Grad School Interview Questions

If you’ve been invited to interview for a grad school program, then congratulations! You’re on your way, and there is only one hurdle left to overcome.

Our tips will help you prepare so you can give your best performance on the day, and have every chance of it being a success.

1. Find out the format of the interview

To avoid walking into the lion’s den, discover as much as you can about the format. Every grad school has their own structure for interviewing candidates, so try to find out who will be meeting you.

This could be an individual, such as a faculty member, or a group of people who make up a panel interview.

Some schools will ask you to participate in a group activity with other applicants.

If you find yourself in this situation, be an active part of the group, and make sure you contribute and collaborate in a friendly manner.

2. Research the school and your areas of interest

This is your opportunity to tell the interviewers what you know about the school (detail is key here) and why you feel you would fit in. Think about both your personal and professional qualities, and give examples to show you possess them.

Even though you may have applied to more than one school, you need to tell the interviewers why you want to attend their school. Again, this is where research comes in useful - what exactly interests you about this particular school?

Interviewers will also want to know why you want to study this subject in more detail. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for your chosen field by reading around it as much as possible.

This will also help you identify any current issues or major trends in the field that you could talk about in your interview. You should also find out which areas the faculty members are experts in, to help you avoid making any embarrassing mistakes.

3. Be prepared for general, open-ended questions

Many grad school interviewers will start by asking you to tell them about yourself.

You’ll be surprised at how many people choose this as an opportunity to relate their life story, when actually they should be offering a summary of the relevant aspects of their background to the program.

This is an important question, as it gives the interviewers a first impression of who you are, so it’s worth practicing it out loud. Try to rehearse with somebody else if possible to help build your confidence, and get used to talking about yourself.

4. Outline answers to common questions

Jot down how you might respond to commonly asked questions, such as “Tell me about a difficult situation you’ve encountered and how did you resolve it?”.

This is a great chance to show the interviewers what your strengths are, as well as more of your personality by how you behave in different scenarios. Other questions frequently asked at graduate school interviews include:

  • Why do you want to study here?
  • What are your research interests?
  • How will you contribute to this school and the program?
  • What are your career plans?
  • What topics are currently trending in your field?
  • Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses
  • Describe a major achievement and how you went about it
  • Tell me what you do in your leisure time
  • Have you applied to any other schools?

For each one, think of specific examples you can use from your past - remember, tutors want to see evidence that you are both qualified and experienced enough to be a successful candidate on their program.

During this exercise, it’s a good idea to identify your weaknesses too, and think about how you can turn these into something positive.

5. Know your reasons for wanting to attend grad school

Let’s face it - vague sentences implying reasons such as “my college tutors thought it would be right for me” or “my parents want me to become a lawyer” just aren’t going to cut it.

Make sure you have strong reasons for wanting to apply for a grad school program, and that you can relate this in a concise, coherent manner. Again, give evidence by talking about examples of activities you have carried out which will show your commitment to this particular field.

Decide what aspects of the program and future career path appeal to you most - why this subject over all the others you could apply for?

If you’re struggling for ideas (even though you shouldn’t be!), read through your personal statement again, as well as your initial notes and drafts (if you still have them).

Think about your experiences both inside and outside of college, your childhood, your hobbies, and any other personal influences on your life.

6. Use positive body language

The interview is not the time for slumping in a chair, frowning and staring blankly around the room (however nervous you might be feeling!).

Always try to make eye contact, even if there are multiple interviewers, and try to smile from time to time.

Practice the answers to some commonly asked questions in front of mirror, and check your body language - do you come across as an engaging, enthusiastic candidate?

7. Dress appropriately

Don’t forget that you are applying and interviewing for a place on a graduate school program, not out for a day at the park.

This means clothing yourself in professional attire (at least a smart shirt/blouse, trousers/skirt and appropriate footwear).

Try to go for something decent and tidy, yet you still feel comfortable in.

Make sure you have your clothes washed, pressed and ready the day before, so you don’t have to suffer a last-minute panic when you can’t find your tie or high heels.

8. Relax and be yourself (as much as possible anyway!)

It’s natural to be nervous, but try to get a good night’s sleep before the day. At the end of the day, it’s only an interview, and it’s not the end of the world if you don’t feel it went as well as you had planned.

Hopefully you will relax after the first five minutes or so and have answered one or two questions. Tutors want to see the real you, so try to be yourself as much as possible.

Remember - you’re not the only one going through the interview process, and you can only do your best on the day.

9. Always be polite and professional

As well as the interview itself, this also applies to meeting current students, alumni of the college or anyone else you meet while attending your interview - they may be asked by the tutors for an opinion on you. Any bad communication is likely to be noted and counted against you.

Thank the interviewers for their time afterwards, showing you appreciate their consideration.

You could also send a short thank you letter or email afterwards - manners often go a long way.

10. Practice, practice, practice

Ask a number of different people if possible - friends, counselors, college professors, family or other relatives - to sit down and run through some practice questions with.

This will at least give you confidence when responding to some of the more commonly asked questions.

Do get them to test you by asking them to choose randomly from a list of questions, and make sure they are a mixture of specific and open-ended questions that cover a number of topics related to the program.

This way, you can get used to thinking on your feet a bit more, rather than knowing what’s coming and repeating a pre-calculated answer word-for-word.

11. Question the interviewers

Although it may not seem obvious, but one way to fail the interview is to not ask your interviewers any questions at the end.

Remember that interview is a two-way process, so this is your chance to find out more, and whether you would be happy attending this school. If you’re really keen on the program, interviewers will expect you to be interested about other things that did not crop up during the interview.

For example, you could ask for more details about research opportunities, a faculty member’s recent publication, careers that recent graduates have entered, or specific facilities/resources available at the school that would help you with your studies.

Again, this conveys enthusiasm and passion for the program, which will make you appear a more favourable candidate over other applicants who did not bother to ask any questions.

12. Don't be late!

On the day, avoid getting stressed by leaving plenty of time to make your way to the interview, allowing for traffic and any other forseeable delays. If it's a significant jorurney, you will probably want to consider staying overnight somewhere close by, so that you arrive refreshed and ready.

Before leaving home, make sure you know exactly where you are going, including the name of the building and who to ask for when you get there. Put the college's contact details into your cell phone so that should you end up running late, you can call ahead and let them know.

Use the restroom before going to the interview, and wear comfortable shoes, as the day might involve a lot of walking around campus.

Best of luck with your interview!

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying to graduate school, please see: