Numerous graduate programs include an admissions interview in their application process. As scary as it may sound, it’s a great chance to show off your skills and learn more about the graduate program you’ve applied for. Making it to the final stage of the application process—grad school interviews—is a major accomplishment because it means you are being given consideration as a potential student. So, on the day of the interview, you should be well-prepared and present yourself in the best possible light.
Here are some of the most typical grad school interview questions you might be asked, along with advice on how to respond to them, to aid in your preparation.

Why Graduate School Interviews Are Important

Admissions committees are interested in knowing more about you than what your applications and test results can reveal. If you have a clear understanding of how your graduate work will prepare you for your career, it will be easier for them to judge your motivation and dedication to your subject. They are looking for a good “fit” because the graduate school requires you to work more closely than you did in undergrad with faculty and other students. They want to be certain that you can handle challenges and succeed in their program in addition to that you share the department’s and its faculty’s philosophies and research interests.

How to Prepare for your grad school interview

Although not all graduate programs require one, if they do, you should take advantage of the chance. There is simply no substitute for speaking with an interviewer directly. By the time you are preparing for an interview, you may have already had the opportunity to present yourself in the best possible light on your graduate school application and in your personal statement. Similar to how you would prepare for a job interview, practice for your graduate interview.

  • Choose a time for the interview that works for you. – Some of us perform better in the morning, whereas others require more time (and coffee) to get going. Try to schedule your interview for when you typically feel your best throughout the day. It’s a good idea to find out how long the interview will last as well. In this way, you can plan your energy, time, and attention accordingly by going into the conversation and knowing how it will likely progress.
  • Find out as much as you can about your interviewer. – In-person interviews for graduate school are typically conducted by an admissions representative, though current graduate students or professors may also participate. Researching the person you’ll be speaking with beforehand can help you feel more confident and identify common interests you can use to start a conversation.
  • Consider scheduling an interview along with a campus visit. In addition to allowing you to maximize your time at the school, this also demonstrates initiative, which is always a plus. Additionally, if you visit the campus in advance, you can use the experience to guide any questions you might have and the questions you want to ask during the interview.
  • Continually conduct research. You’ve probably accomplished a lot already, but it’s crucial to feel confident expressing the precise reasons why you think this school is a great fit. Giving specific examples of courses, professors, and other information that you find interesting will help to show how engaged you are.
  • Consider why graduate school is the best choice for you. The graduate school application and admissions process can be hectic, and it’s simple to forget why you’re doing it in the first place. However, this will likely be the first question you encounter in your interview. Spend some time reflecting on why you decided to pursue graduate studies and how your personal experience relates to and supports your dedication to that area of study.

Graduate school interview questions with sample answers

1. Tell me about yourself.

This question, which is frequently asked in different kinds of interviews, is intended to foster conversation and assess your capacity for information prioritization. List your significant experiences, interests, values, and accomplishments when composing your response to this graduate school essay question. If you want to be successful in a graduate program, think about how each of these points relates to you. Personalize your responses, be genuine, and maintain professionalism. Interviewers ask you this question to learn more about your goals and personality.

Sample Answer – “I’ve spent the majority of my life concentrating on academics, and this spring I’ll receive my summa cum laude from the University of Texas with a degree in studio art and economics. In high school, I started a small business to sell my pottery, and that’s when I first became interested in economics. To expand my business, I started reading about economics, which piqued my interest in the theory. I found a creative outlet in that business, and I also learned a lot about dedication to a task. I work diligently, have a creative mind, and have a strong desire to learn more about economics.”

2. What do you want out of your career?

Graduate programs frequently look for applicants who are ambitious and have a clear sense of what they want to achieve in their field. Having a successful career and achieving professional goals can enhance the graduate program’s reputation. Additionally, your interviewer will check that the program will help you achieve your academic and professional goals.

Sample Answer – “I originally intended to major in conservation biology when I started college, but at the moment I’m also thinking about teaching. I would dearly love to teach conservation biology at the college level because my professors have had such a profound influence on me. Prior to instructing others, I intend to conduct fieldwork and write a book about the Midwest’s biodiversity. Making an engaging educational program to teach about conservation biology in national parks is one of my life’s ambitions.”

3. How will you support our initiative?

The advantages you would bring to their program are what graduate school interviewers are most interested in. Academic excellence, accolades, achievements, and publications are just a few examples of things that can benefit a graduate program. Make sure you thoroughly research the program and connect your objectives and areas of interest to the department’s most recent work before responding to this question. Mention your plan of action if you have a specific objective in relation to your field.

