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I was interviewed a few days ago for a master degree and the interviewer asked me questions about the degree and the school in general. Some questions were about the learning method they use, the number of people in the class, the internship rhythm, etc. I wasn't able to answer some questions like "do you know the name of our partner?".

We did a debriefing and he told me that he was frustrated that I didn't know some pieces of information. He said that other students went to the school open day (knowing I live 500km away) or called the school a few times (I saw all the information I needed on their website).

As I want to prepare my interview better next time, is this case common? And how does it affect an admission?

Side note: I'm in France.

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    It is pretty standard to be interviewed about a few details of the place you apply at. This is not specific to academia. If the information is easily and publicly available, like on the institute website, it makes sense to read and memorize it before the interview. Mar 23 at 11:31
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    Actually, this seems very odd to me. We don't know the field, and we don't know if the university is unique in some way, but lots of things are assumed without issue by applicants in some fields; math, for example. The basic assumption is that it will be hard, but reasonable.
    – Buffy
    Mar 23 at 20:36
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    tl,dr: At a milder level this is a way of gauging your level of preparedness and interest in their specific school. At an unreasonable level like this it is inept and presumptuous. Mar 24 at 11:42
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    Assuming that this type of questions is rational, I think they are to identify students that have some existing connection to the school. In principle, it is a good idea to know where you are going to apply many months or even a few years in advance, do an internship there, take some short course, join a collaboration, and develop connections there. This is a general strategy that also works for joining a PhD program, applying for a job, etc.
    – Jake
    Mar 24 at 11:56
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    Just wondering if this "school" is in France could it be a grande école or CNRS or suchlike ? If so, I'm not surprised at the haughtiness of your interviewer. You might find more freedom and creativity at a less self-conscious provincial graduate school.
    – Trunk
    Mar 25 at 21:20

4 Answers 4

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If you apply for any position in any institution, you're expected to be prepared, i.e. to know about the basics of the institution and the position/program.

The examples you mentioned fit well into that scheme. Why would you want to apply for a program if you don't know key concepts like

  • the learning method they use,
  • typical class sizes,
  • the internship system applied?

The interviewer tries to assess

  • whether you understand the learning culture at that school,
  • whether you will be a good fit for the institution, someone who will graduate successfully with some probability.

A master's degree demands more than just being there on time and doing what some instructor tells you to do.

So, for the next application, I'd recommend that you try to answer the following questions ahead of time:

  • Is this institution/program a good fit for my expectations?
  • Am I a good fit for the institution's expectations?

This probably needs some research, but it will save you and the interviewer from wasted time and travel costs.

And if there are things you really can't find out on your own during this research phase, don't hesitate to ask, preferably before the interview, but it can also be done in the interview, showing your interest in the institution.

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    Universities wanting applicants to familiarize themselves with this sort of information ought to clearly say so in their graduate school application package. Otherwise applicants are entitled to see it as just another university, albeit one with an attractive research position.
    – Trunk
    Mar 23 at 20:26
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    What if the student has no preference for the learning method/class size/internship system? If the applicant does not consider these things relevant for their school choice, then I don't understand why the institution insists that the student needs to know them.
    – Marc Paul
    Mar 24 at 1:51
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    The reason is simple: if there are many more appplicants than open spots, and some applicants had familarized themselves with the (possibly unique) school system while others have not, why wouldn't they prefer those? All other things held constant, obviously.
    – LuckyPal
    Mar 24 at 8:12
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    "A master's degree demands more than just being there on time and doing what some instructor tells you to do." And knowing the class size in advance is definitely not one of those things. That has zero correlation with the chances of success.
    – wimi
    Mar 24 at 14:24
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    @LuckyPal There is also a difference between being informed about the school system and having memorized the details of it. Concluding that the question asker hasn't considered whether the institution is a good fit, or that they are ignorant about it, because they don't know certain details of the program is also an extrapolation. In fact, the question states that "I saw all the information I needed on their website". Apparantly the question asker doesn't consider class size etc. an important factor for deciding whether to apply, and I don't understand why that should be held against them.
    – Marc Paul
    Mar 24 at 14:36
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I can't see any reasonable basis for "frustration" on the part of the interviewer unless the application process provided all introductory info on the Department and advised applicants to familiarize themselves with it.

I detect a note of vanity in this place.

Even if applicants had read all what the Department said about itself, its teaching and research approaches, its partner organizations, etc - I see nothing odd in applicants being healthily sceptical on some of the wilder claims, e.g. "excellence", "cutting edge", etc. Universities are rather human places after all.

Maybe you should reflect on whether you want to go into a place with unreasonable expectations or one that lacks essential modesty, humanity and self-perspective.

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    What part of the question exactly lets you conclude that the school "lacks essential modesty, humanity and self-perspective"?
    – LuckyPal
    Mar 24 at 8:06
  • Yes the informations he asked is available on their website.
    – user161458
    Mar 24 at 9:34
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    @LuckyPal Paragraph 2.
    – Trunk
    Mar 24 at 10:10
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    @user161458 It seems like you got the worst of the interview then. Neither preparation nor spirited defence . . . It all puts your research motivation into question.
    – Trunk
    Mar 24 at 10:22
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The answer by Ralf Kleberhoff is completely correct in my opinion. I would just like to add one aspect.

As was mentioned also in the comments, it is custom to do some research about the school/university/company/etc. you apply to. If an applicant is not prepared, it might be that the applicant simply does not know about this custom. When a high school student applies for a summer intern, I would be lenient. But among applicants for a graduate program, it may be fair to assume that it is actually more likely being a sign of a general attitude.

In this way, being unprepared for questions about the school is comparable to wearing joggers. So I can understand the frustration of the interviewer, even though you may actually belong to the other group of persons.

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    But the graduate school in question has to go the extra mile to provide the information for the candidates. Maybe the professor left it to admin staff who garbled or minimally provided such info.
    – Trunk
    Mar 23 at 20:41
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    @Trunk The graduate school has to make the information available, but I'm not clear on why it would have to "go the extra mile." At graduate level students are expected to be able to do non-trivial research, after all.
    – cjs
    Mar 24 at 1:30
  • @cjs Well, if any graduate school wants the most suitable staff, support staff, RFs, RAs and PhD students then they have to accept full ownership for the recruitment process, the induction phase and the management of day-to-day matters that arise. You just can't achieve this by presenting in a way that presumes existing knowledge, appreciation or still less agreement with the school's "decreed" ethos. A school must justify the validity of their ethos ! Applicants have their own educational philosophy. Publications and staff turnover may well contradict what the school's Head is saying . . .
    – Trunk
    Mar 25 at 12:45
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Some questions were about the learning method they use, the number of people in the class, the internship rhythm, etc. I wasn't able to answer some questions like "do you know the name of our partner?".

A hypothesis that other answers have not explored is that the institution might consider that these are their strong points. In other words, they might take pride in being different in these regards and they might expect good candidates to apply because of these.

OP points out that they "saw all the information (they) needed on the institution's website". Assuming that the information was available somehow, it is a red flag from the interviewer's POV. I mean, if OP is not aware of all these good things they offer and no one else does, why is OP applying at all?

I'm not saying that this was the case, but for some niche institutions it might as well be. Also, I don't think that it's OP's fault. If this is really a niche institution with a very particular way of doing things and the alleged advantages did not seem important to OP, then maybe there simply wasn't good cultural fit and OP might be happier someplace else.

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