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. These are the kinds of questions you likely already have in mind, and to which you have hopefully given some thought already, especially when you prepared your other materials such as your graduate school resume and graduate school cover letter. For those more difficult questions, we’ll provide some discussion about the question and an expert response. 

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21 min read

Types of Graduate School Interview Questions Grad School Interview Questions - General Grad School Interview Questions - Academic Grad School Interview Questions - Personal BONUS: Questions to Ask Your Interviewer FAQs

Types of Graduate School Interview Questions

“The process of preparing for graduate school interviews can be both very arduous and anxiety inducing. Through BeMo not only was I able to quell my anxiety, but I was also able to establish a baseline through which I can improve on any weaknesses come interview day. Additionally, their mock interviews truly help with getting you (as the prospective student) acclimated to the environment in order to be even more prepared for the whole process.” - Anonymous, BeMo student


Similar to how there are graduate programs that don’t require GRE, not all graduate programs require an interview, but – increasingly – many programs are making an interview a part of their graduate program requirements

If you’re applying to a graduate program, ranging from a master’s in social work and master’s in psychology to the easiest PhD programs to get into, you may face an interview, and you need to be prepared for the kinds of questions you may be asked, such as “why do you want to do a PhD?”. 

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, such as your graduate school statement of purpose or your PhD motivation letter have gotten you this far, but the last step is your interview. Nikki, who got into a top-tier graduate program in California described the entire graduate school application process as “it's a ton of paperwork; it's a lot of questions you weren't expecting to answer; and it's a lot of writing.”

So while your writing has piqued the review committee’s attention, 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; and that can only be done through an interview But as Nikki said, there are many graduate school interview questions that you might not expect to be asked, and you have to be able to know the different types of questions commonly asked in graduate school interviews, as having an idea of what to expect will allow you to put your best self forward on interview day.

“I practiced answering common interview questions. I also prepared explanations of my past experiences and why they made me a good fit for the lab as well as the program overall. I also did some research into the program so I could highlight why I was interested in York specifically.” - Christina Lapytskaia, MA, PhD

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. 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.

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?

“Find out in advance who you will be interviewed by - is it the head of the program or a mix of students and professors? This will help you determine how to prepare and anticipate what kinds of questions may be asked and what you should discuss. The second tip would be to research the school and the program. What is the school known for? What is the program known for? Once you know the answers to these questions, determine what relevant experience you have, either through work, academics, extracurricular, or volunteering, that you can use as content to showcase how the skills and experiences you have align with that of the school and the particular program you are applying to. Lastly, avoid statements that are vague and uninformative to showcase alignment, such as stating 'I love research' or 'I have a passion for learning'. Instead, showcase your 'love for research' or your 'passion for learning' through personal examples/stories that demonstrate how you are motivated to pursue research etc. This will make you stand out compared to other applicants.” - Megan Aoki, PhD

As Megan says, in responding to this question, you need to be specific. You need to think about questions, such as, 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!

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

“My interview prep would include researching the program, practicing responses to common questions, and ensuring I could eloquently articulate my academic and research experiences. Also, I would engage in practice sessions with mentors, including graduate students with who I collaborated and worked with. Additionally, I would seek advice from my professors to enhance my preparedness for addressing specific questions.” - Celia Ferrag, PhD, University of Toronto


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, how to transition from academia to industry, and how to find industry jobs after PhD 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. 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)?

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

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

“My interview with Gautham Pulagam was an extremely pleasurable experience. He not only helped me discover what I need to do to better myself, but he offered examples and tasks to do so. His help along with all the other people at BeMo has been crucial in helping me develop my interview and writing skills. He was extremely helpful, and made me feel welcome because he remembered reading my personal statement from what I said during the mock interview. Overall, it was a pleasant experience and I would recommend his help to anyone attempting to get into grad school.” - Thomas W., BeMo student

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.

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

"The most common issue I encountered when I interviewed prospective graduate students (especially for a master’s program) is the lack of interest and clear goals in pursuing grad school. Some students apply to master’s as a placeholder for other professional programs (medicine, dentistry, vet, pharmacy, nursing, etc.) until they get in. This is sometimes apparent in interviews when a student’s goals do not align with pursuing graduate school (i.e. they are not interested in academia or industry). I have heard this answer too many times and it should be avoided: 'I am not entirely sure what I want to do in the future, and I truly believe this lab is a good avenue to explore whether or not I like research'. Even if this is the case, it was always a red flag to interviewers about their seriousness or commitment.” - Reem Sabry, MSc, 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.  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.

