Grad School Interview Preparation and Answers to Questions

prepare for your grad school interwiew

Applying to graduate school entails a long list of documents which you have to submit. To learn about the process of applying to graduate school, go to this article.

Amongst the application procedures, graduate schools might also request to interview you. Getting invited for an interview means that you’ve made it to the short list and are closer to being accepted.

Graduate schools interview a lot of candidates and they’re looking for the ones who fit their program. They want to see whether candidates are as good in real life as they are on paper.

Overall, grad school interviewers want to evaluate:

  • How you articulate and express your opinions
  • Your potential success in grad school and in the future
  • Whether you possess the qualities that you’ve put in your application

They do that by asking detailed interview questions, and this article will be a guide on familiarizing you with the interview process and giving you the tips to succeed.

Interview Formats

Grad schools have gotten creative in their evaluation of potential candidates. They’ve developed various interview formats, such as:

One on one interviews

This interview format involves one person interviewing the candidates. This can be done online or in person. The interviewer will ask different questions and expects the answers. This type of interview is typically half an hour but can last up to an hour.

Panel interviews

Panel interviews involve a group of three or four people interviewing the candidates. The panel is usually comprised of a faculty member, graduate university staff, industry expert, and a current student or alumni. These are more complicated interviews since students have to try to impress and convince the whole panel instead of just one person.

All interviewers will take turns asking questions, so it might take longer than a one on one interview. However, the benefit is that you get to meet different people from the university and also ask them questions.

Scenario interviews

This format has to do more with the questions that interviewers might ask rather than the setting. Scenario interviews involve the interviewers giving students a certain scenario and a problem. Then they ask the student to provide a solution to it.

The scenario questions test problem solving skills and the ability to think on your feet. Students cannot imagine beforehand what kind of scenarios will be presented to them so there is also no way to precisely prepare for them.

The way to succeed scenario interviews is by practicing different ones at home to teach yourself to think fast and come up with creative solutions.

Long interviews

Long interviews aren’t common in grad schools, but they sometimes happen. These are interviews where students are invited to spend a weekend or a few days on campus.

They will have interviews, lunches, dinners, campus tours, attend classes, and talk to different people.

These interviews are costly so students are usually responsible for covering them. In these types of interviews you have to remember that you are constantly being interviewed. The interviewers are evaluating your behavior, skills, and knowledge on different topics.

Group or case study interviews

This type of interview involves grouping several candidates together and giving them a problem or a case study to solve. The group is then evaluated on their ability to work together, their approach, and solution.

Case study interviews can also be done individually, but most often they are in groups of three to five students. If you have this type of interview, try to read and become familiar with your field’s practices and issues so that you can participate in the discussion.

Grad School Interview Tips

Knowing what types of formats exist in grad school interviews isn’t enough. There are also steps you can take to prepare which will increase your chances of succeeding.

Research your field and program

Whatever program or field you have applied to, grad school interviewers will ask you about it. They will ask why you have chosen it or what will you do with the degree.

To best prepare for these questions, make sure you research your field and program in depth. Know the current topics and issues that are being debated. If there are issues that require you to take a stance, make sure you know what each side represents and what you think about it. Be prepared to have light debates or discussions about such topics.

In addition, go through the university websites and available materials. Read any available information which might come up during the interview. Know the curriculum and courses that the program of your choice has and be prepared to explain why they would be helpful to your career.

Get information about the interview structure

Now that you know the existing types of interview formats, find out how your interview will be structured. You could look at their website or send an email to the recruiters and ask them.

In addition you can also contact alumni or current students and ask about their interview experiences. After you find you the interview structure, prepare for it.

Practice commonly asked questions

This article will cover some commonly asked questions and provide tips on how to answer them in the next sections. Take those and any other resources you can find for questions and practice answering them.

Write down your answers and practice in front of the mirror to see how well you are articulating and how your body language is.

There are different methods to answering questions, but one highly applicable is the STAR technique, which involves answering questions in four parts:

Situation Explain the situation you were in and what happened
Task Task about the tasks or goals you were assigned to accomplish
Action Tell them what actions you took to achieve those tasks
Result Elaborate on what happened as a result of your actions. Give specific and measurable details about your success

 

Finally, if you cannot assess yourself well, find a friend or mentor and practice with them. Practicing will improve your ability to answer these and any other unexpected questions that interviewers ask you.

Be professional

This is a grad school interview and how you behave and look is as important as how you answer questions. Be polite and professional to everyone you meet during your interview. Even if you’re in casual settings, remember that your behavior and topics of conversation are being evaluated.

In addition, dress professionally. Interview emails will usually specify the dress code which will either be formal or business casual so make sure you comply.

Relax

Grad school interviews can be stressful. You feel like your whole academic career depends on them so you have to be perfect. That is not necessarily true since know that students are stressed, but they want to see how they manage it.

Try to relax before and during the interview and sleep well the night before. You will see that your performance will improve and you will surpass your nervousness after a few questions.

Types Of Grad School Interview Questions

Grad school interviewers have developed different question types to assess potential students. There are generally a few types of questions you can expect when you go to a grad school interview:

Personal characteristics/achievements

These types of questions focus on you as a person. They will ask you to tell them who you are and what you’ve done until now. They’ll ask about your work and personal experiences to gauge what your characteristics are.

Academic/extracurricular activities

Questions will relate to your past academic career, mostly undergraduate experience. They will ask what kind of classes you have taken, how they have impacted your career and your decision to pursue graduate school.

In addition, they’ll ask about any extracurricular/volunteer activities you have done, why you have done them, and what you’ve gained from the experiences.