Sample Answer – “I knew I wanted to publish some of my papers while I was an undergraduate student, so I worked with the Academic Success department and a few of my professors to figure out how to do it. I’ve already had two of my essays accepted by scholarly journals, so I know how to make the most of the resources available to me to achieve my objectives. I’m determined to keep producing ground-breaking research that will bolster the fantastic work your department is doing.”

4. What areas of study interest you?

This graduate school interview question is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your expertise in the particular field to which you are applying. Discuss your prior research and potential applications of your work when responding to this question. Give reasons for your passion for each specialty, and give examples of how you have previously pursued your academic interests. The ideal candidate will likely have a track record of pursuing their interests, according to interviewers.

Sample Answer – “Although I have studied literature from various regions and eras, 19th-century British literature is unquestionably my favorite. I had the good fortune to learn how relevant Jane Austen and Emily Bronte are to our contemporary world when I was hired as Dr. Eileen Saletti’s research assistant last year. At both my university and national conferences, my presentation on the evolution of heroines in literature won several prizes. My research is intended to inspire people to look to strong female characters in literature as role models.”

5. Describe a time when you failed.

Use the STAR approach to describe how you dealt with and learned from failure when answering questions about it. Your attitude toward failure and your ability to overcome difficulties will be evaluated by interviewers. Graduate programs are frequently quite demanding, and students must be devoted to overcome setbacks. Use this question to demonstrate your capacity to learn from prior errors, particularly because you are interviewing to join an educational atmosphere.

Sample Answer – “My first experiment in my Introduction to Chemistry course was a total failure. I distinctly recall feeling quite ashamed, but I eventually mustered the guts to see my professor after class to go through safety protocols and discuss how to avoid similar mistakes in the future. I gained a lot of knowledge from that one-on-one session and kept in touch with that professor throughout college as a mentor. As long as you have the ability to seek out improvement and ask for assistance, I believe that failing is the best way to learn.”

6. What do you think has been your biggest success?

By telling the interviewer about your best achievements, you demonstrate to them not only your potential for success but also your values. Whatever you decide to highlight as your greatest achievement, connect it to your motivation for enrolling in graduate school and how you want to pursue excellence. Additionally, give an explanation of why you made the decision you did, so the interviewer can clearly see your basic principles.

Sample Answer – “My younger sister receiving a scholarship for college was my greatest success. Being the oldest kid and with neither of my parents having gone to college, I was on my own to figure out how to fill out applications. I was quite happy of how much my knowledge and life skills had grown when my sister sought for my advice on applications and I was able to deliver it. As I learn from and educate my peers in graduate school, I intend to bring that attitude of collaboration and shared accomplishment.”

7. What are your interests and hobbies?

Prospects with a wide range of interests and the ability to use their talents in many contexts will stand out to interviewers as well-rounded candidates. You’ll also need to have hobbies to help manage stress because graduate school programs can be very challenging. Your interests and hobbies might also draw attention to skills that aren’t often apparent from a student’s academic record, including creativity or cooperation. Use this graduate school interview question to show off your personality and establish a personal connection with the interviewer.

Sample Answer – “My favorite thing to do after a long day at work is to take care of my garden. It is not only intellectually stimulating but also incredibly rewarding and soothing. I enjoy learning about the ideal nutrient ratios that my plants require to thrive. Even though being a doctor is my ultimate aim, I appreciate being able to care for both humans and plants.”

8. What draws you to our program, specifically?

When submitting an application to a graduate program, you should be well-aware of the particulars of the program and your reasons for choosing it. Although interviewers are aware that prospects frequently apply to numerous schools, demonstrating an interest in their specific program can help you stand out from the competition. You might be able to persuade the interviewer that you will put in a lot of effort to ensure the success of their program by demonstrating your passion for their principles or approach.

Sample Answer – “At a conference, I once met the director of your architecture department, and I was so moved by her original perspective. Since then, I’ve been eager to enroll in her courses and study at this university. The range of classes and the distinctive internship program attracted me when I looked into the program. Your curriculum gives the most on-the-job training, and I learn best by doing.”

9. What are your advantages and disadvantages?

Graduate school applicants are asked this question during interviews to gauge their attitude and level of self-awareness. You should be very aware of the areas you need to grow as a graduate student because you will be concentrating on improving your academic knowledge and experience. This question also gives you a chance to describe the advantages you could offer to their program. Be truthful in your response and explain how you overcame your weaknesses while highlighting your strengths.

