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Interview Preparation

Common Interviews Questions


This is the most fundamental question that you have to be prepared to explain.

  • Why do you want to do what you propose to do?  
  • Why have you chosen the goals that you have?  
  • Why is this scholarship and/or graduate degree the best path towards those goals?  
  • Why would this scholarship and/or graduate program be a better fit than other elite options for which you're equally qualified?

What is your leadership style?

Don't make the common mistake of listing leadership positions. Rather, focus on a specific leadership experience or accomplishment.  Use this example to illustrate your abiding leadership strengths.  How did you create shared vision within your group?  How did you marshall the internal and external resources of the group to make this vision a reality?

You may want to consult Henry Dyson's Guide to Writing Leadership Essays for more suggested topics for reflection.

When have you held a dissenting point of view?

Avoiding "group think" and appropriately dissenting are often necessary for leadership.  They demand both intellectual and social intelligence.  Tell a specific story about a time you held a dissenting point of view within a group. This might be a matter of principle or strategy.  Were you able to persuade others to adopt your point of view?  How did you proceed appropriately?

How did you respond to a recent failure?

Resilience and the value of failure are hot topics these days.  Key components include the ability to regulate emotions, maintain optimism (personally and in a group), and of course learn from your mistakes.  Choose examples that allow you to illustrate these qualities.  Have specific and concrete answers to the natural follow up question, How will things be different next time?

Who is your role model?

What are the specific traits or accomplishments that you admire in this person? What specific elements of her/his story do you strive to emulate?


  • Who is your favorite scholar in your field? 
  • Name a public figure that you admire or who inspires you
  • If you could meet any three people in history, who would they be and why?

What is your favorite book? What have you read outside your field recently?

There's no "wrong answer" here, but be prepared to talk about your reasons for selecting the book/article you discuss, what you thought about it, what (brief) insights or lessons you took from it.  This is your opportunity to show them that you're a thoughtful person with broad interests.  But don't overthink it - authenticity is the key.

What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?

A winning strategy in life is to find out what you're good at and then put yourself in a position to use those strengths.  Be aware of your weaknesses and don't let them hold you back. But also recognize that all of us have weaknesses and there is only so much that we can or should do about them, beyond avoid situations in which they will be liabilities.

Be willing to offer stories that illustrate your strengths and explain how your future goals build upon them. Be ready to talk about what you've learned about your weaknesses and why they won't be major liabilities in the future.

What is your proudest achievement?

We feel justifiable pride when we do something that is (a) difficult, (b) worth doing (i.e. of real value), and (c) an illustration of our character. Pick a few examples and consider: what obstacles did I overcome in this achievement? What did I accomplish and why was it valuable? What does this accomplishment say about me?



Enough About Me - What Do You Think About Me?

Tara Yglesias's guide to surviving the Truman Interview is a classic that any scholarship finalist, not just Truman finalists, would do well to read.  It is chock-full of good, practical advice.   For students, this is also an excellent introduction to what it feels like to be on the interviewer's side of the table.

Practice Questions for Truman Interviews

Rhodes House, Oxford

What does it feel like to interview for a Rhodes Scholarship?  

This article offers one student's account of interviewing in the Houston district in 2016.  I like the author's emphasis on the central question of any fellowship application: why?  The opportunity to explore, reflect, and receive feedback on what you want to do in the future, and more importantly why you want to do it, is the central benefit of any fellowship application whether you win or not.