculations. It is useful to use previously administered tests as a preparation tool. These are often available through the test registration site. If possible, complete practice tests in the format in which you will have to write: paper or computer-based. Each company has different teaching strategies and it can be confusing to use multiple sources of information. Some companies provide University of Waterloo students discounts; for details, visit the list of preparation courses on the Centre for Career Development’s website.
Some programs have language proficiency requirements. If your native language is English OR you have completed the four full years of your undergraduate degree at an English speaking institution, a test is generally not required. Some programs may waive the admission test scores if you can provide proof of proficiency from other sources such as courses, but if they recommend you take it — do it!
You may need to take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS); the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL); Test of Written English (TWE); or Test of English as a Foreign Language, Test of Spoken English (TOEFL TSE).
Ascertain if any type of experience is necessary to a successful application (i.e., volunteer, extra-curricular, or work). If so, consider which type(s) are required and what would be the most relevant experiences within each type (e.g., work experience is mandatory when applying to most MBA programs). If you are applying to a graduate program, research experience can be a plus. If you are applying to a health-related professional program, in most cases experience from within the profession is necessary. Use experiences from work, volunteering, extra-curricular activities, memberships in clubs/teams, and shadowing to show the depth of your understanding about the profession you want to enter in your application.
Well-rounded students who show leadership qualities, relate well to others, and possess organizational skills have an edge in the application process. In fact, according to Scholarships Canada, involvement in extra-curricular activities can greatly increase your chances of receiving a scholarship. However, admission committees also recognize that over-involvement in such activities can adversely affect your GPA, so be sure to engage only in the number of activities that you can effectively manage.
Even though many students apply to research-based Master’s programs without any research experience, having it can provide a competitive advantage. It is highly recommended that if you apply for a direct entry Ph.D program that you do get prior research experience. Start thinking about what interests you, and try to gain experience in this area. This will help you find a program and potential supervisor. The University of Waterloo library site has an extensive list of research databases to view journal articles and find what fascinates you.
To gain research experiences seek out opportunities such as the NSERC Undergraduate Research Awards (USRA) positions. Applications for an NSERC USRA are very competitive. Some departments offer University Research Assistantships that could provide research experience.
Securing an Undergraduate Research Internship (URI) would allow you to hold a research position with a professor; these opportunities are managed by Co-operative and Experiential Education and the program is open to regular and co-op students. Be proactive and approach a professor, tell them about the program, and provide the URL so they can complete the application.
Another option is to volunteer in a lab on campus where permitted. You could run experiments or even conduct basic literature reviews for professors or grad students. Approach faculty members and explain how your skills and background will be an asset to their research. Consider the faculty member’s perspective and do not focus just on what you will get out of the experience.
Often your fourth year design project or final thesis course and paper will provide research exposure. If you are in a co-op program, you can look for research-based work terms at Waterloo, other institutions, or in industry.
Seek to publish your work whenever possible. It will be especially important if applying to a Ph.D program — giving you a competitive edge. You do not have to be the first author. Take any opportunity to contribute to a study, write up a journal article, or participate in a conference presentation/abstract.
Talk to a faculty member to find out how you could turn your senior-year course project into a publication.
What is CASPer®?
CASPer® (Computer–based Assessment for Sampling Personal Characteristics) is an admissions test that assesses interpersonal and non–cognitive skills like communication, collaboration, interpersonal, ethical–decision making, empathy, compassion, integrity, etc. through a scenario–based format. The scenarios are largely ethical in nature and the questions asked gauge your personal attributes and characteristics using concrete examples of real–world situations.
CASPer® is not a knowledge–based test.
Who uses CASPer®?
CASPer® is increasingly being used by many professional programs, and is common health–related programs such as medicine, nursing, optometry, pharmacy, and more. Programs can add CASPer® to their list of requirements for any application cycle, so check the information for the year of your application cycle.
How do I find out if I need CASPer®?
There are two ways to find out if you need to take CASPer® for your application(s):
What is the CASPer® testing process like?
