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everyone—

A quick and vague question. I've applied to 9 English PhD programs this cycle at institutions that vary greatly in prestige. Only one of them, the least prestigious program, requires a brief video interview for "finalists" (about 15 minutes), in which the candidate discusses his/her interest in the school, academic interests, and career plans with a member of the department.

I was just selected for this yesterday, and the interview is tomorrow! I wanted to know if anyone has any insight about the true purpose of such an interview, which is rare in the humanities, and seems redundant considering that the proposed topics of discussion are all covered at length in my application. It's especially bizarre considering it's not an especially prestigious program/their funding isn't great/etc., so such a step seems less necessary than it would at very competitive programs.

It occurrs to me that they may want to ensure that finalists are genuinely interested in their program before potentially wasting offers on candidates who regard the school as a backup? Of course I'm taking the interview prep seriously, but any extra insight that would help me be more strategic would be much appreciated.

  • Are they trying to get people with no true interest in them to withdraw rather then waist their time? – Ian Jan 21 at 8:55
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One possible purpose of the interview, from their point of view, is that having an actual conversation may help you become more interested in joining their program. So it may be partly for recruitment as well as screening.

This would also explain why a less prestigious program would want to do it: they have a harder time recruiting.

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I would take the request at face value. They want to get some "feel" for how you would fit into their program. Their motive, I suspect, is to save money for travel by not needing to invite you for a visit.

They will probably use what they learn to choose one or two people for a face-to-face visit. I would read "finalist" more like "shortlist" or "semi-finalist", but maybe not. Your sense of their intentions are probably close to the mark, actually.

I suspect that some programs in your field depend on a close and collegial working relationship among the students and faculty. If so, don't underestimate the importance of this, though it sounds like you are taking it appropriately seriously.

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