In this blog, you will see some of the most common and some of the most difficult or tricky graduate school interview questions candidates often face in interviews. We use some of the same questions during our interview preparation programs with our own students. For the more common questions, such as the “tell me about yourself” PhD interview question, we’ll provide you some tips or pointers to help you think carefully about your own responses. These are the kinds of questions you likely already have in mind, and to which you have hopefully given some thought already. For those more difficult questions, we’ll provide some discussion about the question and an expert response, so that you have the tools you need to construct your own unique responses. Finally, we will provide you with a list of practice graduate school interview questions so you can apply what you learn in this blog!

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Types of Graduate School Interview Questions Grad School Interview Questions - General Grad School Interview Questions - Academic Grad School Interview Questions - Personal 100 More Graduate School Interview Questions Conclusion FAQs

Types of Graduate School Interview Questions

Not all graduate programs require an interview, but – increasingly – this is becoming more common. If you’re applying to a graduate program, particularly (though not exclusively) to a doctoral program, you may face an interview, and you need to be prepared for the kinds of questions you may be asked. Sometimes, seemingly innocuous questions – questions that seem simple, and that you could answer “off the cuff” – have a deeper meaning behind them. While you should feel comfortable enough to speak in a collegial way with your interviewer(s), you still need to be attentive to the fact that you are being evaluated at all times. With that said, bear in mind that making it to the interview stage for a graduate program means that they’re likely looking for reasons to keep you, rather than reasons to exclude you. Your application materials and statement of purpose have piqued the review committee’s attention, and now, they want to see if you’re as awesome as you seem on paper – that is, if you’re both someone with promising ideas and someone they’ll be interested in bringing into their departmental community. Having an idea of what to expect will allow you to put your best self forward on interview day.

For your convenience, we’re breaking grad school interview questions down into three categories: General, Academic, and Personal. General questions are the kinds of questions you will almost certainly face, usually asking for basics about you, your intentions, and your interests. Academic questions are those questions specifically related to the kinds of scholarship that you have done already and that you will be doing, if accepted. Personal questions are questions about your own attitudes and experiences. Scroll through to review all of our questions, or use Article Contents feature to navigate to specific sections, if you prefer:

Graduate School Interview Questions: General

Graduate School Interview Question #1: Tell Me About Yourself

This is almost certainly the most common interview question, regardless of where or to what you are applying. It’s so common, in fact, that we’ve already addressed it in multiple blogs and videos! This question can and will appear in any professional interview. For example, you can check out sample answers we provide for "Tell me about yourself" medical school interview, "Tell me about yourself” residency interview, and even “tell me about yourself” nursing school interview. Truly, this is the most common, but nevertheless nerve wracking question out there. In general, you want to think of this as your “opening statement”, the introduction to the story of you as an aspiring grad student.

Expert Sample Answer

I was born in Germany, but moved to the United States when I was three years old. My father is American, my mother German. They met when my father went on a business trip to Germany; they got married and decided to settle in Los Angeles, where I grew up. I lived in a tight, crowded area in West Hollywood. My father was an executive producer who worked on television shows, mostly. He did do a few movie productions, but he wasn’t involved all that much in those bigger productions. It was from him that I was introduced to the magic of film and television. He brought me on set with him every once in a while to see how things worked; I met actors, crew members; when I was older, I even had an opportunity to operate cameras or be a background actor. I was in awe of the whole experience. It mystified me.

I was against the idea of using my father to “break into” Hollywood. I wanted to prove that I could do it on my own. So, I started making films with my phone camera. I wrote scripts, drew the storyboards, and acted in all of my little comedy skits. I published all of these videos online and started to gradually build a fan base who were interested in my ideas and films. But I knew I would need to scale up at some point and develop more skills as a filmmaker. That’s when I decided to pursue undergraduate studies in film. Throughout that experience, I worked with other students who were interested in all different aspects of filmmaking: production, acting, cinematography, film history, screenwriting, and others. We collaborated on various projects and entered some of our work into contests and film festivals. For me, I earned most of my credits as a screenwriter and actor, but I occasionally co-directed. We didn’t win anything at these contests or festivals, but it gave me an opportunity to network and meet potential investors and producers.

After I graduated, I was continuing to develop my platform online. I had a moderate following; I built a website so I could blog and discuss or criticize films. I also incorporated film news and my own projects, but my following was starting to stagnate. I knew that I needed to continue developing as a filmmaker and film critic in order to elevate my brand and appeal to indie film producers and other collaborators. Having a Bachelor of Arts degree in film studies was great for my resume and burgeoning reputation as an emerging creator, but I knew what I was lacking was a more robust learning experience in film history, theory, and analysis. My practical experience attending festivals, building my filmography and experience as a director, writer, and actor, was lacking in philosophical nuance.

Although I might have access to certain resources because my father is a well-known producer in Hollywood, I want to establish myself on my own. It’s been a difficult road, but I’ve been slowly building myself up as a creator. I believe that as I continue to develop my knowledge and understanding of film from a philosophical perspective, I can have a fulfilling career as a filmmaker/critic.

Would you rather watch a video? Here's some tips on preparing for your grad school interview:

Graduate School Interview Question #2: Why Our School/Program?

In responding to this question, you need to be specific. You absolutely do not want to go on about what an illustrious or renowned school/program it is. They know what their “ranking” is; they don’t need applicants to tell them that. Instead, what is it about the curriculum at that school that fits your own learning style or needs? What faculty member(s) would you like work with, and why do you want to work with them? Do you have a potential supervisor in mind (and, if so, have you reached out to them yet, to ensure they’re taking on students and interested in your intended course of study? Note: if you haven’t done this by the time you get the invitation to interview, then you need to do so prior to the interview, if at all possible!)? What current projects or initiatives are underway in that department, and why would you want to be a part of these? What can this specific school/program give you that others cannot? How do your own goals and priorities align with those of the department? These are the kinds of things you must speak to when asked this question – and, yes, you have to be able to do this with EVERY program to which you are applying! Remember back to when you were choosing specific program to apply to – you tailored your statement of intent and research interest statement for each school, did you not? So now it the time to elaborate on why each of your chosen programs interests you as a graduate student.

Expert Sample Answer

As an environmental studies applicant, there are a few things I was looking for in a program from which I ultimately narrowed my options down. First, I’m an advocate for environmental issues. I and a couple of my undergraduate classmates started a club to discuss veganism; our goal was to promote open discussion about the costs and benefits of being a vegan, what it means for the environment, and how to make it possible if you choose to go down that path. There are some groups that I would argue do the opposite, creating dissent and unnecessary debate, and therefore setting a bad precedent for the discourse on environmentalism.

I looked for transdisciplinary programs with a strange active engagement element. I believe that while theory and practical knowledge are important aspects of a robust education for this particular discipline, it’s perhaps just as important to have experience applying concepts to real-world issues in the community and worldwide. The University of Toronto Master of Environment and Sustainability has a strong emphasis on research, as well. With one of my biology professors, I participated in an a few field biology experiences; on one particular expedition, we collected samples and data concerning mottled duskwings, a medium-sized butterfly native to the geography. It’s always been important to me that my education emphasizes experience and practical application, especially in a field such as environmental studies. With collaborative specializations in Environment and Health, I expect to acquire a more holistic perspective on environmental issues with a better approach to solutions, at the University of Toronto in this program.

Graduate School Interview Question #3: Why Should We Accept You? How Will You Contribute to Our Program?

Up to this point, you’ve probably been thinking more about what you, as a student, will “get” from the institution (in terms of funding, research support or resources, work in a lab or as a TA, scholarly mentors, etc.). At this stage of your education, however, you must realize that the institution will get a lot out of you, as well. They will benefit from the research you do, the teaching work you will likely have to do, etc. As well, once you’ve completed your education, you will be an ambassador for their program, whether you realize it or not. As you become a working professional, their diploma will be hanging on your wall, and you will thus be representing their educational programming. So, what new, exciting ideas are you bringing with you? What can you offer them that others may not be able to offer (or, at least, not in the same ways as you)?

Aside from any preliminary ideas you might have about the research or related work you hope to do, you should also look at the mission statement for the school and the stated priorities of the department (usually available on the school and departmental website, respectively). This will help you determine what qualities they seek to foster, what kinds of research they tend to support, and the direction they’re looking to go. You can then think through ways in which your own interests, values, and priorities align, pointing to specific events, projects, or activities that demonstrate these effectively. If you need help brainstorming, refer back to your grad school CV. While you do not want to repeat the same information, you may want to expand on the activities you listed in your CV or reveal in more detail why your activities are relevant to the program where you are interviewing.

Expert Sample Answer

Mathematics is one of those fields that I think many students are frightened of. They think of it like some sort of beast they must conquer and move past, subverting it in their memory as quickly as possible as the distance gains. When I was in high school and throughout my experience in elementary school, I would tell people that I wanted to be a mathematician. Most people thought that it was a ridiculous and impecunious notion, or that I stood no chance of making it happen because my grades, despite a consistent effort to perform, weren’t by any means exceptional. I stayed in after class, I studied hours of online lectures and practice problems just to perform as well as I did. So, when I got accepted into an undergraduate math program, I was determined to peel back the frightening mask that math appeared to be wearing.

I started tutoring high school students. When I was taking higher level courses, I started advertising math help and study sessions for certain popular and notoriously difficult classes: applied mathematics, pure mathematics, calculus, statistics and actuarial science, and mathematical physics. These were classes that I excelled in, in part because I was making use of the resources available to me. The students I sought help from graduated, there weren’t as many programs offering help. So I took it my mission to help out as many people as I could; I never thought of it as a job or an obligation. I was gaining from practicing these concepts and reinforcing them in my mind.

If I am accepted into your program, I want to be one of those students who can support their classmates. In a graduate level mathematics program, assuredly these students will share a similar proclivity or at least enjoyment of the subject. Collaboration in math is perhaps an underappreciated element; but for me, it is an integral component. In the primary research areas being vehemently explored at Waterloo, including carbon nanotubes and fluid mechanics, my collaborative spirit and enthusiasm will motivate students to work together to move research forward.

Here's how to tackle the hardest graduate school interview questions:

Graduate School Interview Question #4: Why Are You Interested in This Field?

Hopefully, if you’re applying to a graduate program, you’re quite passionate about the things you have studied so far (and if you’re not, then turn back now! You won’t make it through grad school if you don’t love what you do!). However, a response to this question needs to convey more than just gushing jubilation at the idea of getting to study these things professionally. Having enthusiasm is great, and a statement of genuine enthusiasm for the field is fine. However, your response needs to go further than that, especially if you’re applying to a PhD program. Whatever graduate program you’re pursuing, you need to have specific reasons for why you are following this particular path. You love the field? Great! What do you love about the field? WHY do you love those specific things about the field? What do studies in this area offer you that you can’t find in other disciplines? Answering these questions will give you the best answer to “Why are you interested in this field?” And if you’re nervous about this question – don’t be. You inadvertently already answered this question in your graduate school statement of purpose or your grad school career coals statement. This time, you will simply need to articulate your interest verbally. Make sure to use examples of events and experiences that showcase that you took all the necessary steps to be certain in your field of choice.

Expert Sample Answer

My interest in social justice education began when I was a kid. I grew up in a predominantly White community, not much diversity at all. There was a feeling, an instinct if you want to call it that, aggravating me in some indistinct way. The other children wanted to touch my hair; they asked why my skin was dark, they sometimes made jokes about my accent, which I did everything in my power to control and hide. My classmates were only curious, but I think it would’ve been a good idea for the teachers to have some sort of way to address the concept of race, ethnicity, and cultural differences using a positive approach.

As a teaching assistant (TA) for a variety of undergraduate courses, I have strived to promote inclusion in my seminars. Using small group discussions and group training exercises, I encouraged my students to get to know each other and see each others’ differences as strengths. I often assign group projects so they work together to achieve a level of learning and knowledge they might not be able to achieve on their own. For four semesters in a row, my students submitted glowing TA evaluations, particularly praising the group projects that I assigned.

I think that there are many ways that education could be improved in terms of inclusion and diversity. I think it’s also important to acknowledge what education on various levels does well and strive to uphold these practices. Traditional methods used in our classrooms and lectures can truly empower students from all different backgrounds, but we also need to work on diversifying the methods we use to address a variety of student populations. From experience, I know that classroom settings can either alienate or promote self-realization and unification. I want to deepen my knowledge of the relationship between education and society with a focus on equity and social justice. My goal is to become an educator, so I know it will be important to integrate a variety of perspectives on these issues so I can embody a message of inclusion in the classroom.

Graduate School Interview Question #5: Why Are You Pursuing This Degree (PhD)?

If you’re hoping to do a PhD, it is important to be able to articulate why doing a PhD, specifically, is the right choice for you, your priorities, and your goals. Being passionate isn’t enough. As noted before, passion and genuine interest are a must if you’re going to get through grad school. However, enthusiasm will only get you so far. You need to demonstrate that your research interests are viable, that you have the discipline necessary to follow through with the degree, and that a doctorate is needed for the kind of work you want to do. Remember, the interviewers will most likely have reviewed your research resume and other application materials, so they know what you are capable of academically. Try to give them a larger picture of what a PhD will mean for your career and personal goals. Most importantly, remember to indicate what the school or the program possess that would allow you to achieve your PhD ambitions.

If you are considering going to graduate school before applying to medical school, you should check out our blog "Does a Master's or PhD help your med school chances?"

Expert Sample Answer

I want to obtain my PhD in artificial intelligence because I want to became a valued and accepted contributor to the field of research in this area. There are many interesting areas to explore currently; during my master’s studies, I mostly focused on research in artificial intelligence for health care. The question that I’ve been asking myself and other researchers I’ve worked with is “how can AI help serve the health care needs of the public?” There are two types of research that I would like to continue to build on in this PhD program. The first is machine learning. These type of AI processing can interpret things like imaging and genetic data. The second is natural language processing, which would be the real interest, because it will allow the AI device to extract information from medical notes and journals to provide. Language processors can also translate texts into machine-readable data, which can then by analyzed by these devices.

I have many goals with my research; but I think my central purpose in wanting to obtain a PhD at this particular institution is to gain access to the research institute connected with your school. Many formidable contributions to the growing body of research have been made within those walls, from causal interference models to AI and AI in public health. The abundant opportunities to collaborate and work with some of these eminent researchers is my primary attraction to this program.

Here are some tips on getting into graduate school!

Graduate School Interview Question #6: Where Else Are You Applying?