CASPer® is a computer–based online test, meaning you can take this test in any environment with a reliable internet connection and minimal distractions. The test is 90 minutes in length and is comprised of 10–12 sections. Each section will present a video or written scenario. You can only watch the video or read the written passage once per scenario. Following each scenario, applicants are required to type out an answer three questions in five minutes. Each response is graded by a different marker, so 10–12 people mark your CASPer® test.
Very few schools are explicit about the possible ways that CASPer® scores are used in their admission decisions.
How many times do I need to take the test?
You will need to take the test at least once for every year you apply, as your test scores are only valid for one year.
Generally, the content of the CASPer® test is unique to each program type and country, so you may need to take the test more than once in a cycle if you are applying to multiple program types. However, if you are applying to the professions of dentistry, medicine and optometry in Canada you will write the test once during an admissions cycle. If you are applying to both Canadian and US medical schools, you need to write the US and Canadian CASPer® test.
How can I prepare for CASPer®?
There are many different ways you could prepare yourself for the CASPer® test. There isn’t one right way to prepare for this or any other admissions test. But in general, exposing yourself to the testing format, familiarizing yourself with relevant content, and finding an approach that works for you so you can structure your thoughts and move through the content quickly are key to doing your best.
Check the Test Prep page of CASPer®’s website for their tips to prepare for your test day.
You can test out some common strategies and see which ones help you to best organize your thoughts and make sure that you’re addressing all the questions.
If you are looking for more specific tips and tricks to help you prepare and be successful writing CASPer®, think about some combination of these options:
If you’re not sure where to start, drop by the Centre for Career Development library in the Tatham Centre.
How should I format my responses?
There isn’t one right format for a CASPer® response, but finding a format or strategy that works well for you can help you respond effectively and avoid getting bogged down in organizational details that have little bearing on how your response is scored. Test out different options and see which works best for you and the way your brain likes to organize information. Here’s one example:
Here’s one recommended format on how to approach CASPer®:
Due to the limited time to answer each question it may be helpful to use this format:
Are there test prep courses for CASPer®?
There are companies that offer CASPer® prep courses; however, UWaterloo students that provided feedback after writing CASPer® do not think they are necessary, nor do Admission Directors. At minimum, it will be helpful to understand the CASPer® format and strategies on how to write it.
Should you decide that practice and preparation are useful for you, check out the preparation program supported by CASPer® here.
What kinds of questions will they ask?
Generally, they’re asking reflective questions about your approach or action–oriented response to a specific scenario. The scenarios are ethical in nature, meaning there is no one right answer and typically multiple perspectives to be considered. The scenarios and following questions may or may not be health–related, but they certainly will relate to your ability to analyze a complex situation and communicate with others. Here are some examples to start:
Video shows two people arguing about a convicted pedophile, John, who will be released soon from jail and will be living in their neighbourhood. Do you agree with this decision to release John?
Personal Descriptor CASPer® example: Consider the experiences you have and insight gained from these experiences that led you to believe that you would be a good physician.
Video of Head of Athletic Department talking to a mother who was complaining about her child not being selected for a team. Mother’s question at the end of the scenario was “Are you going to continue to allow this?”
Personal Descriptor CASPer® example: Talk about a stressful situation you have encountered.
Can I get access to sample questions from previous tests?
Yes, it is possible to access question banks with CASPer® scenarios and questions to aid in your preparation beyond what’s available on the CASPer® website itself. The strength of third–party resources and their proximity to actual CASPer® scenarios depends highly on the specific resource and the extent to which the banks get updated each application cycle.
Unlike the MCAT, it’s not necessary to make use of extensive question banks to be successful, and these resources can be costly. If this option doesn’t work for you, that’s okay! Think about using some of the other strategies mentioned here. If you still have questions about the best method for you, you can connect with a Further Education Advisor in a drop–in to start a conversation.
Check if references are required and, if so, the number and type (academic or non-academic). Many programs require two academic references (meaning professors — although exceptions can be made for those who have been out of school for some time), while some ask for one academic and one non-academic. Examples of non-academic references are coaches, volunteer supervisors, and employers. If there are no guidelines on which type of reference is required, academic reference letters are usually highly valued, as your referee should be able to speak to your ability to be successful in a professional/graduate school.
