The Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) admitted almost 1,800 students last year, either for a master’s or a PhD, although not all of those admitted students had to answer Columbia graduate school interview questions. Like many other universities, each individual faculty or department at Columbia sets its admissions requirements so they are not uniform. Regardless, students should read over their desired program’s requirements, which may or may not require answering a series of graduate school interview questions. Still, reading over Columbia grad school interview questions in this article, such as “why do you want to join our graduate school program?” and “why do you want to do a PhD?” will prove beneficial if you are invited to an interview. 

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Columbia Graduate School Interview Questions: Columbia School of Journalism Columbia Graduate School Interview Questions: Columbia School of International Affairs How to Answer Columbia Graduate School Interview Questions How to Apply to Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Conclusion FAQs

Columbia Graduate School Interview Questions: Columbia School of Journalism 

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What led you to your interest in journalism?
  • Please describe how your educational or professional experience has prepared you to undertake the investigative journalism specialization.
  • What do you hope to do after graduation?

Sample Answers

1. Tell me about yourself.

I’m originally from Tallahassee, and I mention that first because being born where I was inspired my decision to become a journalist and apply here at Columbia. Tallahassee is only a one-hour drive from Marianna, Florida, home of the notorious Dozier School for Boys, which was a reform institution built at the turn of the 20th century. The school closed in the early 2010s after the Tampa Bay Times reported that there were close to 100 deaths associated with the school and that its history of abuse, mistreatment, and even torture was often overlooked by state authorities.

Living so close to such as atrocity affected me deeply, and ultimately motivated my desire to become a journalist. I attended the University of South Florida, and received a BA in Journalism. I went to work for a local paper in Tallahassee, which is where I realized the power of journalism in uncovering truths and amplifying the voices of the marginalized. I’ve reported on health insurance scams, police and political corruption, and more cases of child mistreatment and abuse at the hands of authorities and official caregivers.

But my desire to apply to Columbia was more driven by the alumni and reputation of the school for its interdisciplinary approach to journalism. I am drawn by all the different concentrations in politics, science, international affairs, and media, along with the fact that Dean Jelani Cobb is an inspiration whose work I’ve admired for a long time. 

2. What led you to your interest in journalism?

My father's love for the newspaper and his belief in its significance instilled in me a deep appreciation for the power of journalism. He read the paper every day, and as a young child, I was deeply intrigued by this. I wanted to know more about this document that my father would spend hours of his day reading, and sometimes fall asleep reading. His way of explaining his love for the newspaper was that it was like a book they publish every day about everything happening in our neighborhood, city, country and world. 

“The newspaper is the only book you'll ever need” was how he would explain it and his words resonated with me and ignited a curiosity about the world around me. I saw the newspaper as a gateway to knowledge, a window into diverse perspectives and stories that shaped our society. It became clear to me that journalism is not just a profession but a calling—a way to shed light on important issues, challenge prevailing narratives, and make a positive impact in the world, which is why I’m applying to the Columbia School of Journalism, since I want to learn as much as I can from the various perspectives and voices assembled here as students and faculty.

3. Please describe how your educational or professional experience has prepared you to undertake the investigative journalism specialization.

My preparation for the investigative journalism degree program at the Columbia School of Journalism has been shaped by my invaluable experiences working at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). During my time at the ICIJ, I had the privilege of contributing to groundbreaking investigations such as the Panama Papers, uncovering the intricate web of offshore tax havens, and shedding light on global financial corruption.

I was also involved in researching the reach of Russian intelligence into the UK real estate market, exposing the influence and potential threats posed by foreign actors. Additionally, I worked on an investigation into the human trafficking industry in the Balkans, aiming to expose the harrowing realities faced by victims and hold those responsible accountable.

These experiences have not only honed my research and investigative skills but have also deepened my understanding of the importance of thorough fact-checking, meticulous data analysis, and unbiased reporting. They have taught me the value of collaboration and the impact that in-depth investigative journalism can have on society.

4. What do you hope to do after graduation?

I have two options I’m considering, and I hope to know which by the time I graduate. One option is to pursue another master's degree in a relevant field such as political science. This would provide me with a deeper understanding of the political landscape and enable me to explore complex issues from multiple perspectives.

Alternatively, I am drawn to the idea of joining esteemed institutions known for their commitment to investigative reporting, such as the Center for Investigative Reporting or other non-profit foundations that focus on social justice. These organizations provide crucial platforms for journalists to unravel pressing stories, examine thousands of documents, and shed light on underreported issues. By working alongside a talented team of researchers and reporters, I could contribute to impactful investigations and advocate for positive change.