This is a difficult question because you need to be honest, but you also need to be able to demonstrate why this particular institution would be a top choice for you. They want to be fairly certain that you’ll accept an offer, if it’s extended; at the same time, you need to cover your own bases and apply to multiple schools, if that’s what’s right for you (though we don’t recommend casting an overly-wide net with applications). Even if you are applying to the easiest PhD programs to get into, each school wants to see that you have clear career and academic goals and that you are not just trying to get into a graduate program for prestige or the title. This is why your answer should speak to elements you really value in any program, such as curriculum, research opportunities, faculty, teaching opportunities, and so on. So rather than focusing on specific schools and what they offer, focus your answer on why you applied to certain schools, including the one where you are interviewing.

Expert Sample Answer

When I looked for graduate school programs, I mostly focus on scholarship and research opportunities, as well as the faculty I had a chance to work with. In addition to this program, I have also applied to X school and Y school, both of which have excellent programs and scholarship opportunities in-line with my interests. That said, this school would be one of my top choices, particularly because of the work Dr. Singh is doing in his [Research Lab]. I’ve corresponded with Dr. Singh about his current initiative, and found that our interests overlap considerably, and he responded favorably when I asked if he might consider supervising my project, if I am accepted. I am up-to-date on his work and have been following it for some time now; working with him as I complete my degree would be ideal, due to my interest in this particular area. While I need to spend some time familiarizing myself with the wider field and theoretical resources, which will happen during my coursework, I already have some ideas of independent research I could possibly do, branching off of the work he’s done already.

This same format can be applied at different schools, simply by focusing on what about each of their programs is especially meaningful to you. Maybe there’s a current grant-funded project you’d like to be part of; maybe one school has a particular methodology or curricular plan that you find particularly attractive; maybe there are faculty members at other schools with whom you’d like to work. Again, be honest, but be prepared to demonstrate why you want to study at this particular institution. If you do end up with multiple offers, you’ll have some choices to make at that time. For now, focus on putting your best self forward and getting those offers first!

Graduate School Interview Questions: Academic

Graduate School Interview Question #7: What Do You See as the Major Trends in Your Field of Study?

While it’s not expected that you will be an expert in the field at this point, you do need to demonstrate that you’re engaging the literature, that you’re pursuing the ideas in this area of scholarship, and that you’re doing these outside of and beyond your standard coursework. Those who do the bare minimum aren’t generally well-suited for graduate school. In undergraduate studies, you’re gaining exposure to a wide range of ideas, but you only take the very first steps down the specialization process in your final year or two of undergrad. Graduate school is a whole different beast – graduate school is as different from undergraduate as undergrad was from high school.

As you’re finishing undergrad, use your school’s library resources to peruse some of the major journals in your field. Don’t know what those journals are? Ask your professors or a research librarian. They can point you to the most influential journals in your area, and you can look through the past few issues to see what issues are being addressed by scholars right now. Knowing the classics is important, but – for graduate study – knowing what’s happening in the field RIGHT NOW is critical. If you can throw out some key names and some current ideas or theories in your area, you’ll impress the interviewer(s).

Expert Sample Answer

There are a couple of really influential and pervasive trends in physical therapy that I think are worthwhile to discuss. The first is telehealth service, which allow patients to meet with professionals over a visual online platform. Patients will typically follow exercise regiments along with the physical therapist demonstrating them. The main benefit is that patients can save on travel expenses, or if they’re dealing with a major injury, accessibility can be an issue. Telehealth is likely to remain a consistent option for patients seeking this type of service.

Wearable technologies are also rapidly developing innovations. ReWalk is perhaps one of the best examples. ReWalk allows patients with spinal injuries or injuries preventing them from being able to walk to stand and move using motors at the hip and knee; these devices are equipped with gravity sensors that the patient can use to steer and direct themselves with weight distribution. ReWalk is the first of probably many exoskeletons to get FDA approval for personal use.

Graduate School Interview Question #8: Specifics on past publications or projects/Can you explain your research (or research interests) in a way that would be comprehensible to non-specialists?

If you’ve listed something in your application and/or CV, you must be prepared to talk about it with your interviewers. In an open-file interview, they can ask you about anything in your application. Even in a closed-file interview, you may still get the variant question above, which means that you should still be prepared to talk about your past work. Moreover, you need to be able to explain it with a non-specialist. While you’re likely to interview with someone in the department to which you are replying, they may still be from a very different area of specialization than the one you’ve pursued so far. Ensure you can break down key concepts, unpack complex jargon, and explain the things you’ve done as if you were speaking to someone with no specific knowledge in the area. While you’ll likely learn additional methodologies and approaches as part of your graduate education, you still need to be able to discuss your own work and interests, demonstrate the skills and competencies you’ve already started polishing, and stir your listener’s interest by demonstrating both enthusiasm and nuanced, trenchant consideration of the field and the contributions you’d like to make to scholarship (broadly defined – inside and outside of academe).

Expert Sample Answer

So, most of my published research concerns the history of racism. Currently, I’ve been developing some ideas and responses to my colleague’s published work that essentially argues that the concept of racism couldn’t have existed for the ancient Greeks. However, my proposal is that the concept of racism, as we understand it in American terms, does not apply to the ancient Greek concept of race. It has been argued that the Ancient Greeks did not discriminate on the basis of race, but I believe there are a number of counters to that notion to warrant a significant recanting of this popular notion.

In my developments on this topic, I make the case for what some have called a “proto-racist” conception of ancient Greek racism and discrimination. I don’t believe that there is much evidence, as it stands, to suggest that the ancient Greeks were discriminating against discrete groups of people who would’ve assumed a “White” identity, put in our modern terms. They did, for instance, attribute to groups a common characteristics that weren’t biologically determined, yet were influenced by external factors.

Here's some advice on writing your research resume:

Graduate School Interview Question #9: What is your research interest?/What are you hoping to research?

At first glance, this may not seem like a difficult question. Indeed, it may be one of the most obvious. However, at the stage of applying to graduate school, you will likely not have a clear research agenda yet, and that’s okay! As well, even if you do have a clear research agenda, it will almost certainly change before you finish your degree, as that is – quite simply – just the nature of research at this level. At this point in your education, you are about to be exposed to a wealth of “unknown-unknowns”. That is to say, by now, you know quite a bit, and you know enough to recognize many of your own knowledge gaps. However, beneath those gaps you’ve identified lurk even greater depths of knowledge – not just things you know you don’t know enough about, but those things you can’t even recognize as possible points of knowledge, due to the current limitations you’ve acknowledged. It’s weird and philosophical, I know (hey, you said you wanted to go to grad school, right?), but the point is that your thought will be pushed in ways you hadn’t thought possible before, and this very fact means that your research interests will likely move around over time, and your trajectory may end up rather different than you thought it would when you started.

The good thing is that your interviewer knows all of this. They know you’re not a grad student – yet. They know you’re not an expert – yet. So, come in with a clear idea of where you think you want to go with your education, but don’t panic if you can’t hand in a detailed research plan – yet. Be as specific as you can, and demonstrate why these ideas matter to you. On the other side of things, don’t come in with some grand plan that you think will shake the discipline to the core with its revolutionary ideas. Remember those “unknown-unknowns”? Well, it’s entirely possible that your earth-shattering idea was already tried by someone else long before you, and has already been considered and abandoned by the contemporary field. So, do bring a good dose of humility with you into the interview. Keep in mind that if you’re invited to an interview, your application, including the research interest you indicated in its components like a graduate school resume or grad school cover letter, have interested the interviewers, so they want to learn more!