Evaluate who can best provide a non-academic reference letter. Asking someone with a prestigious title, but who cannot provide any substance on your capabilities (with proof) will add no value to your application. Consider first what you want discussed in your reference letter and then find people who can provide that information.
Ask your potential referees in person: “Will you have time to write a strong supporting reference letter?” Then listen to how the individual responds. If you detect any hesitation, try to find someone else. Individuals could be reluctant to write a letter of reference if they have little to say that is positive about your work, or alternatively if they have little memory of you. Many referees will try to let you down easily in such cases. Providing them a way to say “no” can help ensure that you obtain only the most positive of references for your application, whereas including references from individuals who indicate that they do not know you well can be very detrimental to your application.
If your referee is unsure of what to include in the reference letter, suggest that they: include their credentials/accomplishments; provide proof about your abilities/attributes; and share what you accomplished in the course/work term (e.g., assignments, presentations, grades received), difficulty of course/work experience, and comparison of you to other successful students.
It is recommended that you cultivate relationships throughout your university experience, so that when the time comes to ask potential referees to write a letter, you have some choices. Many students worry about how to go about doing this, as they may not feel close enough to their professors to be memorable. But there are ways to tackle this challenge. Pick a professor from whom you have taken several classes, or one to whom you have submitted a particularly strong essay or project. Visit the professor during his or her office hours, or ask questions after class. Show that you are interested in the class content, and that you have a goal to attend graduate school or a professional program. You can mention through this process that in the future you hope that they might write a reference letter for you. This may help them to pay more attention to you. Start establishing these connections today.
Give referees enough time to write effective letters. Ask 4 to 6 weeks in advance for a reference letter, and provide the form, addressed envelope with postage (if necessary), your personal statement/letter of intent, a list of projects completed in their courses, admission requirements, and your résumé — anything that will help their task of writing a letter. Provide a general idea of why you want to attend that particular professional/graduate program, as well as what areas of the field interest you. Ask if your referee requires more information to write your letter.
Sometimes you will be given the option of an “open” versus a “closed” reference letter. An open letter means that you can read it prior to submission; however, it is best not to choose this option as such letters are not viewed as favourably as “closed,” and thus confidential, letters.
If you are not using a centralized application centre, referees will need to provide you with a reference letter for each program or school to which you are applying. These programs will require referees to submit references either directly to the program (electronically after you have provided their name/contact information, or by mail) or in a sealed envelope with a signature across the closing to the applicant. The application process might indicate when your references have been received, so you can use this information to follow-up and remind your referees if necessary. If you apply through a centralized application service, each referee completes only one reference form or letter, which is submitted directly to the application centre for distribution to each institution.
Admission committees look for specific examples of academic abilities as well as discipline, persistence, and responsibility. If a reference form is required, read through the different categories a referee needs to complete because this information may help you identify whom to ask to complete the form and reference letter. Always remember to send a thank-you note to your referee(s).
Transcripts need to be ordered directly from the school(s) you attended unless you are currently enrolled in, or have graduated from, an Ontario university or college and are applying through OUAC. In the latter case, submit a transcript request form to OUAC, and your transcripts will be ordered and forwarded to the institutions to which you are applying. If you are applying to a program at a school that you have already attended, you may not be required to submit a transcript.
It is always a good idea to check your unofficial transcript to ensure it is accurate. Allow enough time to order and have transcripts sent to the school to which you are applying. (At the University of Waterloo this is from the Registrar‘s Office for undergraduate transcripts and the Graduate Studies Office for graduate transcripts.) You may be asked to submit the transcript with your application package in a sealed, signed envelope. Check the admission requirements to determine if a final transcript needs to be sent after you complete your degree.
Graduate degree programs may begin in January, May, or September, and applications are generally due between December and February (for a September start date). In Ontario, applications to certain programs are made through OUAC. The online application becomes available approximately three months prior to the deadline. It usually takes between 5 to 25 to complete an application, so allow yourself enough time to do a thorough job. You do not need to complete the application in one sitting; you can enter and exit the application until you decide you are ready to submit. The following are applications available through OUAC:
If applying to professional programs outside Ontario, contact each institution to check the number of applicants accepted from out of province. Apply directly to each institution. In many cases, an online application form is used.
