Graduate School Interview — Questions & Tips

17.04.23 Graduate school Time to read: 7min

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Entering graduate school is a significant milestone, and the interview is a crucial step in that journey. Being well-prepared for your graduate school interview plays an essential role in securing a spot in your desired program. This article covers everything you need to know, ensuring you approach your graduate school interview with confidence and preparation, thereby maximizing your chances of success.

Graduate School Interview – In a Nutshell

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How to prepare for a graduate school interview.
  • How to answer common questions.
  • Questions to ask your interviewer/s during a graduate school interview.
  • What to do after a graduate school interview.

Definition: Graduate school interview

When applying to graduate school, many institutions (but not all) will want to meet candidates in person to assess their suitability to the program. This is done during a formal graduate school interview, where one or several faculty members will ask about your background, interests, and goals.

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Graduate school interview: Preparation is key

To be successful at a graduate school interview, you’ll need to be prepare so you make an impression on faculty members. Let’s look at how to prepare for your graduate school interview.

Gather documents in support of your application. In most cases, you’ll need to take the following to your graduate school interview:

  • Your undergraduate or college diploma.
  • Your resume.
  • Any published papers or research work.
  • Any presentations given at conferences or academic events.
  • References or letters of recommendation.

You’ll need to practice your answers to questions you’re likely to be asked during the graduate school interview. Make a list of questions (or use the list we provide in the section below) and write down an impactful answer for each.

It’s important to avoid rambling during the graduate school interview and to answer in a way that portrays you as a confident and ambitious candidate. These qualities are also reflected in your body language, so be sure to practice in front of a mirror. To project confidence during the graduate school interview, you want to give good eye contact, sit upright, and keep your shoulders relaxed.

To create a positive impression during the your graduate school interview, add storytelling to your answers. This means bringing real-life examples into your answers, which earns you extra points in communication skills and keeps the graduate school interview fluid. If you’re not good at storytelling, think about any relevant experiences you’ve had and describe them following a basic storytelling formula: Situation – Action – Result.

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with common questions and answers, get a friend, classmate or family member and do a mock graduate school interview with them.

You want to be well rested on graduate school interview day, so prepare in advance to ensure nothing is left to the last minute. If your graduate school interview takes place in another city, plan to be at the destination at least two days before. Also, make sure you plan your route to avoid getting lost or being late.

It’s helpful to spend the day previous to the graduate school interview date doing something relaxing so that your mind and body are in top condition. Avoid partying, drinking, or anything that could ruin all the hard work you’ve put into preparing for the graduate school interview.

Graduate school interview questions: How to answer them

This will probably be the opening question during the graduate school interview. Your answer should include life experiences that made you into the person you are today and that are relevant to the program.


Answer: “My parents always suffered from poor health. Due to this, there were lots of things they weren’t able to do, so as a child I became very aware of the importance of staying healthy in order to live life to the fullest.”


Answer: “I supported myself during college even though my family couldn’t do so. During term time, I worked part time and followed a strict expense management plan. I also invested my summer job savings in a high-interest bond, and used the earned interest to cover part of my tuition fees.”


Answer: “I failed to meet the deadline for my first college essay. I was focused on controlling my expenses and being productive at work, so I underestimated how much time was needed to research and write college-level academic work. I was 4 hours late handing the essay, and immediately after I made an appointment with my tutor to ask his advice about time management techniques.”


Answer: “During the last year of my undergraduate degree, I attended an academic conference in (location) where Dr (faculty member’s name) presented his research findings on (topic). I was very impressed by the rigorous research methods that were discussed during this talk. This led me to learn more about this department and its taught programs.”


Answer: “I’ve always held Dr (name) in high regard due to his professionalism, and I’ve done my best to follow in his footsteps in this respect. I’m humbled that in his reference letter, he describes me as someone reliable and with a strong work ethic.”


Answer: “I keep a diary where I register my plans and goals for the day and the levels of stress I experience. Tracking my reactions to everyday tasks has helped me identify which ones are more challenging, such as exam preparation. I’ve learned to break down large stressful goals into smaller and more manageable tasks, and to set aside 30 minutes a day to meditate and relieve stress.”


Answer: “I enjoy playing chess. To me, chess is all about making strategic decisions and about considering other people’s decisions and choices before acting. Learning to play chess has helped me develop insight and decision-making skills that have served me well at college and in my part-time jobs.”


Answer: “My long-term career goal is to have an executive position as sales manager in an international organization. This program is led by Dr X and Dr Y (faculty members’ names), who are world-leading experts in the field of (course topic). I look forward to learning from their vast experience in global business and to become familiar with the best practices and most relevant leadership techniques in this field.”


Answer: “The course featured monthly debates on current event topics. I enjoyed preparing for these debates, in particular the process of researching the context of each issue and alternative view points. This taught me the importance of having well-founded opinions and of expressing facts in a logical manner.”


Answer: “This program has a hands-on focus that will require me to interact with other students in task-oriented projects. I look forward to taking part in these projects, as this will help me learn how to best collaborate with others to produce outstanding results as a team.”

Graduate school interview: What to ask

During a graduate school interview, you may be asked if you have any questions for faculty members. It’s important to prepare some questions of your own to show genuine interest and commitment.

Some questions you may want to ask include:

  • What do you value most about teaching at (institutions name)?
  • How many students do you accept per year for this particular course?
  • Are there teaching / research assistant positions available?
  • What advice would you give to a student interested in a teaching / research assistant position?
  • How would you describe this department’s organizational culture?
  • What qualities do your most successful students have?
  • What type of facilities do students have access to, and are there any upgrades planned for the near future?
  • When should I expect to hear from you if I’m accepted into the program?

Tips for your graduate school interview

  • Dress for success: Take the graduate school interview as a job interview. Always dress professionally, pay attention to personal hygiene, and avoid making any flashy statements with your appearance.
  • Send a thank-you message: Within 48 hours after the graduate school interview, send your interviewer/s a thank-you note or email. Keep it brief, but be specific about what you valued about the graduate school interview.
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Incorporate compelling storytelling into your answers and pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal language. Rehearse your answers until you’re confident and can answer them naturally.

Yes, questions reflect your interest in the program and highlight your commitment to making a solid contribution.

Be honest, authentic, thoughtful, and specific. Always avoid bragging and being vague or rambling.

In most cases, you should expect the graduate school interview to last between 30 minutes and one hour. Don’t be nervous if the graduate school interview ends earlier or later than you expected – each interview is different!