A graduate education allows you to build on the skills and knowledge you gained in your undergraduate degree. These programs are designed for the in-depth study of a particular subject that will make you an expert in your field. If your dream job doesn’t require a graduate degree as a prerequisite, having a master’s will make you stand out from other candidates and will likely give you a higher starting salary. Applying to grad school is just the first step in the process to success.
If you’re ready to enroll in grad school, develop your skills and knowledge, and put yourself on track for a fantastic career, you’ll first need to shine in your graduate school interview. More and more grad schools are now requiring an interview as part of their application process. Given how difficult it can be to get into the best graduate programs, you want your application to stand out in every way possible — and the interview is a great way to do this.
Taking the time to prepare well for your graduate school interview can positively impact your chances of admission, especially if you have a low GPA. Read on to learn a few grad school interview questions to expect and some to ask your interviewer if you get the chance. We also cover topics like how to prepare for your grad school interview and what not to do when the time comes. Let’s get started!
Why Are Grad School Interviews Important?
Not all applicants get an invitation for an interview. Nevertheless, graduate school interviews are a vital part of the admissions process to any master’s or doctoral program.
Graduate school interviews are typically close to the last, if not the last, step to admission. During them, colleges and universities try to gauge your level of interest and whether you are the right choice for admission to the grad program.
Why Is It Important to Ask Questions in Your Graduate School Interview?
People often forget that an interview is a mutual process. Interviews require you to answer questions asked by the school representatives and ask a few questions of your own.
Interviewers will almost always give you a chance to ask anything you want at the end of the interview. When they do, it can hurt your chances if you ask the wrong questions or have nothing to ask at all.
Asking the interviewer your questions is a valuable part of the interview that helps you to stand out from other applicants. Asking questions makes a good impression on school representatives, demonstrating that you are serious about the program and passionate about your career.
Furthermore, questions are an excellent way to mention your skills, experience, or motivations that may not have come up in other parts of the interview.
Graduate schools look for students who will be valuable additions to their program, and asking questions allows you to demonstrate your value. It will show the interviewer that you have thought things through and are prepared to take the next step in your academic or professional career.
Top Questions to Ask Graduate School Representatives
While questions are essential in a grad school interview, what you ask is equally important. Avoid asking questions that are too obvious or covered by the information available in the school’s literature or website. These types of questions will only waste your allotted interview time and make you look unprepared.
It’s crucial that you thoroughly prepare for your interview. And when researching the particular program and school, some good questions should naturally come to mind. You might also think of a couple of great questions during the interview in response to what the graduate school representative says. And although you can technically ‘wing it,’ it’s important to go to the interview with a few questions prepared.
Here are some good questions to ask at a grad school interview that suit most situations:
What kind of careers do alumni have after graduating? This is an excellent question because it shows the school representative that you are goal-oriented and focused on your future. You may ask this as a follow-up question if you’re asked about your career goals.
Are graduate students able to pursue internships while studying? This question shows that you are driven to build a successful career after completing the program and want to be productive and learn as much as possible while pursuing your studies.
What research opportunities are available for students? This is another question that shows you are motivated to learn, grow, and actively drive your career.
What practical hands-on experience do students gain during the program? This question will show grad school representatives that you are not only interested in academic knowledge but would also understand the importance of gaining practical skills that will prepare you to build a career after completing your program.
What kinds of organizations are alumni currently working for? Asking this will show you are driven and interested in the program’s true value. A reputable school produces valuable professionals fit to work for prestigious companies and organizations.
Are there teaching assistant opportunities for students? Teaching helps you to assess what you’ve learned and gives you insight into your weaknesses. Therefore this question means that you are keen to learn and want to perfect what you’ve come to know.
Are there any opportunities for students to publish papers? Publishing papers implies you have unique insights and ideas you want to share with the world. This grad school interview question shows your interest in applying the knowledge you will gain through the program to solve real-world issues.
Is there scope for students to collaborate with faculty members to publish papers? Strong student-faculty relationships in learning and research bring out the best in both parties. This question shows that you want to learn and grow as much as possible, as well as implying you are a team player.
What obstacles do students face, if any, to completing the program? This question shows that you are realistic but also determined to be successful, whatever it takes. You want to know of any obstacles in advance so you can do your best to overcome them and achieve your goal.
What mentoring opportunities are available for students? This is another example of excellent questions to ask during a grad school interview. By asking it, you’ll show that you understand the importance of mentorship and that you don’t want to fall behind due to a lack of proper guidance.
When to Ask Questions in the Interview
Now you’re armed with some great questions to ask your grad school interviewer, but when is the best time for you to ask them? There is no correct answer to this particular question. Usually, a good interviewer will give you time to ask them any questions you have towards the end of the interview. This is naturally the perfect time to ask any pending questions.
However, you don’t always need to wait for this point of the interview. When replying to the interviewer’s questions, you may ask a question or two in between that fits with the context of the conversation. This makes for a more interesting and natural discussion and shows that you are fully engaged with the interview.