If your application process involves an interview, please review the Interviewing pages within this Further education section to learn more about graduate/professional school interviews.
If you receive an offer from your second-choice school, contact your first-choice school to see if you can accelerate its decision. If you receive a letter stating you are on a waiting list, determine if you can take steps to increase the likelihood of being accepted. It may be possible to provide additional reference letters and other information to show how your skills and experience have grown since your original application. If possible, visit schools and try to meet with decision makers. And, if you know a faculty member with connections to your program or institution of choice, ask him or her to speak to the admissions committee on your behalf.
Although many students strengthen their qualifications and reapply, it is important to be realistic (i.e., know when and how to develop a viable alternative that will still allow you to realize many of your goals).
If you are unsure of your interests or goals, or don‘t have a parallel plan, please review the Decision-making section of CareerHub.
After completion of a university degree it may be necessary to attend a college program to gain specialized education and training. For example, if you are a student in the Social Development Studies program, and interested in working in Human Resources, it may be helpful to study in a specific Human Resources certificate or diploma program.
College programs are specialized and usually provide a practical component through co–op/internships/practicum experiences which generally make a person more employment–ready.
In Canada there is a distinction between colleges and polytechnics; however, both are included on college lists. There are eleven polytechnic institutions in Canada and they work closely with industry to offer relevant programs for the job market. In Ontario there are 6 polytechnics: Algonquin College, Ottawa; Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Kitchener; George Brown College, Toronto; Humber Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning, Toronto; Seneca College, Toronto; Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Oakville.
According to Ontario Colleges there are different types of programs that can be completed at an Ontario college:
It is possible to transfer credits between Ontario colleges and universities and it strongly recommended that you review the Ontario Colleges site to see if this is a possibility for your situation. Doing so saves you both time and money.
In Ontario, the Ministry of Training and Colleges provides oversight for private colleges (also referred to as career colleges). If you are considering a private/career college, consider the following:
To apply to Ontario colleges, use the ontariocolleges.ca site to find programs and complete the application. The initial application process will require less than an hour to complete. The application requires the following information:
Since most provinces do not have a centralized application process, you will need to complete an application to each program/school that you are interested in attending. British Columbia (BC) is an exception, having its own centralized application site.
You can apply to a maximum of five programs, although you cannot apply to more than three at one college. You can add or remove programs without charge within the same application cycle. You will be asked to rank your program choices and this information is used for statistical purposes; it will not affect admission into a program.
A supplemental application may be required by specific programs after submission of the general application, such as a résumé and/or cover letter.
Rolling admissions are the process of colleges reviewing applications on an ongoing basis. These programs will offer admission based on the space available, with some specifying a start date for the application rather than a final deadline.
Some programs fill up quickly. Therefore, it is best practise to apply as soon as possible. As long as space remains in an Ontario college program, students will be able to apply.
Standard interview format is when candidates are asked a series of questions in front of one or more admission panelists. The main portion of the interview consists of the interviewer asking you questions to try to determine your fit. Generally, you have an opportunity to ask any questions that you may have at the end of the interview.
Practice your interview skills by signing up for the Professional School Interviews (Standard) workshop.
Behaviour-based interviews are designed to elicit information about how you have performed in the past because past behaviour is a good indicator of how you will function in the future. Interviewers develop their questions around the traits and skills they consider necessary for succeeding in a profession. Occasionally, behaviour-based questions are used in the MMI interview format as well. These questions usually begin with phrases such as:
Some applicants find the format of such questions difficult to understand and have trouble responding. However, if you have done your research and have prepared for the interview, you will have work, academic, volunteer, and life experiences ready to share. You can prepare for behaviour-based questions by recalling specific instances that demonstrate your accomplishments, abilities, and fit for the profession/field. Be certain to tell the truth, get to the point, stay focused and positive, and be consistent with your responses. Common behaviour-based interview themes include the following:
Next Step: Work through your résumé to find specific examples for each theme above. Use the STAR approach to describe each example.