Sample Answer – “My creative problem-solving skills are my best asset. As a medical scheduler, I came across multiple instances where nurses had been overbooked. To ensure that every patient received top-notch care, I consistently found a way to rearrange shifts or assign tasks. I want to get better at leading others, which is one of my goals. I sometimes feel apprehensive when expressing my thoughts, but I think working with other graduate students will boost my confidence.”

10. Why should you choose our institution or program?

You must be explicit in your answer to this query. You should not continue to talk about what a prestigious or well-known program or school it is. They don’t require candidates to inform them of their “ranked” because they already know it. Instead, what is it about that school’s curriculum that best suits your needs or learning style? Which faculty member(s) and why would you like to collaborate with them? Do you have a possible supervisor in mind? If so, have you contacted them to make sure they’re accepting new students and are curious about the study program you intend to pursue?

Sample Answer – “If you haven’t done this by the time you receive the invitation to interview, you should, if at all feasible, do it before the interview. What activities or projects are being carried out right now in that department, and why would you wish to participate in them? What advantages does this particular institution or program offer that others do not? How well do your own objectives and priorities match those of the department? When asked this question, you must address these kinds of issues. And yes, you must be able to do this for EVERY program you are applying to.

11. How come we should accept you? How will you support our initiative?

You’ve undoubtedly been considering what you will “receive” from the institution as a student up to this point (in terms of funding, research support or resources, work in a lab or as a TA, scholarly mentors, etc.). However, you must understand that the institution will gain a lot from you at this time of your education as well. They will gain from your research and likely teaching duties, among other things. In addition, whether you realize it or not, once you have completed your study, you will represent their program. As a working professional, you will have their diploma hanging on your wall, making you a representative of their educational programming. What innovative concepts are you bringing with you, then? What can you provide them that perhaps others cannot (or, at the very least, cannot give in the same ways as you)?

Along with any early thoughts you may have for the study or related work you wish to complete, you should also look at the school’s mission statement and the department’s stated priorities (usually available on the school and departmental website, respectively). This will enable you to ascertain the traits they aim to promote, the categories of research they typically support, and the general path they’re heading in. Then you might consider how your personal interests, values, and priorities correspond, citing particular occasions, endeavors, or pursuits that convincingly illustrate this.

12. What draws your interest to this area?

If you’re applying to a graduate program, perhaps you have a strong interest for the subjects you have already studied. If not, go back and change your mind right now. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you won’t succeed in graduate school. However, a response to this question must demonstrate more than gushing joy at the prospect of being able to study these topics for a living. Being enthusiastic is fantastic, and expressing real excitement for a field is acceptable. But if you’re applying to a PhD program, your response must go further than that. Whatever graduate program you choose, you must have clear justifications for choosing this course of study. You adore this subject? Great! What do you enjoy most about the work? WHY do you adore those particular aspects of the field? What benefits can you expect from this field of study that you won’t get from other disciplines? The ideal response to “Why are you interested in this field?” will come from how you respond to these questions.

13. Why are you working toward a PhD?

It is crucial to be able to explain why pursuing a PhD is the best option for you, your priorities, and your ambitions if you intend to do so. Being passionate is insufficient. As previously mentioned, if you want to succeed in graduate school, you must have enthusiasm and sincere curiosity. But excitement can only take you so far. You must demonstrate the viability of your research interests, your commitment to finishing the degree, and the necessity of a doctorate for the work you wish to do.

14. Are you applying anywhere else?

This is a challenging question because, in addition to being sincere, you must be able to explain why this particular institution would be a top choice for you. If an offer is issued, they want to be quite assured that you’ll accept it. At the same time, you need to protect your interests by applying to several institutions, if that’s what you should do (though we don’t advise doing so).

Sample Answer – “Since they both have outstanding programs and scholarship options that align with my interests, X school and Y school, respectively, have also received my application. Having said that, this university would be among my top options, especially in light of the work Dr. Singh is carrying out at his [Research Lab]. We have a lot in common when it comes to interests, so when I asked Dr. Singh if he would be interested in overseeing my research if I were accepted, he responded positively. Given that I am interested in this particular field and have been following his work for some time, working with him as I finish my degree would be excellent. Although it will take some time for me to become familiar with the larger field and theoretical resources during my education, I already have some ideas for independent study that might be done, branching off of the work he has previously done. You can use the same format at many institutions by just concentrating on the aspects of each program that signify the most to you. Perhaps there is a current grant-funded project you’d like to participate in; perhaps one school has a technique or curriculum plan that really appeals to you; perhaps there are academics at other institutions with whom you’d like to collaborate. Again, be sincere, but be ready to explain why you want to attend this particular college for your studies. In the event that you receive several offers, you will then have to make a decision. For the time being, concentrate on presenting your best self and obtaining those offers first.”