Expert Sample Answer

[Note: as this must be answered with reference to a particular field, this is written from the perspective of someone applying to grad studies in history.]

Well, I acknowledge that there are some limits to my current knowledge, but one idea I’ve returned to again and again in my undergraduate work is the idea of historical narrative, and whose voices are dominant – or even permitted – in popular historical narratives and/or the public sphere. Current debates around colonization are particularly relevant here, where there is a dominant historical narrative (what Enrique Dussell would call “history ‘from above’”) which casts colonial efforts as heroic, and a marginalized narrative (Dussell’s “history ‘from below’”) that suggests colonization was tantamount to genocide. That there can be two fundamentally different narratives (surely among others) regarding the exact same historical event is something that quite frankly astounds me.

That sense of perplexity is what led me to begin thinking about more than just the narratives, but HOW these are transmitted, accepted, challenged, etc., in the public sphere. That is what leaves me wanting to craft an interdisciplinary study that puts current historical studies into conversation with media studies. While my undergraduate degree and general interests lie with history, there is a growing body of work on the mediatization of historical narrative, and that’s where I’d like to begin my studies. This is one reason I want to work here, with Dr. Stevenson, since she is one of the foremost scholars in this area of study. Her work on social media, state power, and the public sphere offers some new and interesting questions about how narrative and counternarrative arise, spread, and gain or lose legitimacy in the 21st century.

That is the foundation on which I hope to begin building my own project, particularly with regard to indigenous-settler histories. For my undergraduate thesis under Dr. Koenig at XYZ University, I was able to draw on Dr. Stevenson’s theories to explore the 2016 Standing Rock protests and media/social media response, a project that allowed me to respectfully approach members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for an interview, to better understand what they saw happening in this historical event and the popular support shown on major social media sites, like Facebook. The ways in which a history that, at the time, seemed to me rather far in the past, was seen as immediately relevant – a symbol of a larger struggle that has been teeming for centuries – was eye-opening for me. In fact, it fundamentally changed my understanding of the term “history” – no longer was this just a collection of things that happened in the past, rather it was an active and influential component of the present. I want to understand this more deeply and explore the ways in which contemporary social media similarly collapses boundaries between past and present.

This response is concrete enough to see a logical trajectory emerging from it, while also respecting the current limits of the interviewee’s knowledge. At the same time, it points to some key theories and scholars to demonstrate that they are well-read in general, and offers some insights into what has led to the decision to pursue further studies, all of which shows promise for moving forward and further nuancing that pre-existing knowledge. However, it is still significantly short of a concrete research proposal, but that’s okay. If you already have some possible research trajectories in mind, by all means, speak about this; but, don’t panic if you’re not yet 100% certain where you’ll go with your research. This is quite normal.

Graduate School Interview Question #10: If you could, would you have changed anything about your academic experience so far?

There are two primary directions this answer could take, assuming there is something you would change (and almost everyone would change something): something you found unsatisfactory in terms of the academic institution, or something you found unsatisfactory in terms of your own performance as a student. If you didn’t have a strong relationship with your supervisor, if you found institutional support lacking, or something like that, this would be an institutional issue. Be careful here, especially if you were displeased with, or had an unfortunate encounter with, a particular individual. Academia is a social sphere, and there are alliances, cliques, and gossips, as there are in any social sphere. You don’t want to speak poorly of one professor, only to find out that they are close colleagues with your interviewer. So, if that thing you’d change has to do with the institution, avoid naming names and discuss why the issue was concerning or disruptive enough to leave you wishing it were different, and explain how you succeeded despite this. Turn it into a positive conversation about what you’ve overcome.

The same advice goes if the thing you’d like to change about your academic experience so far is something you yourself did or didn’t do. Do you wish you’d been more active and engaged during your first and second year of undergrad? Guess what – so do most people! Again, turn it into a positive conversation – what helped you snap out of this? What was your “aha!” moment that showed you what this work and education was all about? What changes did you implement, and what did you learn from that experience? Discussing these turns a potential negative into a positive.

Here’s an expert answer (institutional issue):

At my undergraduate institution, we were a rather small department. While I immensely value the education I received, the courses I took, and the professors who supported me, the diversity of perspectives was not as expansive as I wish it could have been. I was exposed to many different ideas and perspectives, and these were certainly present among our faculty, but with only 5 core professors, I was limited in terms of the specific guidance I was able to receive. That said, my professors were incredibly encouraging, and two of them put me into contact with colleagues at other institutions, whose ideas they thought I might appreciate. We corresponded by email, and they sent me some of their syllabi and reading lists, which added supplemental material to the courses I was already taking. Although a wide diversity of perspectives wasn’t available to me on campus, my mentors were able to point me to resources that helped me expand my interests and follow what captured my attention. I look forward to the day when I’m presenting at conferences, so that I can meet these scholars and thank them in person – I don’t know if they realize just how important their insights were in fostering my passion to continue my studies.

Still working on your statement of purpose for graduate school? Here are some tips:

Graduate School Interview Questions: Personal

Graduate School Interview Question #11: How do you deal with failure/disappointment?

Asking about uncomfortable things from our life history – failures, limitations, weaknesses – is very common in any interview. The purpose is generally two-fold: to see how you handle being asked about such things in a high-pressure situation (because we all just LOVE talking about our failures, right?!), and to see how you approach such “negatives”. It is very important that you reflect on such questions in advance, and do some probing to gain insights into who you are, how you’ve grown, and how you overcame such drawbacks. It is, quite frankly, inevitable that we will all fail at some point, we all have limitations and weaknesses, but what we do with all of these matters. If you can view these as mere bumps on the longer path to success, and focus on what you’ve learned when confronted with your own limitations or failures, then you’ll be able to navigate a touchy question like this one successfully.

If asked about a failure, be honest about it. Failure is inevitable at some point on the path to success, so acknowledging it and exploring it to learn what went wrong and how to fix it (or, how to alter the path to work around it) demonstrates your resilience and adaptability. These are key characteristics necessary to succeed in graduate school. You will face critique. Your experiments will fail. Your research will run up against a dead-end. You must be able to show that these are not enough to defeat you or cause you to abandon your education. There are many graduate students who start and do not finish – an unfortunate reality, but a reality nonetheless. Show them that you have the tenacity and ability to face such hurdles head-on.

If asked to give examples of personal limitations, again, be honest. Do not try to sneak in a “weakness-that’s-really-a-strength” – interviewers can see right through it, and it comes off feeling cliché, at best. Have you historically had poor time management? Say so. Do you have a hard time saying “no” to others? Tell them. Are you someone who is not naturally inclined toward organization? Confess. But, in all of these cases, do not simply leave it at that! Tell them how you are working past (or how you have worked past) such limitations. Poor time management? How do you stay on top of your school and other work, and how will you continue to do so as a graduate student? Uncomfortable saying “no”? What have you done to start creating boundaries, so that you won’t be overwhelmed? Disorganized? What systems have you put in place to manage your data? Show them you won’t just shrug your shoulders when you face adversity – even when the source of it is you yourself!

Expert Sample Answer

I think I have a unique background when it comes to dealing with failure and disappointment, specifically with rejection. I became interested in literature at a young age; perhaps five or six years old. My father used to read my brother and me stories from the high school English classes he was teaching. The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Frankenstein, were among my favorites. I started writing vociferously, which was a direct influence of my father. After writing short stories and poetry for years, I decided in my senior year of high school that I wanted to try to get published. I began organizing my stories, compiling collections, building pitch materials and researching agencies I wanted to work with. I started sending out queries; one by one I received rejection after rejection. It was disheartening and demotivating.

