Many fellowship and research competitions include in-person interviews in the final stage. Interviews allow selection committees to learn more about your interests, abilities, and future plans. At this stage, all finalists are equally strong candidates. The interview is a way for the selection committee to choose the candidates who are the best match with the opportunity's goals.

How to prepare

The first step in preparing for interview questions is to re-read your application. You may be surprised to find how much you have changed since you started the application process. You should also refresh your knowledge of the fellowships' or research's philosophy by reviewing the any associated website. Interview panels are looking for candidates who best embody these values and goals. Be prepared to show your knowledge and understanding of those core values.

Many of the testimonials from past Columbia finalists can be useful to read. We may also be able to connect you with former fellowship finalists and recipients.

Once you invited to an interview, URF advisers will meet with you to discuss the format of that interview. We will also arrange mock interviews that simulate the setting of a rigorous interview. These panels of faculty members, deans, and staff include time for constructive feedback. Mock interviews are meant to help you test and improve your speaking skills and your ability to think on your feet.

What kind of questions will they ask?

Everything in your application is fair game for the interview. Panelists read your application closely and will pick out topics for debate and dialogue. Questions often focus on your discipline, your plans for study and research, and your long-term goals. Sometimes panelists will want to discuss abstract ideas, policy-oriented questions, or even hear your opinion on current events.

The goal in preparing for the interview is not to be able to answer all questions correctly. Instead, you want to get comfortable with being the center of attention and practice answering a range of questions with clarity and confidence.

Interviews turn out to be overwhelmingly positive experiences, both for you and for the panelists. Remember that the people who invited you are eager to hear what you have to say. Try to relax and be yourself!

Additional Interview Resources from CCE

  • Section on interviewing in Design Your Next Steps: this can be a one-stop shop for an interviewing overview. There's a section in there on preparing for virtual and phone interviews, which can also be viewed as a standalone resource on the CCE website.
  • Big Interview: allows students to record themselves responding answering interview questions, self-assess, and even share videos with mentors for feedback; there are also lots of great resources in the system.