The “STAR Approach” is a useful technique for answering behaviour-based questions:
Situation: Provide Background and context:
Task: Describe what you needed to do
Action: Explain what you actually did and how you did it
Result: Describe the outcome of your actions
For example, in response to the query “What experience do you have organizing projects?” you determine that the qualification being evaluated is organizational skills. Your skill/knowledge/ability statement could be, “I have developed excellent organizational skills by working on two major projects. The one I would like to tell you about ended successfully six months ago.”
Every statement you make must be true. Don’t lie or embellish. Ideally, the example you choose should be something that requires a competency similar to the typical work of the prospective professional. If you do not have a similar experience to relate, try to choose the most relevant story from your academic, extracurricular or volunteer activities — do not make it up! Describe the what, who, when, where, why, and how, and talk about the successful outcome or what you learned from the experience.
As you tell the story allow the interviewer to see or live through the action with you. Choose words that will help the interviewer visualize you in the experience (e.g., “It was five minutes before closing on the busiest night of the year when the power went out...”). Whenever possible, include positive feedback from supervisors, colleagues, professors, and others to reinforce your accomplishment. Humour, if used appropriately, can also be an effective tool, because it helps the interviewer to remember you.
The next step is the one that most candidates forget. Tell the interviewer what specific benefits or competitive advantage you can bring to the profession/field because of the experience you have just described. For example, “As part of the team being formed, I would be able to coordinate....” Avoid generic statements such as, “All professions need people with leadership ability.”
An interviewer will use situational/hypothetical questions to establish how you would react to and handle real-life situations. For situational/hypothetical questions, candidates must have a good understanding of the profession and its requirements. Here are some examples of this type of question:
When answering problem-solving questions demonstrate your ability to process information quickly, think logically, and solve creatively. Interviewers place emphasis on the thought process rather than on the conclusion. Examples of problem-solving questions include the following:
The key is not to worry about getting the “right” answer but, rather, to demonstrate your logical thought process in solving the problem. The following five-step process is appropriate for handling most problem-solving questions:
Keep in mind, there is no right answer, only your answer.
In addition to asking the other types of questions mentioned, many interviewers rely on a series of standard questions, and you should prepare for them. Occasionally, classic interview questions are used in the MMI interview format as well.
While preparation is key, it is not possible to predict and prepare for all interview questions. Instead, review your résumé, application, and research the profession (current and future state). Then put information into different categories (e.g., accomplishments, understanding of profession, unique qualities, challenges/weaknesses) enabling you to provide examples as necessary.
The “PAWS” model is a useful method for answering classic questions such as “Tell me about yourself” and “Why do you want to be a ___________?”
When an interviewer asks this question, s/he is looking for those aspects of your life that are relevant to the profession/field, such as how you became interested in the field, related experience, and courses taken. “PAWS” stands for Profile, Academic, Work, and Skills. Include all or as many of the four (in any order) to reinforce your fit for the field/profession.
Here are some examples of what to discuss in each of the four areas:
Profile: Mention how you became interested in this field and point out any relevant community involvement, extracurricular activities, memberships, and personal interests that further demonstrate your commitment to the field
Academic: Talk about your educational background (degrees/diplomas/certifications) and other related training and professional development initiatives/courses that you have participated in
Work: Highlight paid or unpaid (volunteer) experiences related to the profession
Skills: Refer to specific skills/competencies that relate to the profession or field (e.g., communication, interpersonal, time management, problem-solving skills)
Please read Delivering bad news stations. This type of question is found in both Standard and MMI professional school interviews.
Please read Ethical scenario stations. This type of question is found in both Standard and MMI professional school interviews
To supplement the information you obtained before the interview, you should ask questions during the interview (although you will not have this opportunity with MMI interviews). Some questions will arise naturally during the interview, but it is wise to prepare a number of questions in advance. Asking questions will demonstrate your interest and help you determine if the program/school fits your personality, skills, interests, and values.
Your questions should pertain to the program/school and show your enthusiasm and knowledge. By asking intelligent, well-thought-out questions that genuinely matter to you, you will convince the interviewer that you are serious about the program and institution. If a question has been answered during the interview, do not ask it again; such repetition will suggest that you were not listening. It is important to compose your own questions; however, the following may give you a starting point:
Interviews are part of the process of gaining admission to some graduate/professional programs (e.g., health-related professions, business, and, occasionally graduate school and faculties of education). Interviews occur after the application deadline. The fact that you have been invited for a graduate/ professional school interview shows that you have met the preliminary requirements.
