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Grad School Interview Questions | How to Answer, and What to Ask

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While each step on the journey toward choosing the right grad program is important, the admissions interview may be the most important of all. Not only is it an opportunity for you to share your accomplishments, unique qualities, and enthusiasm directly with admissions representatives—it’s also a chance to ask pointed questions to help you decide where to enroll.

Here are some grad school interview questions you’re likely to be asked, a few you should make sure to ask, and tips for how to prepare.

Preparing for your grad school interview

Not all grad schools require an admissions interview, but if they do, it’s an opportunity you’ll want to take advantage of. By the time you’re prepping for an interview, you may have already had the chance to put your best foot forward on your grad school application and in your personal statement, but there is simply no substitute for interacting one-on-one with an interviewer. Prepare for your grad interview in much the same way you would prepare for a job interview.

  • Set an interview time that works for you. Some of us are better first thing in the morning while others need a few hours (and a few cups of coffee) to really get going. Consider what part of the day you tend to feel your best and try to schedule your interview then. It’s also a good idea to find out about how long you should expect the interview to be. This way you can go in knowing how the conversation is likely to be paced and budget your energy, time, and attention accordingly.
  • If possible, find out who your interviewer will be. Grad school interviews are generally conducted by an admissions representative, but current graduate students or professors may jump into the mix as well. Doing a bit of research on who you’ll be speaking with can help to boost your confidence and find mutual points of interest you can use to break the ice.
  • Try combining your interview with a campus visit. This not only lets you make the most of your time visiting the school, it also shows initiative—which is always a plus. And if you tour the campus beforehand, you can use the experience to inform what you’d like to ask during your interview as well as any questions you may have.
  • Research, research, research. You’ve likely done plenty already, but it’s important to be comfortable speaking to the specific reasons why you feel this school is a great fit. Naming particular courses, professors, and other details that you find interesting will go a long way toward demonstrating your level of engagement.
  • Reflect on why graduate school is right for you. The grad school application and admissions process can be a whirlwind, and it’s easy to lose sight of why you’re taking these steps in the first place—but it’s probably the first thing you’ll be asked about in your interview. Take time to reconnect with your reasons for choosing the grad school path, and consider how your particular story relates to and underscores your commitment to that field of study.

Common grad school interview questions

While you don’t want to sound too rehearsed, it’s helpful to have an idea of what you’re going to be asked and give your responses some thought. Here are common grad school interview questions and tips on how to approach your answers.

Why did you choose to apply to our program?

Focus on what sets that particular program apart from the others, and emphasize how those qualities are integral to achieving your academic and professional goals.

How have your previous experiences prepared you for graduate study? 

Here is where you point to specific qualifications that you feel will make you an exceptional student at their institution. Be sure to note any relevant accomplishments, such as awards, internships, or volunteer opportunities, and tie that experience directly to your grad school plans.

What are your research interests?

Put your interview prep to good use here by highlighting specific work that the school is involved in, as well as professors whose research or publications you find engaging. Always connect these details to your own goals, and try your best to communicate your passion for the work you’re hoping to do.

What are your career goals, and how will this program help you achieve them?

If this question comes up well into the interview, then you should have already given your interviewers a good idea of your response. Regardless, take this as another chance to clearly lay out future plans in your chosen field, why you’re dedicated to that field, and how this grad program is a vital step toward realizing those ambitions.

What do you believe you’ll be contributing to our program? 

Grad schools are just as invested in finding great students as you are in finding great programs. They want to know they’re admitting people who will take initiative, seize opportunities, and go on to make significant contributions to the field. When responding to this question, be sure to emphasize your skill set and enthusiasm for the program as well as the field, and how those qualities make you not just a promising student but an exceptional future professional.

What other schools are you considering, and why?

It’s tempting to play down your interest in other programs, but that’s not a winning strategy. Schools are generally aware of their competition, and they know you are too. Be honest about the other places you’re considering, but try and pivot your answer back to the one you’re interviewing for. For example, try responding with something like, “I’m also thinking about [NAMES OF SCHOOLS]. They all have excellent [FIELD OF STUDY] programs—but what makes yours particularly appealing to me is [SPECIFIC EXAMPLE].”

Grad school interview questions you should ask

While you can expect the majority of your time to be focused on answering questions, your interviewer will also ask if you have any questions for them—and you should! Use this moment to gain a better understanding of things like the academic and social culture of the school, the career opportunities you will have upon graduating, and whether the program feels like a good fit for you overall.

Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • Your program takes about [DESIGNATE LENGTH OF PROGRAM] to complete. Would you say most students graduate in that time frame, or have you noticed it takes a bit longer?
  • How closely do students work with faculty? Are there current research opportunities you can tell me about?
  • Where are graduates currently getting jobs?
  • Are there any internship tracks for current students to transition into the workforce after graduation?
  • What is grad student life like? How do students usually balance course work and other responsibilities?
  • What work study opportunities are currently available?

Make sure the answers to your questions aren’t readily accessible on the school’s website. Remember, the idea is to display a deeper investment during your interview, and one way you can do this is by inquiring about details that you can’t find elsewhere.

Always follow up with a thank-you note

Making sure to send your interviewers a thank-you note is a small gesture that can go a long way. Beyond just being the courteous thing to do, it’s one last mark of professionalism and connection between you. Admissions staff tend to see a large number of students every cycle, so sending a thoughtful message of gratitude—whether it’s a handwritten note or a simple email—can really make a memorable impact that will benefit you both.

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The grad school interview is a critical step in the admissions process, and as long as you give thoughtful responses, ask engaging questions, and show a sincere and informed interest, you’ll be well on your way to finding the best program for you.

Are you looking for other ways to get the grad school information you need right from the source? Check out our post on conducting informational interviews.