All nine of the elite Ivy League Colleges in the US have renowned graduate schools, but not all of them make Ivy League grad school interview questions a part of the application process. If they do ask graduate school interview questions, they can range from the mundane (tell me about yourself) to more pointed questions such as, “why do you want to do a PhD?”. Ivy League grad school interview questions do not differ that much from Ivy League interview questions, but the answers must demonstrate a deep knowledge and understanding of your field of study. Many programs have independent interview and Ivy League grad school GPA requirements, so this article will select programs from various schools that have stated interview requirements as well as those that may or may not require interviews, and give you expert-approved answers to all of them. 

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Article Contents
11 min read

1. Harvard University 2. Brown University 3. Columbia University FAQs

1. Harvard University

Harvard offers several graduate-level degrees through all 13 of its various professional schools and research centers including Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard Business School. The interview requirements vary across all the programs, but for specific courses within the Harvard medical sciences division, like the PhD program in Biological Sciences in Public Health, all applicants are required to interview.

Ivy League Grad School Interview Questions for Harvard

PhD Biological Sciences and Public Health

  1. Why public health?
  2. Why do you do research?
  3. Tell me more about this blemish on your transcript.
  4. Tell me more about how your mother’s sacrifices helped you.

Why public health?

I think public health plays a crucial role in safeguarding the well-being of communities and preventing the unnecessary suffering caused by infectious diseases. Through my work, I aspire to contribute to the development and implementation of evidence-based interventions, policies, and programs that protect individuals, particularly vulnerable populations, from the burden of respiratory diseases.

Growing up, I witnessed the devastating impact of a tuberculosis on the life of a close childhood friend. The ordeal they endured left a lasting impression on me, which, eventually, ignited my passion for public health. It made me realize the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to prevent, control, and manage respiratory illnesses.

By joining the PhD program in Biological Sciences of Public Health at Harvard, I aim to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to address respiratory diseases and promote lung health on a broader scale. I am committed to conducting research that elucidates the mechanisms of respiratory infections, explores effective prevention measures, and advances innovative treatment approaches.

Why do you do research?

Research, to me, is not just about discovering answers; it is about asking the right questions. I am inspired by the vastness of the scientific landscape and the infinite possibilities that lie before us, but not knowing where to explore or how to narrow your search can make the ocean of possibilities feel all-consuming.

And whenever I feel that feeling, such as not knowing where or how to begin, I remember a quote from Lord Byron. Byron wrote “I stood beside the shore of the wide world, picking up shells, a lonely boy, amidst the infinite ocean of discovery.” This passage encapsulates my perspective on research and the ceaseless quest for knowledge. To me, it speaks to the importance of being meticulous, persistent and unyielding in your curiosity and how even the smallest advances matter.

By joining the PhD program in Biological Sciences and Public Health, I aspire to embrace the spirit of exploration and intellectual curiosity embodied in Byron's words. It is through research that I can contribute to the ever-expanding body of knowledge, leaving my own mark on the shoreline of discovery. I am driven to advance scientific knowledge, tackle complex health challenges, and make a positive impact on society.

Tell me about this blemish on your transcript.

During my undergraduate studies, I encountered a significant challenge in my Human Anatomy class. I struggled to grasp the complex concepts and performed poorly. However, this setback served as a turning point in my academic journey. I refused to let failure define me, and instead, I took a proactive approach to address my shortcomings.

I recognized that I needed to take full responsibility for my education and make necessary changes. I diligently analyzed my study habits, identified distractions in my life, and made a conscious effort to remove them. I also sought additional resources and support, such as attending office hours, forming study groups, and seeking guidance from tutors and professors.

Most importantly, I cultivated a growth mindset, embracing the idea that intelligence and academic success are not fixed traits but rather can be developed through persistence and hard work. Through this process of self-reflection, determination, and a renewed commitment to my education, I gradually began to see improvement. My grades in Human Anatomy steadily rose, and I ultimately passed the course with a solid understanding of the subject matter.

Tell me more about how your mother’s sacrifices affected you.

Despite having a degree in accounting and working as a CPA, there were times when my mother was let go and would be out of work. She needed a way to survive and to do this, she would often take on cleaning jobs to support our family. Her humility and practicality taught me valuable life lessons that have shaped my character.

Seeing my mother work tirelessly in various roles, never letting pride or ego hinder her pursuit of providing for our family, instilled in me a sense of humility and perseverance. Her sacrifices taught me the importance of accepting defeats as temporary setbacks and using them as stepping stones towards growth and success.

Inspired by her example, I learned to embrace failures as opportunities for self-reflection and improvement. I developed the resilience to bounce back from disappointments, analyzing my weaknesses and finding ways to overcome them. My mother's hard work and selflessness have fueled my drive to excel academically and pursue a career in research and public health.

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2. Brown University

The graduate school at Brown University has over 3,000 students pursuing various degrees in programs as versatile and wide-ranging as American Studies and Behavioral and Social Health Sciences to Brain Science and Cybersecurity. Each program has its own admission requirements and not all of them ask for interviews. However, some programs, such as the PhD Behavioral and Social Health Sciences do offer campus tours, which is a common graduate school recruitment strategy that gives prospective students the chance to interact with faculty and current students and can often involve asking or being asked one or two common graduate school interview questions.