Interviews are either standard/panel style (i.e., candidates are asked a series of questions) or a multiple-mini interview (MMI) format (i.e., candidates move through a series of stations). Some programs conduct MMIs followed by standard interviews.
To deliver a well-executed answer, use a framework to provide structure to your answer:
Anticipating possible questions helps you to prepare points to include in your answers. Think about why a question is being asked. What does the interviewer really want to know? Review your application, résumé, and past experiences to see how they fit with the appropriate competencies necessary for your field/profession. Colleges and other regulatory bodies associated with your profession will have information on the essential skills and competencies required. In addition to the profession specific competencies, for most health professions, an understanding of the CanMEDS competencies is recommended. Try creating a similar chart demonstrating your experiences/skills/competencies with specific examples:
Tutoring: adapting teaching style for different clients
Work: team project across departments
Varsity volleyball: captain role on team
Stand Up to Stigma: raising awareness
Research Assistant: understanding research and ethics approval process
Fundraiser: liaising with businesses and tactfully collecting donations
Academic courses: understanding of social determinants of health
Research your specific program and institution to know how you fit with the mission and curriculum, and also what you can bring to the school. Practise all of your answers out loud to hear where you stumble and pause, and to be comfortable with your examples.
The interview is an exchange of information between you and the interviewer(s). It is used to help assess interest in, and suitability (i.e., competencies) for the program of study, and fit for the field/profession. To make this assessment, the interview committee will endeavour to obtain information about your skills, values (personal ethics), personality, and interests. Interviewers may be interested in your integrity (personal and professional accountability), maturity, compassion, sincerity, honesty, originality, curiosity, intelligence, confidence, motivation, leadership skills, communication skills, ability to relate to others, cultural and social interests, work and volunteer experiences, knowledge of relevant issues and events, and, in some cases, your ability to withstand the emotional/physical demands of the profession.
Succeeding in an interview may depend on your professional appearance and the interviewer’s first impression of you. If the first impression is not positive, it will be difficult to change the interviewer’s mind during the rest of the interview.
Arrive early, dressed in attire appropriate for the type of admissions interview you are attending. For health and business-related interviews dress conservatively and keep fashion accessories to a minimum. Avoid wearing strong scents (or any at all) because many people have environmental allergies. Ensure your cell phone is turned off.
Greet each person with respect and professionalism. When you shake hands, make eye contact and smile. Handshakes should be firm but not aggressive; try to match the grip of the interviewer. Standard North American practice is to shake hands at the beginning and end of an interview. However, if you are not comfortable with this practice tell the interviewer that you prefer not to shake hands and why. It is good etiquette to wait to sit down until the interviewer invites you to do so.
Don’t worry about being a little nervous during the interview; being nervous is normal and expected. Remember, the interviewer wants you to have the right qualifications and interest in the profession. Many interviewers will begin the interview with some “small talk” to help you relax. This may seem irrelevant to the program, but you are still being evaluated; be sure to demonstrate a positive attitude.
To demonstrate effectively your suitability and value, you must know yourself. Review your self-assessment information, volunteer experiences, application, personal statement/letter of intent, and your résumé. Be prepared to give examples to substantiate all claims. Some interviewers will want you to talk about your mistakes and what lessons you learned from them. Ensure that your responses are sufficiently detailed. This is especially important in “closed” or “blind” interviews where committee members may not have been privy to your complete application.
Review professional and regulatory bodies’ websites to be familiar with the current profession, future directions, and the competencies important for someone in the field. It is important to demonstrate your genuine interest in and fit for the profession. Read the notes you made as you reviewed print and online materials, during volunteer opportunities/job shadowing, and when you talked with others. Keep current with events and new research. Many of the MMI stations will be relevant to current topics in the news, both health- and non-health related. The best way to gather this information is to follow the news, review association websites, and to speak with professionals in the field. Your interpersonal skills will be a particularly important factor in people-focused professions as you will be required to be approachable and to work closely with patients/students/clients.