Just make sure that you articulate your questions well and that they fit in with the topic of the discussion. If you look like you’re trying to distract the interviewer or side-track the conversation, this could count against you.
Grad School Interview Questions to Avoid Asking
There are many questions you can ask that may leave a bad impression on the interviewer. For this reason, one of the pieces of advice you’ll always hear on the topic of how to prepare for a graduate school interview is that you should learn which questions to avoid asking.
Avoid asking about the party life on campus, as this may make the interviewer feel as though you’re only trying to get into the graduate program to extend your college party years. It may also make your interviewer feel like academics are not your main concern, which may influence their decision on whether to recommend you for acceptance or not.
Don’t ask the interviewer personal questions. The interview process is for the institution to get to know you, not for you to get to know your interviewer. Of course, you may ask about the program, school, and faculty, but keep everything professional and impersonal.
Don’t ask pessimistically-framed questions. This can make you seem insecure or make you look like a “downer,” leading to the interviewer thinking you are not the right fit for the school culture.
Avoid asking questions that start with “why”. Questions like these can seem combative, accusatory, over-confident, conceited, and more. For example, don’t ask the interviewer why they think you’d be a good fit for the program — that’s something they should ask you.
Don’t ask overly-detailed questions. Keep your inquiries concise and get to the point right away!
Questions to Be Prepared to Answer
Of all the graduate school interview tips out there, one of the most important pieces of advice is to prepare yourself to answer some of the most common grad school interview questions. Indeed, a large part of preparing for a grad school interview involves practicing your answers to the interviewer’s inquiries.
There are too many questions to include in a guide like this, but let’s consider some of the most common master’s program interview questions. These questions also work well for doctoral program applicants.
Tell me about yourself. This somewhat intimidating request can blindside you if you aren’t careful, especially since it has such a broad scope. Failure to prepare for this question may end up costing you valuable time during your interview and may lead to your failure to present yourself in a good light. When preparing your answer to this question, include things such as your strengths and weaknesses, interests, past academic performance, and the like.
Sample answer: I come from (place) and grew up around family who consistently supported me and reminded me to push myself academically. I decided to go to college to learn about _____ and become a _____ because ______. To help myself reach this goal, I committed to spending one day a week learning what I can on my own through online platforms like Coursera or Khan Academy. I’ve learned a lot about who I am and what I can do, and I would love the challenge of (program).
How can you contribute to this program? Interviewers want to know what value you would bring to the program and institution if you are chosen for admission. Mention your academic skills, success, awards, and more. Mention your work ethic and explain how you believe you can contribute in specific ways.
Sample answer: While going for my bachelor’s degree, I realized that I have a penchant for research and writing papers and reports. I was even able to publish some of my research in (publication). If chosen for admission, I can continue creating reports and writing papers to potentially get more publication credits for (institution).
What are you interested in researching? Graduate school can involve a ton of research. Sometimes, you may even be required to work as a research assistant during a mandatory fellowship (which will, in turn, pay for your tuition costs). Take this opportunity to share your interests and show your skills and past research.
I love (topic) because (reason). Although it took me some time to figure out that this is what I want, nowadays, it’s what drives me. I want to learn more about this subject and do more research to hopefully advance (the technology) further.
There are many other common questions that you should come to expect. The three above are only some of the countless others that you can prepare to answer during your interview.
How to Prepare for a Grad School Interview
When you’re preparing for your master’s interview, or even your PhD interview, there are a few steps you can take that may help increase your chances of success. If not, then these steps will at least help you to make a good impression on your interviewer.
There are countless guides and tips out there telling you how to prepare for a graduate school interview. To help save you some time, we’ve distilled all sorts of valuable advice into the list you see below.
Do Your Due Diligence
One of the first things you should do upon learning that you were asked to sit for an interview is to start doing some research. If you’re applying to a specific program you’ve been dreaming of joining, then it’s even more important to start doing your research early.
Look into the program, college or university, and the faculty. Find out what you can about alumni and their notable achievements.
Doing this research can help prevent you from looking unprepared during the interview. Knowing vital information about the program, institution, and faculty can make you look more interested and also prepares you to answer any related questions.
Additionally, doing your due diligence can help you prepare a set of questions to ask your interviewer whenever you get the chance.
Prepare Your Questions
As mentioned, grad school interviews aren’t a one-sided process. So, even though you need to prepare to answer questions posed by your interviewer, you should also prepare to ask your own. For a few examples of some questions you can ask, check out the appropriate section above.
Do Some Mock Interviews!
Nothing prepares you for answering graduate program interview questions better than mock interviews, which can familiarize you with the interview process. It’s a good idea to prepare a list of a few questions you think you may struggle to answer. You may also want to prepare a list of the questions you want to ask the interviewer. Once you have your lists, you may practice on your own in front of a mirror.
Your mock interviews may be more effective if you find a friend or family member to practice with. You can also seek out current graduate students who recently went through interviews as they may have some unique insights to provide. Alternatively, you may reach out to your school’s career services or academic success department (if this is an option available to you).