I realized, after some reflection, that my expectations needed recalibration. As a first-time writer seeking representation, I needed to understand that it was unlikely to get published without any prior experience or credentials. So, during my undergraduate studies, I joined a writer’s club. With a group of motivated writers from all different experience levels, we critiqued each other’s work and discussed technique, style, and how to develop strong pitch materials. At the same time, I was volunteering as an editor for the school literary journal. I was reading submissions and making recommendations to the senior editor about what I thought would be good material to publish. I was learning to deal with my disappointment by using it to motivate improvement, in more productive, almost scientific manner. Eventually, I took my first step toward getting one of my novels published. I had my first short story published in a mid-tier magazine. It was one of the most rewarding feelings. Failure is all about perspective; if you use it productively, you can turn it into something positive.

Graduate School Interview Question #12: What is your most significant accomplishment?

If you’re applying to a graduate program, you likely have significant accomplishments – academic, but probably personal, as well. That’s awesome! You should absolutely talk about this in the interview, of course! But, a word of caution: Be Humble – especially if you choose to talk about academic achievement. Your accomplishments are valid and worthy and you should absolutely be proud of them. However, you’re about to enter an arena where everyone is at least as accomplished as you are. You may be used to being at the top of every list, but now, you’re going to be working with all the other #1s, as well as the people who rank such lists. A dose of humility is always welcomed. Remember, the people interviewing you are looking at you as a future colleague. Graduate school is – ideally – more about working collaboratively and collegially with your peers and professors than it is working for your profs in undergrad. Along with evaluating your academic bona fides, they also want to ensure that you’re a person they’d like to see every day!

Expert Sample Answer

I think my most significant accomplishment, or at least the one that I am most proud of, is winning the regional championship for basketball with the university team. I was a freshman. When I tried out for the team, I was sure that I was going to get cut. But, I was invited back to each of the tryouts. On the final one, the coach spoke with each of the players individually. He asked me why I should be a part of this team. I hold him that if he gives me a spot, the only thing I can promise is that I will work hard and be an example of good attitude for this team. I got the call back that night saying I made the team.

The regular season for us was rocky. We had some injuries early on, which meant that some of the players that weren’t used to getting a lot of playing time were asked to step up. I was one of those players. The coach told me that this was my opportunity to deliver on my promise and pull the team together with my leadership. We started to climb in the standings; we rallied together and played our hearts out every game. We were fighting for our lives out there, making the final push for a spot in the playoffs. In overtime of the final game of the season, we clinched a spot with a buzzer beater. It was an incredible moment.

But the road didn’t stop there. We faced some of the best teams in the region on our way to the finals. I wasn’t the best player on the team, but I did my best to motivate everyone with hard practice and pre-game speeches. We were the underdogs. When we won, I almost couldn’t believe it. It was an incredible feeling to be able to lead a struggling team to victory, to prove that I could be a strong voice for the team and motivate us out of defeat.

Graduate School Interview Question #13: How do you deal with the stress of academia?

We are seeing mental health crises in many facets of society, and academia is included in this. The pressure of graduate school is immense and virtually indescribable to those who haven't gone through it. You’re in competition with the same people you grow close to over the course of your degree (your cohort – the other students accepted the same year as you). You’re under constant scrutiny and your work is subject to constant critique - you're much more likely to be alerted to things you're doing wrong than applauded for things you're doing right. The boundary between work and life gets very fuzzy, as does the boundary between work and self – becoming a scholar is both an occupation and an identity. Your research is often dependent on funding, and resources seem more and more scarce with each passing year. Future prospects as tenured faculty (if that’s the direction you’d like to go) are dismal, as precarious adjunct/sessional/contract labour becomes more and more the norm. People outside of academia will think you’re still just “going to school”, when that’s not at all the reality of what you’re actually doing - their definition of "going to school" is worlds away from the actual work you'll be doing.

In short, it’s all a lot to deal with, and it can be mentally trying, even in good times. Depression and anxiety are common. Every year, graduate students abandon their studies under the weight of it all, and some – particularly those with pre-existing struggles with mental health – are driven past the point of no return. Even those who seem “strong” or “okay” may be hurting far more than they may let on.

As such, the push toward a mental wellness model in academia is underway, but it’s slow-going. You need to demonstrate all at once that you are realistic about the immense pressure you will be under, and that you have coping strategies in place to handle such stressors. If you don’t have such strategies, start working on them NOW. You will absolutely need them. Whatever it is that makes you feel good about yourself, competent, healthy, and like you’re on stable ground, follow it and make it a regular practice.

Expert Sample Answer

I’ve been following the Chronicle for Higher Education online for the past year, as I wanted to start gaining an understanding of the realities of graduate school. They’ve posted many times about mental wellness in academia, as well as some of the unique stressors that come with life in higher education. I also know a few graduate students in various fields, and I’ve started talking to them about some of the challenges and stressors they experience. I know that this won’t be an easy road – academically or personally. I’m incredibly excited by the possibility to continue my studies at the graduate level, but it is clear that some effective coping strategies are necessary.

I’m fortunate in that I’m very close with my family, and I have a long-term partner, as well. They are all an immense source of support, and I always have a loving ear when I need to vent. On top of that, being in nature really helps me keep everything in perspective. My partner and I go camping every long weekend during the warmer months, and I live 5 minutes away from a massive, beautiful park, right on the lake. I actually take my books and laptop there frequently, sitting at a picnic table in the shade of a massive tree, looking out across the lake – it’s one of the best places to get work done. I can take breaks, listen to birds chirping, watch squirrels play, or just feel the breeze on my face. Even when I can’t go there, I have a nice garden in my backyard, where I grow flowers and vegetables, and a little outdoor work station where I can do some reading or writing.

Lastly, in the past year, and at the recommendation of a counsellor, I’ve taken on a hobby that has helped me so much – cooking and baking. It may sound strange, but it is the perfect anecdote for some of the stress of school. In my upper-level courses, it became clear that any idea or theory is up for debate and critique. Nearly any claim someone makes can be evaluated critically through a different lens. I found that this makes it difficult to have a sense of certainty, a clear sense of “good” or “bad” with regard to one’s own work. The results of cooking and baking, however, are definitive. Either the dish is delicious or it’s not. Now that I’m pretty good at it, most of the things I make are delicious. I can spend some time blowing off steam while creating beautiful foods I get to enjoy and share with others. No one’s going to debate the succulence of my peach pie. My pasta sauce isn’t going to be critiqued for its methodology. It’s just tasty. I don’t know why that helps put my mind at ease, but it does. Having little objective successes every day helps insulate me somewhat from many of the stresses of the outside world, school included.

Want to know how to get into grad school with a low GPA? These tips can help:

Graduate School Interview Question #14: What have you been reading?/What’s the last book you read?

