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Graduate School Admissions Interview Questions

Admissions Overview

Admissions for graduate schools will vary depending on the desired field of study, but they all have certain similar requirements. Admissions for graduate degree programs are more rigorous than undergraduate programs and require greater organizational skills in the application process.


To begin the graduate school application process, applicants should make a list of prospective schools and note the individual requirements for each school. There will typically be an overlap between requirements, but some schools might demand more or less than others. 

Graduate schools require undergraduate transcripts and a personal essay outlining experience and qualifications. Applicants should use the personal essay as an opportunity to highlight their passion for their field of study as well as showcase other accomplishments. Some degree programs may require an interview with an admissions board. In the case of degree programs in the performing arts, an audition process is typically required.


How to Prepare for Graduate School Admissions

Once applicants have gathered a list of prospective schools, they can begin contacting the faculty to express interest in the degree programs offered. This can be through a face-to-face meeting or simply through an email. 

Applicants should begin writing their personal essay early in the application process to allow time for editing and proofreading. They should also double-check all requirements to make sure they have been met and confirm with their school of choice that the admissions department has received their transcripts. 

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Graduate School Admissions Interview Questions

Question: What other graduate school programs are you applying to?

Explanation: An interviewer will ask this type of question to understand what your overall academic plan is. It also helps them get a clear picture of who they are competing with. You should answer this question accurately because there are ways they can verify your response if necessary. Also, you can use this answer to reinforce your desire to attend their institution.

Example: “I am limiting my applications for graduate school to four universities which have outstanding programs in my field of study. All of them are located on the East Coast to be close to my family and friends. Of the four, yours is the one I prefer the most due to your record of academic achievement, the noted professors on your staff, and your affiliation with the local business community. The last reason will provide me opportunities for internships and practice of my profession while still in school.”

Question: What are some of the books, articles, or essays you’ve recently read?

Explanation: This is a general question which the interviewer may ask early in the interview. It allows them to begin the conversation, get to know you a little bit, and collect some information they may want to use later in the interview. You can use this question to drive the interview toward an area you would like to discuss in more detail and are comfortable answering questions.

Example: “Since I’m interested in industrial engineering, a great deal of my reading is focused on this area. I recently finished a book by one of the most noted experts in this field who also happens to be on your academic team. I subscribe to several blogs of other noted industrial engineers as well. When reading for pleasure, I enjoy novels by Stephen King and John Grisham.”

Question: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment thus far in your life?

Explanation: When the interviewer asks this question, they are typically expecting a response related to your field of study. However, you can describe anything that you are most proud of that represents your ability to focus on a goal or accomplish a task. If it’s not related to your field, it should be interesting, compelling, and something the interviewer will relate to.

Example: “My most notable accomplishment to date has probably been my activity in the Big Brothers program and my relationship with my little brother. I became interested in this in high school and joined the program once I was old enough to participate. My little brother and I have been together for four years, and I think both he and I have benefited from the experience. I’ve enjoyed seeing him develop, and I am looking for to having a lifelong relationship with him as he continues to pursue his life goals.”

Question: Please discuss a time you failed and what you did in response to the failure.

Explanation: Everyone fails at some point in their life. The key is whether you negatively react to the failure or treat it as a learning experience and benefit from it. An interviewer will ask this question to determine how you handle failure and the strength of your character when faced with difficulties.

Example: “A recent failure experience was not being accepted into an internship program during my undergraduate studies. I had set my heart on getting this job and knew that I would benefit greatly from the experience. However, there were more qualified candidates than me, so I wasn’t selected. What I learned from this was to continue to set goals, making sure you are fully prepared for the opportunities when they present themselves. Had I’d been better prepared, I probably would have been accepted to the program. I am confident that the next time I apply, I will succeed.”

Question: What hobbies and interests do you pursue when you are not studying or attending classes?

Explanation: College interviewers ask this type of question to get a more rounded picture of your background. Admissions officers strive to attract good students as well as create a diverse community on the campus. Having interests outside of your academic career demonstrates you will bring more than just your knowledge and experience to the academic program.