My ultimate aim is to employ my expertise in research, data analysis, and storytelling to serve as a catalyst for truth and accountability. Whether through further education or by joining respected institutions, I am determined to contribute to the field of investigative journalism and make a meaningful impact on society.

Columbia Graduate School Interview Questions: Columbia School of International Affairs 

  • Tell us about a time you had to make an immediate decision.
  • How would your close friends describe you?
  • What are your hobbies and interests?
  • Tell us about a challenge you faced and how you overcame it. 

Sample Answers

1. Tell us about a time you had to make an immediate decision .

During my time as a freelance journalist based in Kabul, I found myself facing a critical and life-altering decision when the Taliban swiftly entered the city. When news of the Taliban's rapid advance reached me, I realized that my safety and the ability to continue reporting were at stake. The immediate instinct was to leave the city as quickly as possible. I gathered my essential belongings, aware that every minute counted.

However, a trusted friend urged me to wait, believing the Taliban would not take the city violently. It was a difficult decision, as staying could put me at even greater risk. Yet, I chose to trust my friend's advice and postponed my departure, even though uncertainty loomed over the situation.

I came to realize the fortunate outcome of my decision. A devastating blast later occurred at the airport, claiming numerous lives. Had I not heeded my friend's advice and left earlier, I could have been caught in the midst of that tragic incident. Needless to say, now, I try to consult as many people as I can before I make a major decision, even though, sometimes, you don’t have that luxury. And it is a luxury to have a lot of smart people on your side, which is why I want to study here at Columbia.

2. How would your close friends describe you? 

I pride myself on being a trustworthy and reliable friend, always there to offer support and guidance when needed, so I think they would talk about that. I also hope they would say that I have a good sense of humor and love to laugh. But, knowing myself and knowing my friends, I also think they would say that I have a tendency to be impatient at times and that I don't shy away from expressing my opinions. While I strive for understanding and patience, I believe in direct communication and addressing issues head-on.

My friends would also recognize my exacting standards, which can sometimes be perceived as high expectations. But I believe in pushing myself and others to achieve excellence, as I have a natural inclination toward organization and leadership. This quality often manifests in my attention to detail and my drive to see projects through to their successful completion, and I think that is something my friends appreciate about me; consistency and reliability.

3. What are your hobbies and interests?

I like to do a lot of things in my free time, hiking being one of my favorites. I’m from California so the mountains were important to my childhood. I loved going to the Sierra Nevada mountains, especially Mount Baldy, which holds a special place in my heart as I proposed to my fiancé there. When I’m not feeling like a hike, I like to explore cafes and bookstores and maybe people watch, while drinking my flat white. Since I moved to New York City, discovering hidden gems, trying new cuisines, and embracing the diverse experiences that this bustling metropolis has to offer has been a truly enriching journey.

4. Tell us about a challenge you faced and how you overcame it. 

I encountered a significant challenge when I contracted a severe case of Covid-19 that led to hospitalization. It was a trying and frightening experience, one that tested my physical and mental resilience. However, throughout my battle with the virus, I drew strength from the unwavering support of my loving family.

During those difficult days, a deep instinct within me assured me that it was not my time to succumb to the illness. This profound sense of purpose and the belief that I had more to accomplish in my life fueled my determination to overcome the obstacles before me. It was this resilience and unwavering spirit that guided me through the darkest moments and motivated me to persevere.

My battle with Covid-19 taught me the value of life, the importance of resilience, and the power of family support. It reinforced my commitment to making a positive impact in the world and deepened my appreciation for the incredible healthcare professionals who dedicate their lives to saving others. Through this experience, I emerged stronger and more determined than ever to make a difference in the lives of others through my chosen path.

How to Answer Columbia Graduate School Interview Questions

A few important tips to remember:

1. Answer directly. 

Interviews for professional schools such as medicine, engineering and dentistry usually have long interviews to determine if a candidate is a good fit or not. But programs within the arts or humanities generally have shorter interviews, mostly because it is only for clarification about an aspect of your application, and not necessarily for personal information. An example of a direct question is, “why do you want to do a PhD?”, which you can respond directly to without any preamble or introduction, with “I want to do a PhD because....”

From here you can expand on what it is about the school’s particular academic offerings appeals to you or what made you so passionate about your field: the inciting incident.