This question is difficult because of how informal it can come across when asked. As ever, you want to be honest, but that means making a note to yourself right now: Ensure you’re reading things that show depth and curiosity! This doesn’t mean reading only those things related to your area of scholarship, but you absolutely do need to have such things in your regular rotation. If, for example, there are primary works in your field that you haven’t had the chance to read yet, then get thee to a library! Often, in undergraduate studies, you’ll read a lot of secondary sources – that is, readings about key theories, thinkers, and methodologies in the field, written by others. But, if there are landmark names in your field whose actual works you’ve never read, work them into your rotation along with some things that are more current. As noted earlier, if you’re not sure what these are – in either case, old or new – ask a research librarian at your school. Most schools will have discipline-specific librarians who are familiar with the major works in that discipline, foundational primary texts and cutting-edge scholarship happening at this very moment. Make use of this incredibly valuable resource – you’re paying for it with your tuition, whether you use it or not!

If you enjoy fiction, non-fiction works outside your field, graphic novels, etc., that’s great, of course! You don’t have to lose yourself and your enjoyment to pursue graduate studies. Just be sure to think through the image you project, if you discuss these in an interview. Reading Vampirella is a bit different than reading Watchmen or Maus. Discussing your love of trashy romance novels comes off in a different way than discussing your love of historical biographies. That’s not to suggest there’s anything wrong with enjoying the former of either comparison – you do you! But, you do want to be strategic in what you disclose in an interview, since you're making a first impression (your quirks can come out after you've been accepted!). So, if you’ve legitimately just put down the most recent Harlequin novel, give it some consideration before reflexively answering this question in a way that doesn’t highlight your own depth --unless, of course, you want to study such things as part of your scholarship. 

Expert Sample Answer

To be honest, over the past month, I’ve been handling a heavy load at school, so my recreational reading time has been spent more on fiction than non-fiction. I do have a subscription to [Top Journal], but I haven’t had an opportunity to really dig into the latest issue yet. Instead, I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy before bed each night (Oryx & CrakeThe Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam). If you’re not familiar, it’s a dystopian science fiction story that explores some of the anxieties and potentialities around genetic modification, environmental catastrophe, and the human/non-human species divide. As someone with an interest in apocalyptic narratives of the past, apocalyptic speculation about the future is also something I find fascinating. Atwood is also renowned for the research that goes into her novels, so seeing her explore the possibilities – both beneficial and terrifying – of the technological advances of the present really helps me think through some societal and personal anxieties about where the world is heading. She also just weaves deeply rich and incredibly elaborate worlds that I love spending time in and pondering, even if they are rather unsettling, at times.

Here's some more advice on writing your graduate school personal statement:

Graduate School Interview Question #15: What are Your Career Goals?

You have most likely touched upon this question in your applications already, but the challenge here is to vocalize this verbally in a coherent narrative. The problem is, many students might be unsure of what exactly they may want to do after grad school. Maybe you are one of those students who truly enjoys researching your topic of interest and you have not really planned out whether you want to stay in academia or transition from academia to an industry job? That’s totally fine!

The key to answering this interview question is to outline what exactly led you to an interest in graduate work in this field and how this program will help you get where you want to go – even if it’s grad school research. If you’re having trouble brainstorming what exactly you want to include in your answer, reach out to a graduate school admissions consultant who can help you with this answer.

Expert Sample Answer

I want to become a substance abuse social worker. It all started before I even knew what a substance abuse social worker was. My father was an alcoholic. My aunt died from an overdose. These events had a profound impact on my upbringing and worldview. My brother and I were conditioned to think of our dad being home as a threat. He almost always had a beer in his hand. His behavior was unpredictable; one moment nice and compassionate, the next angry and destructive. We couldn’t trust him. When my aunt passed away from an accidental overdose, this seemed to “wake” my father up from his destructive behavior. By then, I was sixteen. My mother divorced him, but she and I talked to him about seeing a counsellor. He was hesitant, but ultimately agreed. He was scared. So were we. He made some gradual progress as he learned about the nature of substance abuse disorders, how relapses occur, why people like him have a hard time resisting the drink. He did a combination of withdrawal and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It was incredibly difficult watching him go through the experience. He did relapse once or twice over the next few years, but we had the tools to get him through it.

Entering university, I joined a peer support group for student recovery an addiction resources. The school already established a strong support program. I mainly worked on developing and promoting resources detailing the effects of substance abuse, how to see the signs, where to get help. The students I met through the program —struggling or otherwise—were always very grateful for our services. With this student group, I helped develop a report on how university students perceive substance abuse services to understand barriers and resistance to seeking treatment. We found that many students felt they were unworthy of support. To combat this sense of unworthiness, we launched our “you are worth campaign” promoting anonymous services that people can use to hopefully introduce them to help and lower the perception that they don’t deserve help.

Graduate School Interview Question #16: What are Your Research Interests?

Your answer must not only outline what you plan to research in your new program, but what steps you took in your education so far to get to where you are now. Even if you changed your interests radically, make sure to create a narrative that shows why you are interested in your topic and how you got there.

Expert Sample Answer

I want to participate in some of the exciting research happening at your institution in collaboration with other thinkers currently tackling this “hard problem of consciousness.” As a neuroscience major, I had the opportunity to work with some of my professors on research they hosted on the subject of consciousness. I worked on one particular project tackling the relationship between consciousness and pain. Using established research and data published by eminent figures in the field, we published a paper detailing the neural correlates of consciousness, honing in on the thalamus and cortex. We also noted interesting perspectives on “placebo” anaesthesia, in which people, through mindfulness or other methods, can induce a sort of anaesthetic experience.

If I’m given the opportunity to work on research at your institution on the graduate level, I would like the pursue a similar body of research investigating The Global Workspace Theory and other competing theories, such as Higher-Order theories of consciousness. These are, as I’ve noticed, the two areas that many of your faculty members in the philosophy department are occupied with. Coming from a neuroscience background, I’m also aware of the invaluable contributions and collaborations of a strong neuroscience department. The cognitive neuroscience research facilities available at your institution, equipped with CT and MRI machines, will be an important aspect of my mission to illuminate the mystery of the emergence of consciousness.

Graduate School Interview Question #17: What do you see as the Major Trends in Your Field of Study?

Another question that inquires about your level of familiarity with the current questions and research in your field. This is your chance to showcase your knowledge! While you want to remain humble and polite, this is a question that you can prepare for and really demonstrate your level of understanding and interest in the field you are pursuing.

Expert Sample Answer

There are a few major trends in the field of psychology that I think will have a profound impact on the way that psychiatric illness is treated in this country. The first is the emergence of more services offering online video sessions, as opposed to exclusively in-person sessions. For people who can’t afford travel or who need accommodations to get from place to place, having the online option is more convenient and cheaper. Additionally, if there are potential clients who are worried about making the decision to attend therapy sessions, the online option can be a more approachable method.

Another interesting trend is virtual-reality therapy, which has been gaining traction in recent years. VR therapies are typically used, when it’s available, to treat phobias and anxiety-related disorders. People can enter anxiety-provoking situations, such as a plane for people who are afraid of lying, to “expose” themselves to the anxiety and apply strategies they learn in therapy. These VR sessions can be a great steppingstone for people who aren’t ready to step into the “real” situation. But practicing in an environment like that can show people that they can learn coping strategies and eventually gain confidence outside of a clinical setting.

The final trend that I think is worth mentioning is mindfulness. Mindfulness has been given a lot more attention in recent years, especially as research continues to show the short and long-term benefits of applying mindfulness meditation and strategies to their every day lives. I recorded a study during my undergraduate studies using MRI to image the brains of people before and after they learned and applied mindfulness techniques for two months. The activation of the amygdala appeared to diminish whilst subjects performed basic everyday tasks, like studying. I think that mindfulness has a lot of potential to become a more prevalent treatment option for most anxiety-based disorders, including generalized anxiety, OCD, and PTSD.