15. What do you think are the key developments in your area of study?

You do need to show that you are reading the literature, exploring the theories in this field of scholarship, and doing these things outside of and beyond your regular courses, even though it is not expected that you will be an expert in the topic at this stage. The majority of the time, graduate school is not a good fit for those who do the absolute least. Although you are exposed to a wide variety of concepts during your undergraduate education, you only begin to specialize in your final year or two of study. Graduate school is a completely different animal; it differs from undergraduate study in the same way that high school does from junior high.

Use the library resources at your school to browse some of the important periodicals in your subject as you complete your undergraduate studies. Unaware of the nature of the journals? Consult your teachers or a reference library. They can direct you to the most well-known journals in your field, and you can browse the most recent issues to see what topics researchers are currently debating. Knowing the classics is important, but for graduate studies, it’s crucial to be up to date on current developments in the field. You’ll impress the interviewer if you can name a few prominent figures and some current concepts or theories in your field (s).

16. Can you give specifics on previous projects or publications? Can you describe your research (or research interests) in terms that non-specialists could understand?

You must be ready to discuss anything you’ve mentioned in your application, CV, or resume during the interview. In an open-file interview, any topic from your application may be discussed. You might still be asked the following variant question during a closed-file interview, so be ready to discuss your prior employment. Additionally, you must be able to explain it to someone who is not an expert.

Although you will probably interview with a member of the department in which you are responding, they may come from a completely other field of expertise to the one you have so far chosen. Make sure you are able to define crucial terms, decipher difficult terminology, and describe what you have done as though you were speaking to a person who is unfamiliar with the subject. You still need to be able to talk about your own work and interests, show off the abilities and skills you’ve already started honing, and pique the interest of your listener by exhibiting both enthusiasm and nuanced, trenchant consideration of the field and the contributions you’d like to make to scholarship. While you’ll probably learn additional methodologies and approaches as part of your graduate education (broadly defined – inside and outside of academe).

17. What do you hope to research? What interests you in research?

This question might not seem challenging at first look. It might perhaps be the most obvious, in fact. But it’s alright if you don’t yet have a defined research plan when you’re applying to graduate school. Additionally, even if you do have a well defined research agenda, it will almost probably alter before you complete your degree since, quite simply, research at this level simply changes with time. You are about to be exposed to a multitude of “unknown-unknowns” at this stage in your schooling. That is to say, you have gained enough knowledge by this point to notice many of your own knowledge gaps.

However, beneath those knowledge gaps you’ve noted are even deeper gaps — not only knowledge you know you don’t have enough of, but knowledge you can’t even identify as conceivable knowledge, given the existing knowledge gaps you’ve acknowledged. The point is that your thinking will be challenged in ways you hadn’t previously believed possible. Because of this, your research interests are likely to change over time, and your trajectory may end up looking quite different than you anticipated when you first started. Hey, you said you wanted to attend graduate school, right?

The fact that your interviewer is aware of all of this is advantageous. They are aware that you are still an undergrad. They are aware that you are not yet an expert. So, come prepared with a clear notion of the direction you want to take your education, but don’t be upset if you can’t submit a thorough research proposal just yet. Describe in as much detail as you can why these concepts are important to you. On the other hand, avoid entering the situation with a big plan that you believe will rock the field to its very foundation with its ground-breaking concepts. Do you recall the “unknown-unknowns”? It’s completely likely that your revolutionary concept has already been tested by someone else before you, taken into consideration, and rejected by the field at large. Therefore, do bring a healthy amount of humility to the interview.