Questions specific to your field and current event

Grad school interviewers will want to know why you have chosen your field of study and what you plan to do in the future, as well as what recent global events showcase an issue on your field.

These questions will directly show how much research you have done and how much you know about your field of study, so they’ll make up the most important part.

Scenario questions

Even if the interview is not a scenario type, interviewers might ask a few scenario questions related to your field. These will probably be short and focus on some recent event so make sure you are aware of what is happening.

Common Graduate School Interview Questions And Answers

After going over the general tips about interviews, here are 15 of the most common grad school interview questions and answers:

Tell us about yourself

This is usually the first question interviewers ask so try to plan ahead for it.

Make a list of the things you want them to know about you, such as:

  • Academic achievements
  • Work experience
  • Accomplishments or awards
  • Challenges you have overcome
  • Qualities that make you a good candidate

The answer to this question should not be too long, so try to keep it between 5 to 7 minutes. Interviewers want you to give them an overview of who you are but don’t overdo it.

If you see your file is in front of them, you don’t need to go over everything since they’ve already seen your application, but mention the most important parts.

List your strengths and weaknesses

Important tip: Be honest and don’t try to imply that you have no weaknesses because no one is perfect.

The question of strengths and weaknesses is another common one. Interviewers want to know how self-aware you are and by the time you are ready to apply for grad school, you should have a pretty solid idea of who you are.

Try to mention three key strengths and weaknesses and why they are important to your grad school application and to your career.
You might even give examples of how you used your strengths and how you tried to overcome your weaknesses.

Tell us about a time you failed

This is a difficult question, not because you have never failed but because it is difficult to talk about it. Nevertheless, since you know that it’s a common question, think of a few examples.

Pick one in which you can also add lessons learned that are relevant to your field, or that showcase your personal qualities. Saying that you did not get a job position that you really wanted because you lacked a certain qualification and then you went on to get additional training to become qualified says a lot about determination and willingness to learn.

These types of scenarios will impress interviewers and they’re more likely to remember you.

Tell about a time where you showed leadership skills

This is another variation of a question where you are supposed to give an example. Think of a time when you had to do a group project and you were in charge, or a project at work when you were team leader.

Use the STAR method to explain the scenario and mention lessons learned.

Describe your greatest achievement

When asked to describe your greatest achievement, think about a project you worked on that turned out well, a promotion, scholarship, grant, or award that you got which showcases your best qualities.

The question on your greatest achievement is the opposite of the one on failures, so you will get one or the other.

If asked about your greatest achievement talk about something you are proud of and that is relevant to your application and field.

Answering with something like “I won a football tournament once” is not relevant and makes you look unqualified.

What causes do you care about and why?

To answer this question you can look at your extracurricular or volunteer activities and talk about those. Interviewers want to know there are other things you spend time researching or contributing to besides your certain field of study.

Whether it is animal welfare, the environment, or poverty in your local community, try to go in some detail about the reasons you support these causes and how you do it.

What do you do in your free time?

Interviewers know that you do not work and study the whole time, so they want to know how you spend the rest of your day. Avoid talking about parties and drinking. Focus on the causes you care about, hobbies and interests you might have and talk about a few of them.

Why do you want to go to grad school?

In this question, give reasons about why you want to get a graduate degree. Focus on personal development, career goals, increased financial security, or a wider network.

To find more reasons, go to our article here about why you should go to grad school.

Why did you pick this university instead of others?

Interviewers want to know concrete reasons about why you picked their institution instead of others. Your answer should be related to their curricula, faculty, rankings and prestige, job opportunities, student diversity etc.

Why do you want to get a degree in this field?

The field you get your degree in is the most important part of grad school. You should be able to justify why you think your field will contribute to your personal and career goals or why it will fulfill you.

If you’re still not sure about what field you want to get your degree in, look at our article on the best master’s degrees for the future here.

What are your research interests and why?

If your field is research oriented, interviewers will want to know what your research will be on. The good thing is that you might have had to submit a research proposal so you’ve already put thought into it.

Just explain what particular subject in your field you want to know more about and you’re good to go.

Why are you a good candidate for this school?

To answer this, go back to your personal qualities and experience. Match those with the requirements of the school. Most grad schools want to have students who take initiative, are well read, and have specific goals about what they want to do.

Have examples about why you’re a good fit for the school so as to answer this question successfully.

What will you do after graduation?

This is a standard question for most grad school interviews. They want to know what the degree will serve you for so think about your long term career goals.

Tell them specifically what industry you want to be involved in and if you know it, even what company or job position you want to be employed in. If you’re interested in research, let them know what topics you will research.

What are the major trends and events in your field right now?

This is to test your knowledge on the field, but if you have followed our guide you will have researched the issues and current hot topics and will be ready to discuss them at length with the interviewers.

Do you have any questions for us?

This is usually the last question that grad school interviewers ask. In the section below you will find a few examples of what you might ask them.

Questions You Can Ask

Interviewers will ask you a ton of questions, but at the end you get to return the favor. Prepare a few questions that genuinely interest you and that will make you sound smart.

Below are 10 questions you can ask during a grad school interview:

  • What do students of this school typically do after graduation?
  • What percentage of your students are employed after graduation and where?
  • How long does it take your graduates to find a job?
  • Do you have teaching and research assistantships for your students?
  • Why should I choose this university?
  • Do you require practical experiences from your students like internships?
  • What is the role of advisers and mentors in this university?
  • If you could describe your experience in this program in three words, what would they be? (ask a student)
  • Do you have career services? If so, what is their role?
  • What activities do students engage in after classes?
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