Example: “When not busy attending classes, studying, and working on projects, I enjoy spending time with my friends, playing arena soccer, and watching professional sports. I also like spending time with my little brother, whom I mentioned earlier.”

Question: Can you discuss some of the major trends occurring in your field of study?

Explanation: College admissions officers expect graduate school candidates to be knowledgeable about their field of study. This assumes you have learned quite a bit about the field during your undergraduate work and may even have some experience working in the field through internships or full-time positions. Even if you don’t have these experiences, you should be following the field and aware of trends that are occurring.

Example: “There are several different current trends occurring in the field of engineering. Most of them have to do with breakthroughs made possible due to artificial intelligence and the increased processing power of modern computers. They include developments in materials, manufacturing methods, and new uses for components developed for other purposes. The most interesting development is probably creating plastics from materials other than petroleum. This will lessen our dependence on foreign oil and help reduce pollution.”

Question: How would you explain your field of study to someone who had no knowledge about it or related fields?

Explanation: The academic advisor will ask this question to get a better understanding of your communication style. Regardless of your field of study, the ability to communicate your ideas to a wide range of people is critical for any professional. It is especially challenging when you need to do this with somebody unfamiliar with your profession or industry which limits your use of acronyms, jargon, and other language people working in your field may understand.

Example: “When speaking with somebody who is not familiar with my field of study, I would probably best describe my profession as saying that I discover new ways to use materials to make people’s lives better. I create items that make tasks easier, save time, or allow people to do things they haven’t been able to do in the past. This involves looking at an object and determining how it could be used in other applications or what would make it easier to use. I then create prototypes to test my ideas. Once they are confirmed, the item goes into production for other people to use.”

Question: What, if anything, would you have changed about your undergraduate experience?

Explanation: While we would all like the opportunity for a do-over and hit the reset button, this question actually has a different purpose. The person interviewing you seeks to understand your self-awareness, your ability to be reflective, and your willingness to change. By identifying something you would alter given the chance, you’re demonstrating all of these qualities.

Example: “The one thing I would have changed about my undergraduate experience was discovering my passion for engineering earlier. Like most undergraduates, I spent the first year or two exploring different areas, interests, and professions. This eventually led me to the field of engineering. However, had I discovered this earlier, I would have had time to take more courses, interact with other people interested in this field, and perform an internship with an engineering firm.”

Question: Attending graduate school can be very stressful at times. How do you deal with this?

Explanation: Everyone knows that college can be stressful, especially graduate school. Your ability to deal with this is critical to being successful in any graduate school program. College admissions officers will ask this question to see what coping mechanisms you have developed and whether you will be able to handle the pressure once admitted.

Example: “Fortunately, I enjoy school, and the pressure rarely bothers me. However, when it does, such as during finals or when a project is due, I make sure to relax and decompress, no matter how busy I am. I enjoy yoga, meditation, light reading, and spending time with my friends. All of these things relax me and help me cope with the pressures of academia.”

Question: What are your plans if you are not accepted into any graduate school program?

Explanation: The purpose of this question is to determine if you make contingency plans. Regardless of your profession, things do not always go right. True professionals have contingency plans in place for when this happens. The interviewer is seeking to confirm this is the case and understand what these plans may be.

Example: “Naturally, I truly hope to be accepted into your graduate studies program. However, if you or the other schools I have applied to do not accept me, I plan to look for a junior-level position in this field which will allow me to gain additional experience and skills while taking night courses to strengthen my academic background. I will then apply to your school again for the next academic year.”

Additional Graduate School Interview Questions

  • Why did you choose to apply to this school?

  • What do you feel separates our degree program from others?

  • What can you contribute to our program?

  • What do you expect to gain from a degree program at our school?

  • What interests you in this field of study?

  • List some of the undergraduate accomplishments that make you right for this degree program.

  • What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a student?

  • After completing the program, what are your career goals?

  • What are you interested in researching?

  • Do you have any questions for the panel?

A word of warning when using question lists.

Question lists offer a convenient way to start practicing for your interview. Unfortunately, they do little to recreate actual interview pressure. In a real interview you’ll never know what’s coming, and that’s what makes interviews so stressful.

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