Sample Answer – “I admit that my knowledge is limited right now, but one concept that has come up repeatedly in my undergraduate work is the idea of historical narrative and whose voices are dominant – or even allowed – in popular historical narratives and/or the public sphere. The current debates surrounding colonization are particularly pertinent here because there is a dominant historical narrative—what Enrique Dussell would call “history ‘from above'”—that glorifies colonial efforts while a marginalized narrative—”history Dussell’s ‘from below'”—suggests that colonization was akin to genocide. To be quite frank, it astonishes me that there can be two fundamentally different stories about the same historical event (certainly among others). This sense of perplexity prompted me to start considering narratives in the public sphere in addition to HOW they are communicated, accepted, contested, etc. Because of this, I feel the need to develop an interdisciplinary study that engages media studies and current historical studies in dialogue. Although I studied history for my undergraduate degree and have a general interest in the subject, I would like to start my research on the mediatization of historical narrative. Dr. Stevenson is one of the top researchers in this field, which is one of the reasons I want to work with her here. Her research on social media, state power, and the public sphere raises some fresh and intriguing questions about the emergence, dissemination, and legitimacy of narrative and counternarrative in the modern era. That is the basis on which I hope to start constructing my own project, especially in regards to the histories of indigenous settlers. I was able to use Dr. Stevenson’s theories for my undergraduate thesis under Dr. Koenig at XYZ University, which examined the 2016 Standing Rock protests and media/social media response. This project gave me the opportunity to respectfully approach members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for an interview in order to learn more about what they observed happening during this historic event and the widespread support displayed on significant social media sites, like Facebook. It was eye-opening to me how a history that, at the time, seemed to be rather distant in the past, was seen as immediately relevant – a symbol of a more significant conflict that has been raging for centuries. In fact, it fundamentally altered how I viewed the term “history,” transforming it from a collection of events that happened in the past to one that is an integral part of the present. I want to delve deeper into this and investigate how the boundaries between the present and the past are similarly blurred by modern social media. This response respects the interviewee’s current knowledge gaps while also being concrete enough to see a logical trajectory emerging from it. In addition, it offers some insights into what factors led to the decision to pursue further study, pointing to some important theories and scholars to show that they are generally well-read. All of this indicates potential for progress and further nuancing that prior knowledge. It still falls far short of a detailed research proposal, but that’s okay. By all means, discuss your potential research trajectories if you already have them in mind, but don’t be concerned if you’re not yet certain of your exact course of action. This is entirely typical.”

Grad school interview questions you should ask

Your interviewer will ask if you have any questions for them, and you should! Even though you can anticipate spending the majority of your time answering questions, you should still ask! Make the most of this opportunity to learn more about the program’s overall feel and whether it feels like a good fit for you, as well as the academic and social culture of the institution.
Here are a few inquiries you might want to make:

  • The length of your program is approximately [DESIGNATE PROGRAM LENGTH]. Do the majority of students graduate within that time frame, in your experience, or is it sometimes a little later?
  • How closely do students and faculty collaborate? Can you tell me about any current research opportunities?
  • Where can graduates currently find employment?
  • Exist any internship pathways that help current students make the transition from school to the workforce once they graduate?
  • How do graduate students live? How do students typically juggle their academic obligations and other commitments?
  • What opportunities are there for work-study right now?

Verify that the information you’re looking for isn’t easily available on the school’s website. Remember, the goal is to appear more invested during your interview; one way to do this is by asking about specifics that aren’t readily available elsewhere.

Tips for Grad School Interviews

Because a graduate school interview can make or break your chances of getting into your dream university, preparation is crucial. Gaining acceptance to the college of your choice can change the course of your education and even determine the opportunities you will have in the future. Here is a step-by-step plan to help you get ready for your graduate school interview and ace it.

  • Examine the college.
  • sharpen your interviewing abilities.
  • To feel more confident answering and posing interview questions for graduate school, practice mock interviews with yourself, family, and friends.
  • Make a list of inquiries you can make to the interviewer (s).
  • To confirm your appointment, contact the graduate program. Make sure to adhere to all instructions and protocol provided for the interview.
  • Dress professionally.
  • Be assured when you arrive.

We do not recommend creating a script or having all of your answers prepared in advance, even though you must go through these questions and think about how you might respond. First off, the questions you’ll be asked during an interview are always a surprise. You might be asked these questions as well as others that are more relevant to the institution, program, or field to which you’re applying. The best use of your mental resources may not be to memorize the answers to these specific questions. Additionally, overly scripted responses will always come off as insincere at best and wooden or artificial at worst. Instead, consider all the ways that your personal experiences can be used to emphasize particular traits. You’ll be able to tell your stories more naturally and spontaneously if you have this kind of conceptual understanding and approach. Get professional feedback on your responses to a range of questions like these, if at all possible, from a graduate school admissions consultant. This will help you to improve your strategy and make sure that your narratives are accomplishing the tasks you want them to.

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