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). 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.

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.

Graduate School Interview Question #8: Can You Explain Your Research (or Research Interests) in a Way that Would be Comprehensible to Non-Specialists?

“When I interviewed to do my master’s and my PhD in a specific lab under two different faculty members, I started by reading their research. I read at least 2 most recent publications for that faculty member. I also created a list of my personal experiences that could be relevant to their research. I focused on technical lab skills as this is a common question if you are joining a wet lab. Lastly, I practiced the most common interview questions (tell me about yourself and tell us your weaknesses.)” - Reem Sabry, Msc, PhD

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).

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.

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. So, do bring a good dose of humility with you into the interview.

Graduate School Interview Question #10: If You Could, Would You Change Anything About Your Academic Experience so Far?

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.

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, like our admissions expert Dr. Thais Lavangolli, PhD, did:

“I think the hardest question I had at that time was about describing a situation that I failed. I was afraid to come across unprepared or that I didn’t have the skills required to succeed in their program. I didn’t have much experience with interviews or how to address this type of questions, so I remember that I panicked for a moment until I was able to focus on an effective answer that showed that everyone can make mistakes, but it is important to be able to recognize them and improve from there.” – Dr. Thais Lavagnolli, PhD, Imperial College of London

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!

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, as our admissions expert Vicky Cerdeira, MSc, points out:

“Don’t be robots. They want to see passion, and not scripted answers. You want to showcase that you are thinking, and that you are capable of applying your knowledge about life (and science) in and outside of the program. So let other people see how excited you get about the subject/program/research, while also highlighting your accomplishments. Be yourself, and never lie (to yourself and to others).” – Vicky Cerdeira, MSc, Université du Québec à Montréal 

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.

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 during the interview that you are realistic about the immense pressure you will be under, and that you have coping strategies in place to handle such stressors. As such, do not demonstrate any behaviors that can be construed as signs of stress or anxiety, as our admissions expert Dr. Megan Aoki, PhD, says:

“Generate a positive impression from the start of your interview through your body language (posture, eye contact, warm expression). With this in mind, avoid the following in your non-verbal communication: folding in on yourself, constant downward gaze instead of eye contact, fidgeting, playing with hair, intense eye contact (be natural about it), rigid posture, etc. These behaviors convey information to the interviewer that could be perceived as a lack of confidence or inability to handle stress. Therefore, it is important to think about the impression you want to leave. Think about using your non-verbal communication to establish a good first impression that you reiterate then with your verbal responses.” - Dr. Megan Aoki, PhD

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 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. 

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. Our admissions expert Dr. Reem Sabry, PhD, shares her experience interviewing grad students:

“The most common issue I encountered when I interviewed prospective graduate students (especially for a master’s program) is the lack of interest and clear goals in pursuing grad school. Some students apply to master’s as a placeholder for other professional programs (medicine, dentistry, vet, pharmacy, nursing, etc) until they get in. This is sometimes apparent in interviews when a student’s goals do not align with pursuing graduate school (i.e. they are not interested in academia or industry). I have heard this answer too many times and it should be avoided: “I am not entirely sure what I want to do in the future, and I truly believe this lab is a good avenue to explore whether or not I like research” Even if this is the case, it was always a red flag to interviewers about their seriousness or commitment.” – Dr. Reem Sabry, PhD

The key to answering this interview question, even if academia is not your final goal, 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. . 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.

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, as our admissions expert Dr. Reem Sabry, PhD, points out:

"To do a thesis-based graduate program, prior research experience, particularly in a lab setting is valued. Alongside my undergraduate degree, I completed a biotechnology technician diploma at a college, and I included this in my CV. The technical lab skills I learned through extracurriculars made me stand out for grad school.” – Dr. Reem Sabry, PhD

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.

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.

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!

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! This is very common in all kinds of post-graduate and professional programs! Our admissions expert Aaron Schultze, JD, shares how he made his Drama major relevant for law school applications:

“I had a nontraditional major for law school (Theater & Dance). I explained how my fine arts education created a foundation for truthful storytelling and how to perform authentically. I was interested in Criminal Defense, so I explained how a degree in Theater allowed me to understand and relate to different characters in different circumstances.” – Aaron Schulze, JD, University of Texas School of Law


 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.

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.

BONUS: 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?


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.

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. It's also smart to check out questions asked by specific schools, for example, Stanford graduate school interview questions.

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!