Preparing for A Grad School Interview: What to Expect and How to Nail It

The time has finally arrived — you applied and now you’ve received a grad school interview invitation! Congrats! This means that the admissions committee has short-listed you and determined that your applications materials were strong and competitive enough to move you into this step in the process. 

While exciting, interviews can also be incredibly nerve-wracking and trust me, I’ve been there. I remember that for my own grad school interviews, I wasn’t familiar with the process and didn’t find out how many interviews I had until I showed up to campus on the day of. To my surprise, I had back to back interviews with intimidating professors, some of whom I had not heard of. 

This threw me for a loop but it doesn’t have to be you because with the right preparation, you can totally nail your interview and show the admissions committee why you’d be an amazing fit for their program.

In this post, I’ll share some of the most common questions I’ve seen candidates get asked in grad school interviews and provide tips on how to ace your responses.

Common Grad School Interview Questions

Tell Me About Yourself

This open-ended question is very common. Don’t just rehash your life story or what’s listed on your curriculum vitae. Instead, talk about your background, interests, and how they relate to the program. Mention what excites you about this school and the specific resources or professors that drew you to apply.

Why Did You Choose To Apply Here?

Flatter them to the extent that you can! You do this by learning about the people, program, and institution. Talk about what makes this program stand out to you, which may include its reputation, resources, research centers, location, professors, etc. Show you’ve done your homework and how this program is truly ideal for you. 

Tell Us About Your Previous Research

Refer back to your statement of purpose and expand on your past research experiences. Grad programs, especially PhD programs, want to see you can speak confidently and knowledgeably about your research interests and work. If you don’t have much experience yet, make sure that you have an idea in mind for what you imagine studying there and talk enthusiastically about that. 

What Would You Like To Research Here?

This is your chance to name drop professors you hope to work with, assuming you’re familiar with their work. Talk about how your research interests align with them and the program. Be prepared with potential projects you’re excited to pursue. Know the specialties and resources of the department so you can talk knowledgeably about how it will further your academic and professional goals.

How Will You Contribute to Our Program?

Highlight what makes you stand out – your background, interests, research areas, etc. If you’ll bring some level of diversity to the cohort and are comfortable or feel safe talking about it, this is the time to emphasize that. Talk about how you’ll collaborate across disciplines if your work is interdisciplinary. Demonstrate all the exciting and new ways you’ll enrich the department.

Can You Picture Yourself Living Here?

I’m calling out all the California applicants here, myself included! If applying out-of-state, they want to know you’ll actually move if admitted. Be honest about your willingness to relocate to a region with vastly different climates. Mention any experiences that show your ability to adapt to new places, like study abroad, or openness to adventure. If you’ve visited already, even better.

How Will You Manage the Transition from Undergrad to Grad School? 

If you’re applying out of undergrad or shortly after graduating, don’t let your age or limited work experience make them doubt your commitment. Demonstrate your maturity and that you fully understand the demands of grad school. Your thoughtful responses will assure them that you have what it takes to succeed.

What Will You Contribute To The Cohort?

For this question you can highlight the diversity of experiences you’ll bring – BIPOC background, first-gen status, innovative research areas, collaborating across disciplines, etc. Know what the current cohort looks like demographically and how you’ll enrich that makeup.

Specific Questions About Your Application Materials

They may ask you to expand on something mentioned in your statement of purpose, so be prepared to dive deeper. If your GPA or test scores are lower, be ready to briefly explain without making excuses. Make sure you know your application inside out.

To help with this process, as a mentor, coach, or friend to help you facilitate a mock interview. With preparation and practice, you’ll be ready to impress the admissions committee! 

Research the program, know your application materials, and express your knowledge and enthusiasm. You got this!

To learn more on preparing for grad school interviews, check out this podcast episode. 

If you’re new to the process of applying to graduate school, then sign up for my Grad Apps Demystified Course. 

You can also book me to facilitate one of my signature graduate school preparation workshops for your institution or organization. 

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