To prepare for the interview, ensure that you research the faculty/program and, if appropriate, the interviewers’ areas of expertise in order to understand the nuances of each. If possible, visit the campus and talk to current students in the program, attend classes, and visit labs.
The order in which you deliver the content of your answer indicates your priorities. For example if your answer to: “Why do you want to be a doctor?” is “... to help patients, conduct research, teach” this will create a more positive impression than “... a high income, prestige, to help patients.”
Awkward situations may occur during an interview, and it is up to you to be prepared to confidently handle whatever happens. To increase your confidence and preparation for an interview, practise. Check for quality of information in your answers and the positive, non-verbal reinforcement of your words. By practising responses out loud, you can hear your answers and assess their effectiveness. But don’t practise so much that you lose your spontaneity and your answers sound rehearsed.
The key to tricky situations is to remember that barriers to admission can often be overcome by focusing on the positive. Circumstances that you may find problematic are:
If you answer a question and there is no prompt response or follow-up question, try to remain calm and collected. Silence may not be a negative sign; the interviewer could be taking time to process and record your answer, and/or be considering the next question.
In response to uncomfortable silence, ask the interviewers if they require any further details regarding your last response, shifting the responsibility to them. Resist the temptation to ramble because you may provide irrelevant information that may hurt your chances of being offered admission.
Although the interviewer will likely take notes, generally you should not. If you have your head down writing, the conversation will be uncomfortable and unengaging because of your lack of eye contact and inability to show enthusiasm.
Making brief notes is acceptable when you need to record information that may be easily forgotten, such as a key word, phone number, or contact information. If you fear you may not recall other pertinent details, document the information immediately after the interview.
You may have difficulty communicating your thoughts clearly and concisely, especially when you are not sure how to respond to a question. The key is to remain calm and positive, focus on the question, and continue to remind yourself that you are doing well. You may request clarification if you are not sure what the interviewer is asking, or pause and politely ask for a few moments to consider your response; however, don’t take too much time because interviewers want to see that you can think well under pressure.
After a brief pause, if you still cannot respond to the interviewer’s question, you may ask to defer your answer to the end of the interview. The risk is that interviews usually follow a certain structure and the question might be missed entirely, leaving the interviewer with an unanswered question. If you’re stumped because you simply do not know the answer, be honest with the interviewer and, depending on the type of question, discuss how you would handle the situation or resources you would use to find the answer.
Interviewers will often ask negatively phrased questions to assess your perceived weaknesses and strengths. The following are a few examples:
Be honest and discuss a real weakness or past event that would not negatively impact performance for the profession/field you are applying for. Avoid the popular advice to turn a weakness into a strength (e.g., “I’m a perfectionist...”) because this kind of response is unconvincing and over used. Be sure to end your “weakness” response on a positive note by indicating what steps you are taking to overcome the weakness.
It is important to keep your answers short and to be as positive as possible, even when answering a negatively framed question.
It is a pleasure to be interviewed by someone who is enthusiastic about the profession, but it is not desirable if you aren’t able to market yourself because the interviewer monopolizes the discussion. Tactfully break into the conversation to help keep the interview focused on the subject you know best: you! You might say, “I had a similar experience...” or “It’s interesting that you say that because I am also skilled in...”
Is your body or verbal language contributing to the problem? Without being rude, offer less acknowledgement (e.g., nodding, “that’s interesting,” “really?”). If you are not given adequate time to market your qualifications and the interview is drawing to a close, request a few moments to summarize your qualifications for the profession/field, highlighting key points you had planned to discuss.
What should you do if you’re in the middle of an interview and have just been asked what is clearly an illegal question? There is no clear-cut answer. Much depends on you.
In some cases, you may be able to answer the “hidden” question. Think of what information the interviewer is trying to elicit. For example, “Do you have or plan to have children?” may indicate a concern about your ability to put in the time to complete the program.
You may elect to say “Why do you ask?” or “Would you explain how this point is connected to the qualifications for this program?” This could cause the interviewer to reconsider or clarify the question. It may offend some interviewers, but probably not the majority.