Ivy League Grad School Interview Questions for Brown

PhD Behavioral and Social Health Sciences

  1. “What did you learn from your previous degree?”
  2. “Your LORs speak highly of your analytical skills. Elaborate on this.”
  3. “Tell me about a challenge you faced, how you overcame it, and what supports you use?”
  4. “Why Brown/Providence?”

What did you learn from your previous degree? 

I learned about Professor Jasjit Singh Ahluwalia, a professor here at Brown, and his work involving the effectiveness of community-based interventions and tailored messaging campaigns that successfully targeted diverse populations and led to significant reductions in smoking rates. His research demonstrated the potential of public health departments to drive transformative change by implementing evidence-based strategies and policies. This inspired me to examine how these same principles and approaches can be applied to other pressing public health issues, such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Professor Ahluwalia's influential research in reducing tobacco use among minority populations, which I had the opportunity to learn about during my time at Tulane, has reaffirmed my passion for exploring the role of public health departments in preventative medicine. I am confident that Brown University's rich academic environment and the expertise of faculty members like Professor Ahluwalia will provide the perfect platform to pursue my research interests.

Your LORs speak highly of your analytical skills. Elaborate on this.

Thank you for your question. My research interests in the high mortality rate for Black women in the US have indeed driven me to develop strong analytical skills. This complex issue requires an interdisciplinary approach, as it involves examining various factors that contribute to the disproportionately high mortality rate among Black women compared to other racial groups in the US.

According to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Black infants in the US experienced an infant mortality rate of 10.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to a rate of 4.6 deaths per 1,000 live births for white infants. This stark disparity raises important questions about the underlying causes and systemic factors that contribute to this health inequity.

My research interests in this area necessitate a robust analytical approach that encompasses statistical analysis, interdisciplinary collaboration, and a deep examination of the multifaceted factors affecting this health disparity. By employing these analytical skills, I aim to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and the development of targeted interventions to address and eliminate the inequities experienced by Black women in healthcare.

“Tell me about a challenge you faced, how you overcame it, and what supports you use?”

Thank you for your question. One my most difficult times was when my brother tragically passed away from an accidental fentanyl overdose. In the midst of my deep grief, I turned to alcohol as a way to cope with the pain. However, I soon realized that this was an unhealthy and ineffective method of dealing with my emotions

I recognized that alcohol was not helping. I went cold turkey and sought healthier alternatives to help me navigate through my grief and find a sense of peace. It was during this journey that I discovered martial arts, particularly aikido and tai chi. Engaging in non-violent martial arts training provided me with a profound outlet for self-expression, discipline, and personal growth. These practices require creativity, athleticism, and a deep connection with oneself and others.

Through consistent training, I developed a sense of discipline and a renewed focus on physical and mental well-being. Working out every day has become an integral part of my routine, driven by the discipline and self-awareness that martial arts instilled in me. This practice has not only enhanced my physical fitness but also played a vital role in my emotional and mental healing.

“Why Brown/Providence?”

Thank you for the question. Brown University and Providence offer a unique and compelling environment for pursuing my academic goals. One of the primary reasons I am drawn to Brown is its collaborations with non-profit and advocacy organizations like Progreso Latino and the RI Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, which are particularly inspiring. These partnerships provide invaluable opportunities to engage with the community, gain firsthand experience, and contribute to meaningful change in Rhode Island and beyond.

The collaboration with Progreso Latino, for example, aligns perfectly with my research interests in addressing health disparities and promoting equity. Additionally, the access to relevant statistics and data provided by the RI Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals is immensely valuable. It will enable me to conduct comprehensive research, analyze trends, and identify effective interventions to address public health issues in the community.

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3. Columbia University

Across the 16 different schools associated with Columbia University, such as the Columbia Law School and the Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons a majority of the student’s total population, 62% are graduate students involved in either a Master or PhD program. The various programs offered through the Graduate School have their own requirements, but the school uses a centralized application process where students submit all their Columbia supplemental essays and graduate school statements of purpose, as nearly all programs require them. Although Columbia interview questions are not a normal part of the graduate school application timeline, some programs and faculty may reach out individually to schedule an interview.

Ivy League Grad School Interview Questions for Columbia

PhD History

  1. “Did you take time off during your undergraduate studies? If yes, please tell us about it.”
  2. Describe a situation in which working with a colleague, family member or friend has been challenging. How did you resolve, if at all, the situation as a team and what did you gain from the experience that will benefit you.”
  3. “Are there any courses, professors or research opportunities at Columbia that interest you?”
  4. “If you weren’t involved in the research or field, you are doing now, what would you be doing?

Did you take time off during your undergraduate studies? If yes, please tell us about it.