Graduate School Interview Question #18: Share your Opinion on a Current Issue in Your Field.

As you can see, a question on current trends in your field can be asked in different ways. In this case, you are asked about only one trend or issue. This means you can get really in-depth about the topic of your choosing!

Expert Sample Answer

In the field of nursing, I would argue that one of the biggest issues currently is safety on the job. It’s been an ongoing issue in the field since its inception, that I don’t think has ever been addressed adequately. We have made progress, sure; provision 3 and 5 of the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics, which require nurses to protect and promote the safety of patients and to mitigate the effects of fatigue by caring for their own health and safety. However, nurses do face a lot of harassment by certain population groups especially. I read a figure in a study that showed that roughly 60% of nurses worldwide have reported at least one incidence of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Nurses experience other forms of bullying and harassment as well. I was working in a psychiatric care unit and had more than one patient try to strike me or use racialized expletives against me. It is our right as nurses to work in environments that are free from violence and harassment. It should not be a part of our jobs, as far as I’m concerned. Unfortunately, many people, including some nurses, consider harassment to be “what you sign up for” when you become a nurse. We would not tolerate the same treatment in other jobs, so I don’t see why it should be any different for nurses, especially as we are generally caring for vulnerable members of our communities.

I’ve become an advocate to try to help mitigate some of these issues, but I think they will always be present until the government enacts more provisions, and stricter ones at that. I work for an organization that promotes resources and laws that protect nurses from violence and harassment. We have an entire domain full of downloadable resources covering workplace violence prevention policies, updates to occupational safety regulations, how to report to a supervisor, employer duties under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and more. It’s important for nurses to know their rights in these stations, ideally before they have to face them. And hopefully they never have to.

Graduate School Interview Question #19: Why did you choose this program if you majored in X for your undergraduate degree.

This is a dreaded question for those who choose to pursue a discipline that differs from the one they studied previously. But there is nothing to be afraid of! You must simply outline why you chose to pursue a different field and how your previous field prepared you for the one you are pursuing now! Brainstorm which qualities and skills you gained in previous field of study that are really valuable and useful in the new field of study you are pursuing.

Expert Sample Answer

I had a hard time choosing between English and philosophy when I was deciding which undergraduate program I wanted to apply to. I understood that both fields were related, but the decision came down to wanting to focus more on developing my writing skills. I thought that if I established better writing and studied linguistics and literary theory through the lens of preeminent writers, I would learn valuable hermeneutic strategies that I could apply to more philosophical texts.

Furthermore, I think English and philosophy are quite similar disciplines. They both focus on critical thinking, writing effectively, argumentation, and interpretation. The major differences are the texts that are studied and the oral/written communication styles. I took a variety of philosophy courses as electives throughout my studies, so that I could learn philosophy in a way that would complement my studies in English. I learned basic logic, debate, existential philosophy, metaphysics, and feminist philosophy.

The reason I decided to pursue a graduate degree in philosophy, and not English, is because I found that I enjoy reading the philosophical texts more than I did the English ones. I gradually veered toward philosophical literature, like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, until I dived into more classic philosophy such as Plato, Descartes, Hobbes, and Kant. One of my professors, who I took advice from, suggested that if I am still reading and studying philosophy on my own time by the time I graduate, it’s a good indication that I will enjoy a career in philosophy. So, while my approach is somewhat intuitive, I think that my degree in English with some background in philosophy will allow me to pursue this degree with conviction and qualification.

Graduate School Interview Question #20: What do you do for fun?

Do not be alarmed. This is not a trick question. Grad school interviewers are also people, and these people will most likely spend a lot of time with you if you get accepted. As we already mentioned, graduate school is really about collaboration and working together with other students and faculty. These people want to get to know you and this is why they ask this question. To some extent, you can be honest with your pastimes, but try to avoid contentious or controversial topics. Feel free to reveal your volunteer engagements or activities you like to do with your family and friends. And most importantly, try to reveal in your answer a quality or a skill you think will really demonstrate your character. Tell a story, and engage your interviewers with your answer. You can even connect your pastime with your research, if possible.

Expert Sample Answer

My husband and I love to watch Italian cinema. Especially, films made in mid XX century. The appearance on screen of Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, and other stars of Italian cinema is always a celebration for us. What I love about Italian films the most are the incredibly sophisticated humor and philosophical outlook on life. Each culture has its own way of seeing the world, and I truly enjoy watching cinema from all over the world, but I find the complexities of life are addressed best in Italian movies, such as the dilemma of artistic creation and mundane reality. As I look for graduate programs in creative writing, I cannot help my reflect on the struggles of the poor Guido Anselmi from Fellini’s 8 1⁄2 who, as an artist, struggled but strived to be an authentic “auteur”, as the French say. I too look for autonomy in creation and inspiration, and understand that only by being honest with myself and with the help of others I can achieve my goals in creative writing. This is something I look forward to in finding in your program. 

Check out how we helped Nikki get into grad school!