If you feel that you should not answer the question (you shouldn’t have to, after all) or that you are not interested in attending the program, you may state, “I don’t feel obligated to answer that” or “That question is inappropriate.” If you choose this option, you will either enlighten (the interviewer may not realize it is illegal and will be happy that you pointed it out), or offend (the interviewer may not consider you for the program). At some schools there is a post-interview evaluation, so a candidate can report illegal questions.
It is best not to bring up your religious beliefs in your answers. Interviewers for health-related professions could worry that when you are practising in your profession, and not being supervised, you might present different religious options to a patient and this isn’t the expected practice. As a health-care provider you need to look at things objectively and not present your own ideologies.
Smile when appropriate during the interview. Be enthusiastic and responsive. As you talk about your past and present activities, your passion and energy can be communicated both through your words and your body language (e.g., an excited tone of voice, leaning forward, nodding your head in agreement). Maintaining eye contact is important; failure to do so may imply a lack of confidence or, worse, cause the interviewer to question your truthfulness.
Sit comfortably, without slouching. Don’t put anything on your lap or in your hands if it will restrict your natural body movement or if you may be tempted to play with it. Keep your clipboard, note pad, briefcase, or portfolio on the floor beside your chair for easy retrieval.
Respond to questions specifically and concisely but give sufficient details to enable the interviewer to evaluate your credentials. Interviewers become frustrated when they have to listen to long, rambling answers. Think before you speak. It is quite acceptable to pause before talking in order to organize your thoughts. Avoid verbal fillers such as “um,” “ah,” “you know,” or regularly repeating the question to provide thinking time.
Use professional language. Avoid slang. Speak clearly. Watch the interviewer for clues on how the interview is progressing. Is the interviewer’s face or body language telling you that your answers are too long, not detailed enough, too boring? If in doubt, ask the interviewer if more or fewer details are needed.
Prepare in advance to talk about any topic that you feel uncomfortable about. If there is something that you don’t want an interviewer to inquire about, it will likely be raised during the interview. Practise your answer out loud often enough to feel confident, and to decrease your emotions surrounding the answer (e.g., “Tell me about your most painful experience”). Maintain poise and self-control. Consider a difficult issue as a learning opportunity that has made you a better person.
This is an interview where one interviewer conducts an interview with one candidate. This is typical for MBA and graduate school interviews.
For health-related interviews it is common for there to be a panel of interviewers. Often this consists of a faculty member or someone in the profession, a current student, and a community member. Each interviewer will be assessing you differently (e.g., a community member will assess if they would choose you as a professional).
Although it is important to have good eye contact with the person who asks you a question, also look at the other interviewers frequently to include them in the discussion. Try to remember each person’s name and use his or her name during the interview.
The interview process often includes meeting with current students and a tour of the site, so wear comfortable shoes.
If given the choice between an on- or off-campus interview (common for MBA), try to arrange an on-campus interview. This will give you the opportunity to talk to current students, sit in on a class, see the campus, and get a better sense whether this is the right school and location for you. However, if you are not able to attend an on-campus interview, you will not be penalized.
All of the usual advice about interview skills still applies. Your attire is your choice, but you may find that dressing professionally increases your confidence and allows you to perform better. Keep your application, school information, points that you want to highlight, and list of questions handy; in fact, keep these in front of you during the interview for easy reference. (Don’t shuffle your papers though!) Have a pen and paper available to note any comments or questions that may occur to you during the interview. Choose your words carefully and be succinct. It is also important to vary your voice tone, tempo, and pitch to keep the interviewer’s attention. Ensure that you are in a private setting to eliminate any distractions or background noise.
In this type of interview, interviewers use video technology to conduct interviews at a distance. Use the same strategies as you would if you were meeting in person. Depending on the sophistication of the technology, you may experience short transmission delays. Make eye contact with the camera, which, to the interviewer, appears as direct “eye contact.” Remember to check the monitor periodically to observe the interviewer’s body language.
After each interview, evaluate how well you did by completing the following “Interview evaluation worksheet”
Save this list to record how you perform during interviews and to document your progress.