Yes, I did take time off during my undergraduate studies to pursue a unique and transformative opportunity. During that time, I had the privilege of being involved in the creation of an off-Broadway play written by one of my colleagues at Yale. The play explored a powerful love story set against the backdrop of the AIDS pandemic, focusing on two people, a scientist and an activist who have different, but impassioned reactions to the emergence of the disease.

I took on multiple roles in the production, including writing, directing, and even starring in the play. This experience allowed me to explore my creative side, collaborate with talented individuals, and engage with important societal issues through the medium of theater. The play's six-month run was an incredible journey, and it provided me with invaluable insights into storytelling, communication, and the power of the arts to shed light on critical historical moments. Following the success of this production, I spent the remaining time honing my writing skills and developing another play, which I hope to premiere soon.

Describe a situation in which working with a colleague, family member or friend has been challenging. How did you resolve, if at all, the situation as a team and what did you gain from the experience that will benefit you.

I once encountered a challenging situation while working with a research fellow and a thesis adviser on a project exploring queer representation in early 1970s broadcast television in the US. We had differing opinions on the significance and interpretation of the Vidal-Mailer debates, which were highly publicized on late-night talk shows and involved homophobic exchanges between Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer.

We approached the topic from distinct angles, leading to debates and disagreements on the direction of the research and its implications. It created tension within our team and hindered our progress. However, we found common ground by recognizing the multifaceted nature of the topic. We acknowledged that both the marketing and publication of the Vidal-Mailer debates reflected societal homophobia, while also considering the broader historical and cultural context. By synthesizing our ideas and incorporating multiple viewpoints, we were able to develop a more nuanced understanding of the subject matter and a deeper appreciation for the complexity of research.

Are there any courses, professors or research opportunities at Columbia that interest you?

I am drawn to the work of Professor George Chauncey. I am particularly intrigued by his influential article titled "Gay New York: Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940," which has significantly shaped our understanding of LGBTQ history in urban settings.

This groundbreaking publication highlights the vibrant LGBTQ community and its cultural, social, and political developments in early 20th-century New York City. Professor Chauncey's meticulous research and insightful analysis shed light on the challenges faced by LGBTQ individuals, their strategies for survival, and the formation of a distinct urban queer culture during that time period.

As an aspiring historian, I am inspired by Professor Chauncey's rigorous scholarship and the interdisciplinary approach he employs to unravel LGBTQ history. His work serves as a foundation for my own research interests in queer representation in early 1970s broadcast television.

If you weren’t involved in the research or field, you are doing now, what would you be doing?

If I were not pursuing my PhD in history, I have often imagined myself in the role of a detective. Not the kind portrayed in action-packed movies, but the more unglamorous detective engaged in meticulous research. I think the motivation would be different as well. While my passion lies in historical research and academia, I cannot help but appreciate the intricate detective work showcased by the people responsible for finding the perpetrators behind tragedies such as the Lockerbie bombing.

The scale of the investigation was immense. I read it covered an expansive area; almost 850 square miles, all of it strewn with debris and fragments of evidence. To meticulously examine such a vast area, reconstruct the aircraft, and gather critical evidence requires an extraordinary level of dedication and attention to detail. It is awe-inspiring to think about the years of work and collaboration it took to bring the perpetrators to justice. This dedication to uncovering the truth and seeking justice resonates deeply with me. As a historian, I aim to bring a similar level of patience and diligence to my research.

Check out more Columbia graduate school interview questions!


1. What questions do Ivy League interviewers ask?

Ivy League graduate schools will ask many of the typical and common graduate school questions such as "why do you want to study here?", "why did you choose to study at the graduate level?" and so on. They may also ask questions about the specific program you're applying to, your research interests or ask you to elaborate on items from your grad school resume.

2. What should I say in an Ivy League grad school interview?

In an Ivy League grad school interview, be prepared to discuss your academic interests, extracurricular activities, research experience, work experience and career goals.

3. Do all Ivy League grad schools use interviews?

Yes, all of the Ivy League grad schools may use admissions interviews, although whether they are required, optional or not used at all will depend on the specific program.

4. How do I stand out in my Ivy League grad school interview?

You can stand out in your interview by being well prepared. This means having confident, strong answers to Ivy League grad school interview questions, dressing and acting professionally, and making a good impression on the admissions committee. Your answers to interview questions should be genuine and engaging, and include specific details and examples whenever possible to help yourself stand out as a unique applicant.

5. How can I prepare for an Ivy League grad school interview?

One of the best ways to prepare yourself is to use mock grad school interviews. With mock interviews, you can rehearse the interview as many times as needed to get comfortable, as well as practice your interview answers until you can deliver them confidently.

6. Are Ivy League grad school interview questions the same across the Ivy League?

No, Ivy League schools may ask different questions from each other, depending on the program. For instance, Yale graduate school interview questions may be different from Cornell graduate school interview questions, and so on.

7. Are Ivy League grad schools hard to get into?

Generally, yes, Ivy League schools have lower graduate school acceptance rates than other state or public institutions, so they are not the easiest PhD programs to get into.

8. How will I know I have to interview?

Program faculty will contact you directly if they require an interview, unless the interview is part of the stated application process.  

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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