2. Mention something specific about the school. 

When you talk about something specific about the school, or, in any other type of interview, such as a job interview, about the company, it reveals many good things about you. It means you have done your research and know what you are getting into by applying. It also means you have a clear idea of your goals and what you want to achieve at the school, which is something that admissions committees are always eager to hear, since it matters to them how they can help you achieve your academic pursuits.

3. Listen carefully to the question, and take a second to think of your answer.

Since you do not want to sound rehearsed, you need to answer every question in the moment, and genuinely, which will not be possible if you do not understand the question or misheard something. If you do not understand the question or need clarification, ask for it. If you are thinking of an answer while in the interview, say it. Tell the interviewers, “I’m thinking of an answer” to give yourself the time to think of an appropriate answer to the question asked.

4. Be as brief as possible.

Remember that some interviews at Columbia are timed depending on the program, so you will need to think fast and answer quickly but still answer the question. An ideal answer should be no longer than a minute long, in which you should check off all the boxes on the SARA model – Situation-Action-Results-Application – where you a) describe the situation b) say what you did c) talk about the outcome d) describe what lessons or knowledge you gained from this situation. 

How to Apply to Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

There are over 12 different graduate departments offered through the Columbia GSAS, but there are close to 60 different PhD programs divided between all these schools, with a similar number of master’s degree programs. The university’s various professional schools such as Columbia Law School, the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Science have their graduate degree programs as well, also with specific entrance requirements.

The school uses a centralized application system for all graduate school applications across all the various programs it offers. Applicants must submit their applications online, in accordance with both the university-wide requirements (graduate school letters of recommendation, graduate school statement of purpose, graduate school resume and research resume, transcripts, and GMT or GRE scores, if applicable) and also submit program-specific materials, such as a personal statement, or other writing sample related to scholarly work.

Not all of these programs will hold interviews, though. Some may ask particular students to interview with the objective purpose of finding out more about a candidate. Other programs and schools within the university do have a stated interview requirement, especially STEM subjects and the medical and dental school, which we will also cover here. If you are requested to attend or invited to an interview, you should read over these questions not to memorize answers, but to get an idea of what you should say in your interview.


Columbia graduate school interview questions can range from the personal and specific to more general and behavioral interview questions. If you are applying to a Master’s or a PhD, you should know that an interview is a possibility, but not a certainty. Some programs do not hold interviews, while others leave it up to the discretion of the faculty. The medical school does hold interviews, as well as the law school, along with a select few of the STEM programs.


1. Does Columbia use graduate school interviews?

In a few select programs (medicine, law, dentistry, etc.), Columbia does hold mandatory interviews. But, in the majority of programs, applicants are often admitted on the basis of their online application and submitted materials such as a graduate school cover letter or GPA and GRE scores without an interview. 

2. Which Columbia graduate school programs use interviews?

The medical school, law school, business school and a few STEM-based subjects such as Applied Analytics and engineering programs hold interviews, but they all ask various questions. 

3. Do all applicants get an interview invitation?

Not if the program does not require it. For the professional schools, such as medicine and law, receiving an interview invitation is part of a successful grad school application timeline. However, applicants should not get their hopes up if the program they are applying to asks them for an interview. It is not a sign that your application will be successful; only that the school wants to know more about you or a specific aspect of your application.

4. Is it a good sign if I get a graduate school interview invitation?

It depends on the program. If you are applying to one of the professional schools, getting a graduate school interview invitation is a good sign. But, again, if you are invited for an interview for a program that does not regularly hold interviews it does mean that your application has caught the admissions committee’s attention, but it does not guarantee that you will be admitted. 

5. What are typical graduate school interview questions?

There are many typical graduate school interview questions, the most common ones being “tell me about yourself”, “why this school/program?”, “why do you want to do a PhD?”, while more pointed, and industry specific questions might be asked in the other programs, such as engineering. 

6. Does the graduate school interview at Columbia matter?

Again, it depends on the program. The medical school or dental school interviews matter a great deal. It might also matter if you are invited to an interview for a program that does not have them, as a poor interview may harm your application. Whatever the case, you should take seriously any interview at Columbia and prepare accordingly, even by employing a grad school admissions consultant or PhD admissions consultant

7. How can I prepare for Columbia graduate school interview questions?

There are many ways you can prepare for your Columbia grad school interview. You can practice mock interviews to prepare mentally and physically, so you are not nervous or anxious, even though nerves are completely normal before and during the interview. You can also research your field extensively and find out all you can about the faculty and classes offered by your program. Finally, you can read over your past written materials about your field to have a foundation of what your goals and experiences are. 

8. How long will my graduate school interview last?

Depending on the program, your interview can last between 15 and 30 minutes.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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