Don’t settle for a single mock interview run. Keep at it until you’re comfortable answering questions — especially the challenging ones!
Call to Confirm
Another important part of the interview prep process is calling the school to confirm vital information such as your appointment date and time. You can also ask about what the interviewer may expect of you, as well as any directions the school may have for you to follow.
Update Your CV/Resume and Portfolio (If Applicable)
Colleges and universities may ask you to submit your curriculum vitae or resume with your application. Some may ask you for your portfolio as well. Before you go in for your interview, it’s a good idea to update your CV/resume and portfolio to ensure quality. Include only pertinent information on your resume/CV and showcase your best works in a well-designed and laid-out portfolio. Take this opportunity to show off your academic skills, experience, and any other reasons you think you may be the right fit for admission.
Prepare Appropriate Clothing
If you don’t already have smart or business attire ready to go for your interview, you may want to prepare some appropriate clothing. Check for proper fit as ill-fitting clothing can make you look lousy and unprofessional. There’s no need to spend a ton of money — as long as you present yourself well and conduct yourself professionally, you can make a good impression.
Grad School Interviews: What NOT to Do
Although preparing for what you need to do is important, you should also do a bit of preparation for what you shouldn’t do. Here are some of the things you should avoid doing before, during, or after your interview.
Don’t forget to research the program, school, and faculty. Skipping this step can make you look woefully unprepared if the interviewer asks a question that catches you off guard.
Don’t forget to prepare to answer some of the more common interview questions (and even some uncommon ones). You don’t need to memorize your practice answers, but you can at least have a general idea of how you intend to answer. Consider preparing for some of the more challenging questions, so you don’t feel ambushed on the day.
Don’t forget to prepare questions to ask — and don’t ask inappropriate graduate interview questions. This is pretty self-explanatory, but remember that it’s not a good idea to have no questions for the interviewer as this may leave a bad impression.
Don’t cancel or reschedule, as this can (yet again) leave a bad impression. Additionally, if the schedule is full, you may struggle to set another appointment for a later date. Only cancel or reschedule if you absolutely need to.
Don’t arrive late. Need we say more?
Don’t dress inappropriately. Wear smart or business attire and if you can, press your clothes to remove creases. Avoid showing too much skin or wearing clothing that is too brightly colored or distracting.
Avoid rambling. We understand just how challenging it can be to rein in the urge to keep talking, especially when you’re feeling a little extra anxious. Answer questions in a concise manner — there’s no need to keep going on, as you’ll only be wasting your allotted time.
Don’t interrupt your interviewer, as this is disrespectful and can leave a bad taste in their mouth.
Don’t lie, embellish, or exaggerate, especially when it comes to your academic or career achievements. Schools can look into your background and verify your claims if they want to, and you’ll only be cheating yourself out of an opportunity for potential admission.
Don’t bring negative energy or conduct yourself unprofessionally. Sit up properly, don’t cross your arms, and don’t come in with a scowl. Avoid fidgeting where possible and do what you can to project an air of subtle confidence.
Don’t forget to put your phone on silent. You may also turn it off if this works better for you. Put your phone out of the way, preferably in your bag or pocket. You may even want to turn the vibration off temporarily.
Don’t bring up controversial or sensitive topics unless you are asked first. Controversial topics are divisive, and if your opinion doesn’t necessarily fit into the school’s stance or culture, you may lose your chance of admission.
Finally, don’t forget to say thank you — and don’t overthink things! Do your best, and then do what you can to avoid thinking about how you did to avoid unnecessary anxiety.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does a grad school interview mean you got in?
Unfortunately, the answer is no — getting called in for graduate school interviews does not automatically mean you were accepted into the program. But don’t be discouraged just yet, because there’s some good news: being invited for an interview can suggest that the institution is more seriously considering you for admission. Nevertheless, it’s best to temper your expectations to avoid crushing disappointment!
What percentage of grad school applicants get interviews?
Colleges and universities invite students at their discretion, and there’s no real hard data to go by. However, many speculate that as many as 30% to 50% of applicants receive an invitation to sit for an interview. It’s worth noting, however, that if you’re applying for a highly specialized graduate program that is equally as selective, the percentage of applicants invited to interview may be higher.
The right graduate school interview questions can make all the difference and help you to ace your interview. However, merely having good questions prepared is not enough. It’s also important to be clear and articulate in how you ask your questions. Keep them short and unambiguous, and make sure your meaning and motivations are clear.
If you can, attend a mock interview session ahead of your interview to help you prepare to answer grad school interview questions. It’s also a good idea to practice with a friend before you attend the interview. The proper preparation and graduate interview question practice will go a long way to helping you shine in your interview.
We hope that our grad school interview tips were helpful to you. Good luck, and we wish you academic success!
Lisa is a full-time writer specializing in career advice, further education, and personal development. She works from all over the world, and when not writing you'll find her hiking, practicing yoga, or enjoying a glass of Malbec.