Many graduate schools require an interview as part of the application process. Graduate school interviews allow university staff to evaluate your potential to succeed in their program. These interviews might be with a single interviewer or a panel of university staff, and will likely include a mixture of specialized questions about your subject area and general questions about your goals and experience. Researching the topics that are frequently addressed in graduate school interviews can help prepare you to give answers that best reflect your qualifications.
In this article, we review 10 common graduate school interview questions and explain how to answer them successfully.
Graduate school interview questions with sample answers
Although many graduate programs are extremely specialized, interviewers will often ask similar questions to get a sense of your personality and attitude. Your interview answers should emphasize your successes and share information about yourself that was not included in your application materials.
When answering questions in your graduate school interview, personalize each answer to show your unique skills, talents and motivations. Use these questions and sample answers as a guide for generating strong answers to your graduate school interview:
1. Tell me about yourself.
This question is common in many types of interviews and is used to open a line of communication and test your ability to prioritize information. When preparing to answer this question, list your major accomplishments, experiences, interests and personal values. Consider how each of these points relates to your ability to succeed in a graduate program. Interviewers ask this question to get a genuine sense of your goals and personality, so personalize your answers and be genuine while remaining professional.
Example: "I have been focused on academics for most of my life and will be graduating summa cum laude with a degree in economics and studio art from the University of Texas this spring. I first became interested in economics when I opened a small business in high school to sell my pottery. I started reading about economics to grow my business and became interested in the theory. That business provided me with a creative outlet and I learned so much about committing to a project. I'm hardworking, creative and passionate about learning even more about economics."
2. How will you contribute to our program?
Graduate school interviewers are interested in the benefits you would bring to their program. Academic success, awards, accomplishments and publications are all examples of positive contributions to a graduate program. To answer this question effectively, research the program thoroughly and relate your goals and interests to the department's recent work. If you have a specific goal related to your field, mention how you plan to pursue it.
Example: "During my undergraduate education, I knew I wanted to publish some of my papers in an academic journal, so I worked with the Academic Success department and several of my professors to learn how to do so. I know how to use the resources around me to accomplish my goals, and have had two of my essays accepted by academic journals so far. I'm committed to continuing to publish innovative research that would support the amazing work you are doing in your department."
3. What are your career goals?
Graduate programs often seek out students who have ambition and a strong sense of purpose within their field. Achieving professional goals and building an impressive career can promote the reputation of the graduate program. Your interviewer will also want to ensure that the program will support you and benefit your academic and career goals.
Example: "When I started college I wanted to be a conservation biologist, but at the moment I am considering teaching as well. My professors have had such a strong impact on me that I would love to teach about conservation biology at the college level. However, before I teach others I hope to work in the field and publish a book on biodiversity in the Midwest. One of my lifetime goals is to create an interactive program to teach about conservation biology at national parks."
4. What are your research interests?
This question is a chance to display your knowledge in the specific field you are applying for. When answering this question, discuss your past research and possible applications of your work. Explain why you are passionate about a particular specialty and include examples of how you have pursued your academic interests in the past. Interviewers will likely be looking for a candidate that has a proven record of pursuing their interests.
Example: "Although I studied literature from different areas and time periods, my passion is definitely 19th-century British literature. Last year I was hired as the research assistant for Dr. Eileen Saletti, my British literature professor, and was lucky enough to discover how relevant Jane Austen and Emily Bronte are to our modern world. My presentation on the development of heroines throughout literature won several awards both at my university and at national conferences. I hope that my research can empower others to look at strong women from literature to inspire them."
5. Tell me about a time you failed.
When asked about failure, consider using the STAR method to explain how you handled the failure and learned from it. Interviewers will be assessing your attitude about failure and how you overcome challenges. Graduate programs are often very rigorous and require students to be committed to overcoming failures. Especially because you are interviewing to be part of an educational environment, use this question to display your ability to learn from past mistakes.
Example: "During my Intro to Chemistry course, I completely ruined my first experiment. I remember feeling very embarrassed but eventually worked up the courage to meet my professor after class to discuss how to prevent future mistakes and go over safety procedures. I learned so much from that one-on-one time and continued to have a mentorship relationship with that professor throughout college. I think that failing is the best way to learn, as long as you have the ability to seek out improvement and ask for help."
6. What would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
Sharing your proudest moments with the interviewer shows them not only your potential for success but also what you value in life. Regardless of what you choose as your greatest accomplishment, relate it to why you want to go to graduate school and how you will pursue excellence. Additionally, explain your reasoning for choice so that your core values are clearly demonstrated to the interviewer.
Example: "My greatest accomplishment is helping my younger sister get her scholarship to attend college. Neither of my parents attended college, so as the oldest child I had to figure out college applications on my own. When my sister asked me for help on applications and I was able to provide guidance, I felt very proud of myself and how much I have developed my knowledge and life skills. When I start graduate school, I hope to bring that spirit of cooperation and shared success as I learn from and teach my classmates."
7. What are your hobbies and interests?
Interviewers will be looking for well-rounded candidates who have a variety of interests and can apply their skills to different environments. Because graduate programs can have a high level of difficulty, you will also need to have hobbies to help manage stress. Your hobbies and interests can also highlight qualities that are not obvious from an academic record, such as creativity or teamwork. Use this question to display your personality and connect with the interviewer on a personal level.
Example: "After a long day at work my favorite thing to do is tend to my garden. I find it very relaxing and rewarding while also being intellectually engaging. I love learning the proper balance of nutrients that my plants need to grow. Although gardening is really different from my goal of being a doctor, I enjoy being able to nurture both plants and people."
8. Why are you interested in our program?
When applying to a graduate school, you should have a good idea of what makes that program unique and why you would like to study there. Interviewers understand that candidates often apply to multiple schools, but expressing your interest in their particular program can make you a more attractive applicant. By showing that you are passionate about their values or methods, you may be able to convince the interviewer that you will work hard to promote their program's success.
Example: "I met the head of your architecture department once at a conference and became so inspired by her unique vision. Ever since that moment, I have been interested in studying at this school and attending her courses. As I researched the program, I became impressed with the variety of classes and your unique internship program. I learn best by doing, and your program offers the most on-the-job training."
9. What have you been reading?
This question can help determine your intellectual ability and curiosity. Select articles or books that you can relate back to your academic interests and goals in some way. Before going to your interview, decide on a few meaningful books or publications that show your interest in your field and your personal values.
Example: "I'm finishing my honors thesis on early childhood development, so I have mostly been reading the Early Childhood Education Journal and other articles to support my research. However, through my studies on how the brain develops I know how important it is to read for pleasure, so I also read mystery novels when I am on the train to work."
10. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Interviewers ask this question to determine your self-awareness and attitude. As part of a graduate program, you will focus on developing your academic skills and experience and should have a strong understanding of areas you would like to improve. Additionally, this question allows you to explain the positive attributes you could bring to their program. When answering this question, be honest and provide explanations for how you overcome weaknesses and support your strengths.
Example: "My greatest strength is my ability to solve problems creatively. When working as a medical scheduler, I encountered several situations where nurses had been over-scheduled. I always found a way to rearrange shifts or delegate responsibilities so that all of our patients would receive excellent care. One of the skills I hope to improve is my ability to lead others. I can be nervous about sharing my ideas but I believe that working with other students in this graduate program will increase my confidence."