100 More Graduate School Interview Questions

  1. What is your strongest personal asset?
  2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  3. Names three strengths you have and explain why you think they are strengths.
  4. What would your friends/teachers/supervisors say about you?
  5. Why did you major in X?
  6. When did you decide to enter this occupational field and why?
  7. What courses have you enjoyed the most?
  8. What courses have been the most difficult for you?
  9. What satisfaction have you gained from your studies?
  10. Tell me about the research project you completed with Professor X?
  11. What did you like about your college/university?
  12. Tell me about a professor or supervisor you didn’t like and why.
  13. Why would you be an asset to our department?
  14. What skills and experiences do you feel have prepared you for admission to this program?
  15. How many programs have you applied to besides our institution/program?
  16. What will you do if you aren’t accepted into our program?
  17. What extracurricular activity has been most satisfying to you?
  18. What activities do you enjoy most outside of the classroom
  19. Do you have any hobbies or outside interests?
  20. Tell me about any volunteer experiences in which you participated.
  21. What challenges do you think you might face in this graduate program?
  22. What would you say is an area in which you need improvement?
  23. What skills or abilities do you hope to strengthen through our program?
  24. What has motivated you to pursue this academic field?
  25. What are your short- and long-term goals?
  26. Tell me about a goal you have set for yourself and how you have achieved or intend to achieve it.
  27. Tell me about a situation in which you showed initiative.
  28. Tell me about a group in which you were involved. How did you contribute to make this group achieve a goal?
  29. Tell me about a time you assumed a leadership role.
  30. Tell me about a recent significant problem you faced and how you handled it.
  31. Tell me about how you handle stress.
  32. Tell me about a time you had a number of assignments due. How did you make sure you completed all of them and did a good job?
  33. Tell me about a time you were confronted by a fellow student, co-worker or a customer. How did you handle it to resolve the conflict?
  34. Tell me about a time you were faced with a difficult situation and how you handled it.
  35. Tell me about a mistake you made and how you handled it.
  36. Define teamwork success.
  37. What was the last book you read or movie you saw?
  38. How will you make the world a better place?
  39. If you could have dinner with someone (living or dead), who would that person be?
  40. What do you think about X current event?
  41. What problem in the world troubles you most? What would you do about it?
  42. What is the most important development in this field over the past 25 years, and why?
  43. What characteristics distinguish from others in the same academic field?
  44. Is there any population you have difficulty working with?
  45. What do you anticipate the most difficult adjustment to graduate level work to be for you?
  46. How would you respond to critical feedback by a supervisor?
  47. Are you interviewing at other programs?
  48. Do you have any clinical experience? If so, tell me about it.
  49. How do you evaluate success?
  50. What previous work experience has been the most valuable to you and why?
  51. Describe your leadership style.
  52. How do you motivate people?
  53. What motivates you?
  54. How do you manage your time?
  55. What things frustrate your most? How do you deal with them?
  56. What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
  57. What have you learned from your mistakes?
  58. What else should I know about you?
  59. Tell me about a time you had to cope with strict deadlines or time demands.
  60. Describe a time you were under pressure to make an immediate decision.
  61. Tell me about a time you had to stand up for a decision you made even though it was unpopular.
  62. Tell me about a new idea, policy, or procedure that you implemented that was considerably different from an existing on.
  63. Describe a time you had to bend the rules in order to be successful or accomplish a goal.
  64. Tell me about a time you were proud of your ability to be objective even though you were emotional about a problem.
  65. Describe a situation where you set a positive example for others.
  66. What factors influenced you to go to graduate school
  67. What skills and personal characteristics make you a good candidate for this graduate program?
  68. What do you do in your spare time?
  69. How do you feel your undergraduate studies have prepared you for this program?
  70. What do you plan to specialize in?
  71. If you’re not accepted into graduate school, what are your plans?
  72. What recent professional articles or books have you read?
  73. Give me an example of an ethical dilemma you faced and explain how you resolved it.
  74. Tell me about a situation in which you took initiative.
  75. What courses intrigue you in our curriculum.
  76. Tell me about your current professional position and what to do.
  77. If you are currently employed, what are the issues your organization is facing? What keeps senior management up at night?
  78. What was your best/greatest professional success? What are you most proud of professionally?
  79. What is your dream job and why?
  80. Do you prefer working on a team or individually?
  81. What would you do if you were part of a high-level meeting and you received a very important client call in the middle of it?
  82. How do you like to receive feedback?
  83. What is the one thing you would like to improve about yourself?
  84. What do you do for fun? What are some of your hobbies?
  85. What do you think we should look for in applicants?
  86. Are you aware of the level of difficulty in this school? How will you handle the rigorous schedule?
  87. Why were your standardized test scores so low? Will you retake the MCAT/DAT/OAT/PCAT/GRE? How will you prepare to improve your scores the second time? How did you prepare for the standardized admissions test the first time?
  88. How would you spend the interim year?
  89. How many hours a day do you study?
  90. Explain your research. Do you enjoy it? What did you like/dislike about research? Would you like research to be a part of your career?
  91. You just delivered a baby that has Down's syndrome. The child is having problems breathing and needs to have a simple operation to take care of the problem. If the child does not have the surgery, he will die. The parents ask you not to save their son. What are the legal issues involved? What are the ethical issues? What do you do?
  92. How would you pass along bad news to a family?
  93. What do you hope to gain in you personal life from this profession?
  94. What is the most significant contribution you have made to your school?
  95. What activities do you enjoy most outside of the classroom?
  96. Do you feel your academic record accurately reflects your abilities and potential?
  97. Tell me about your past experience doing… (operating XX machine, using XX statistical model, writing in XX style, analyzing XX data).
  98. What are the big picture questions (not topics) you want to investigate?
  99. How do you plan to approach your questions?
  100. Why do you feel prepared to start graduate school?

Questions to ask the interviewer

  • How long does it take to typically complete this program?
  • Where are recent alumni employed? What do most graduates do after graduation?
  • What types of financial aid are offered?
  •  What criteria are used for choosing recipients?
  • What opportunities are available through the program to gain practical work experience? Are there opportunities such as assistantships, fellowships or internships available? What are the deadlines to apply to these opportunities?
  • Are there any scholarships or internships available?


While you absolutely must go through these questions and consider how you might answer them, note that we do not advise constructing some kind of script or completely pre-drafted answers. First, you never know exactly what questions you’ll get on interview day. You may get these questions, you may get others more specific to the school/program/discipline to which you’re applying. So, memorizing answers to these particular questions here may not be the best use of your mental resources. As well, overly-scripted answers will always feel inauthentic at best, and wooden or artificial at worst. Instead, think about your own experiences and all the ways in which you can highlight certain qualities via those experiences. Having this kind of conceptual understanding and approach will help you tell your stories in a natural and spontaneous way. If possible, get expert feedback from a graduate school admissions consultant on your responses to a variety of questions like these, so that you can refine your approach and ensure that your narratives are doing the kind of work you want them to do.

Check out three difficult grad school interview questions and answers here:


1. What are the most common graduate school interview questions?

The most common grad school interview questions are “tell me about yourself”, “why do you want to pursue this program?”, and “what is your research focus?”. Keep in mind that these questions can be worded in different ways, such as “what brought you here?”, “why did you choose to apply to our program?”, or “how have you prepared for your research interest?”. 

2. What are the hardest graduate school interview questions?

This depends on many factors, including your personality. But most students find personal questions quite difficult. Why? Because it’s often hard to talk about yourself in a professional and succinct manner. The key is to prepare talking points for personal questions that you can always refer back to when needed. For example, personal experiences such as childhood events or college life, or academic experiences such as courses or research experiences, as well as your hobbies and non-scholarly interest that you pursue. 

3. How do I prepare for grad school interview?

The best way to prepare is to research sample grad school interview questions, like the ones we list in our blog, and start brainstorming talking points you can use. Then, we strongly advise you to set up mock interviews where you can practice answering questions in a realistic setting. The mock interview will also help you practice non-verbal interview behavior like eye contact.

4. What questions do interviewers ask in graduate school interview?

There are 3 main categories of graduate school questions: general, personal, and academic. Their differences are outlines in our blog. 

5. What are behavioral graduate school interview questions? Are they common?

No, they are not common for most graduate programs. However, programs like social work might include behavioral questions in their interview format, especially as MMI questions

6. Who are interviewers at grad school interviews?

Some of the interviewers might be faculty from the department that you want to join as a grad school, some may be students from the department, but some might be faculty or professionals from a completely different field. This is why when you speak about your research, make sure to not use any jargon so they can understand you.

7. What kind of format will my grad school interview take?

You should definitely research this for every school you’re applying to. Most grad schools will use the traditional format or the panel format. However, some programs may also use MMI or some other form of modified interview formats. 

8. How long are grad school interviews?

It really depends on the format, but anywhere from 20 minute to 1.5 hours. You must also keep in mind that if you’re invited to an interview, you might also have the opportunity to meet with peers and take a tour of the campus. So make sure to delegate a whole day to your grad school interview.  

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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Have a question? Ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions!


Helen Bradley

I have applied to a PhD program that is new and the only one in the U.S. It is a PhD in palliative care at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. What would be appropriate questions to ask about the program since this is new to all?


BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Helen! Thanks for your question. You can ask your interviewers about the mission and goals of this new program. What is the vision? Where do they want the program to advance? You can also ask how they ended up being a part of this new program. This can spark a friendly and open conversation about their interests and background. Check out our blog about the kind of questions you can ask interviewers ( Though they are aimed for medical school interview, you can modify these to fit your needs. Hope this helps!

BeMo Academic Consulting

Helen, you are the winner of our weekly draw. Please email us by the end of the day tomorrow (July 31) at content[at] from the same email address you used to leave your comment to claim your prize!