Interviewing for Graduate School

Before answering the following questions, it is important to remember that most interviewers will be looking for three elements when you answer questions: 

  1. your answer
  2. how well you can organize your thinking
  3. how well you express yourself

For more information about preparing for interviews and answering questions, refer to the handouts available at the CPDO.

Interviews will vary among programs and the interviewers conducting the interviews. Questions may be direct, indirect, hypothetical or behavior-based. Below is a sampling of questions you might be asked during an interview:

Personal Characteristics/Skills/Strengths

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What is your strongest personal asset?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses as a student?
  • Name three strengths that you possess and why you consider them strengths.
  • How would one of your friends/teachers/supervisors describe you?
  • What would a supervisor or professor tell me are your strengths?

Academic Experiences/Performance

  • Why did you major in _________?
  • Why did you choose to attend ___________ University/College?
  • When did you choose to enter this occupational field and why?
  • How did you make the decision to apply to our program? What other programs did you consider?
  • How has your undergraduate background prepared you for this program?
  • What courses have you enjoyed the most?
  • What courses have been most difficult for you?
  • What satisfaction have you gained from your studies?
  • Tell me about the research project you completed with Professor _________?
  • Do you feel your academic record accurately reflects your abilities and potential? Why?
  • Do you feel you have worked up to your full potential? Please give us an example.
  • How would you rate yourself in the following areas?
    1. Reading and comprehension
    2. Analytical skills
    3. Communication - oral, written and listening
  • What did you not like about the college/university you attended?
  • Tell me about a professor or supervisor that you didn't like and why.
  • Why would you be an asset to our department? How would you be able to contribute to our program?
  • What skills and experiences do you feel have prepared you for admission to this program?
  • Why should we select you for our program instead of several other equally qualified candidates?
  • How many programs have you applied to besides our institution/program?
  • What are your plans if you are not accepted into our program?

CO-curricular Activities

  • What co-curricular activity has been most satisfying to you?
  • What is the most significant contribution you have made to your institution?
  • What activities do you enjoy most outside of the classroom?
  • Do you have any hobbies or outside interests? Please tell us about them.
  • Tell me about any volunteer experiences in which you have participated.

Weaknesses

  • What challenges do you think you might face in the graduate program?
  • What would you say is an area in which you need improvement?
  • What would you change about yourself and why?
  • What skills or abilities do you hope to strengthen through this program?

Goals

  • What has motivated you to pursue this academic field?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • Why do you want a graduate degree in ___________?
  • How do you see this program fitting into your career goals?
  • Tell me about a goal you have set for yourself and how you have achieved it or intend to achieve it.

Leadership/Teamwork/Problem-Solving Skills

  • Tell us about a major accomplishment and how you achieved it.
  • Tell us about a situation in which you showed initiative.
  • Tell us about a team project in which you were involved. How did you contribute to the team in achieving its goal?
  • Tell us about a time you assumed a leadership role.
  • Tell us about a recent significant problem you faced and how you handled it.
  • Tell us how you handle stress.
  • Tell us about a time you had a number of assignments due. How did you make sure you completed the assignments on time and that you did a good job?
  • Tell us about a time when you were confronted by a fellow student, co-worker or a customer. How did you handle the situation to resolve the conflict?
  • Tell us about a time you were faced with a difficult situation and how you handled it.
  • Tell us about a mistake you made and how you handled it.
  • Define teamwork (or success. quality. fairness.)
  • What was the last book you read or movie you saw?
  • How will you make the world a better place?
  • If you could have dinner with someone (living or dead), who would that person be? Why?

Field-Specific Questions and Current Events

You will undoubtedly encounter questions that relate specifically to your chosen field of study. Be certain that you are aware of current trends, issues and controversy in your field so that you will be able to answer the questions intelligibly. Below are a few examples:

  • What do you believe to be the major trends in your intended career field at this time?
  • What do you think about _____________ (current event)?
  • What problem in the world troubles you most? What would you do about it?
  • What is the most important development in this field over the past 25 years, and why?

Questions Applicants Might Ask an Interviewer

Asking questions not only helps you as a candidate determine the "fit" of the program with your desired academic and career objectives, but it also communicates to the selection committee the extent of your interest in their program:

  • What characteristics distinguish this program from others in the same academic field?
  • How long does it take typically to complete the 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 for these opportunities?
  • Are there any scholarships or fellowships available? How do I apply?
  • Do most students publish an article/conduct research prior to graduation?
  • I have read articles written by ________ and ______. To what extent are students involved in assisting these faculty members with related research projects?
  • What types of research projects are current students pursuing?
  • How are graduate test scores, grades, letters of recommendations, and personal statements evaluated for the admissions process?
  • What is the selection timeline? When will candidates be notified about their acceptance into the program?

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