Every university is different. Depending on the admissions requirements, an interview could be one of the final steps in the enrollment process. We’ve got you covered.
Below is a guide to help prepare you for any upcoming graduate school interviews. You’ll be ready to impress the college admissions committee and land a spot in your preferred program.
What to expect from a graduate school interview
You’ll be asked to answer questions about your work experience and personal interests. Depending on the program, you may speak with an admissions officer, current student, alum, or member of the faculty.
It’s common for the interviewer to follow a script, and the questions are similar to what you might expect from a job interview. Ultimately, the goal is to help the admissions officer determine if you’re a good fit for the school and the program.
How to prepare for a graduate school interview
It’s all in how you practice
Review your application materials prior to the interview. With the information fresh in your mind, you’ll be better prepared to tailor your responses to the program requirements.
Rehearse like you mean it. While it’s possible to practice interviewing by yourself, it’s better to recruit a friend or family member to help you prepare. Try your best to imitate a formal setting, rather than practicing on the couch together.
Mock interview yourself. If you’re on your own, consider writing down the questions in this guide and practicing your responses out loud. Record your answers with a phone and then play it back. Think about the main points you want to convey, but don’t try to memorize answers.
Get dressed in your interview outfit when you practice. When it comes time for the real deal, you'll feel even more comfortable going in.
You’re ready for this — stay calm before the interview
An interview is a high-stakes situation. Below are a few tips to help you keep calm, confident, and focused.
Arrive at the interview 15 minutes early if it’s in person and collect your thoughts
Test your computer speakers and video ahead of time if it’s virtual
Remember this is just a conversation, so be yourself and focus on your goals
Take deep breaths to bring more oxygen into your blood and think more clearly
Questions to ask during the interview
Thinking about the college interview as a conversation will help you frame the experience positively. This is your chance to discover if the program is right for you. Asking questions during the interview not only shows that you’re a serious candidate, but also that you’re thinking critically about your future.
Some useful questions to ask include:
What do you like about the school/program? This question can help you better understand the school’s culture and what you can expect if you’re admitted. It can also be a good ice breaker, allowing you and the interviewer to get more comfortable with each other and have a relaxed conversation.
How is the program adapting to [current event or trend]? The business world is evolving all the time, and the best graduate programs adapt to changing times. This question can help you learn how the school prepares its students to deal with future obstacles.
What common challenges do students face in this program? Asking this question shows that you’re someone who prepares to overcome difficulties. Additionally, the interviewer might be able to give you some advice on how to succeed.
How do students interact in the program? As an online student, you'll want to know what networking opportunities you can expect. This question will help you determine if you’ll be a good fit for the school.
Common graduate school interview questions
Graduate school interviews are designed to help admissions officers understand what makes you qualified and assess your fit for the program. Though you shouldn’t try to memorize your answers to these questions, rehearsing your responses will allow you to articulate coherent, thoughtful answers during the conversation.
“Tell me about yourself”
This prompt is ubiquitous to all interviews. It seems simple on the surface, but it’s one of the most important pieces of the conversation. It sets the stage and provides the interviewer with a basis for their next question.
If you’re asked this question, take a few minutes to respond. Show the interviewer that you can form structured thoughts and articulate them clearly. Discuss your undergraduate education, work experience, and recent accomplishments. Allude to your career goals, tying the importance of a graduate degree to your future.
Your answer should show a clear progression from your past experiences to the present moment and then look forward to your ambitions.
What made you interested in the program?
As you explain your motivation for obtaining a graduate degree, consider following up on an example you mentioned when telling the interviewer about yourself. Focus on your career aspirations. Draw a clear line between what you hope to learn and how it will help achieve your goals.
Why are you pursuing a graduate degree now?
Many graduate degree programs require students to have several years of work experience. Reference your work history to explain why this is the right time for you. For example, if you’re interested in pursuing a promotion or seeking to change career paths, explain how a graduate degree will help you qualify for future job opportunities.
What has been your most challenging experience in an academic setting?
Draw on your previous college experiences. Paint a picture of a time you turned an academic challenge into a positive experience. Talk about the process you used to overcome the challenge. This is an opportunity to talk about how you led a team project or went above and beyond a professor’s expectations.
Why do you want to attend this program/school?
There are many graduate degree programs to choose from, so this is your chance to show the admissions officer why you’ve chosen to apply. Whether you’re interviewing at your top university or your second choice, take this opportunity to demonstrate that you have done your research. Talk about the aspects of the program or school that appealed to you most, such as the faculty, networking opportunities, or course offerings.
What kind of hobbies do you enjoy?
This question helps the interviewer understand how you will fit into the school’s culture. Talk about the extracurricular activities you participate in to show your interests outside of academic subjects. This can also be a chance to talk about any community service activities in which you’ve participated.
Why should we choose you over other qualified applicants?
To answer this question, prepare a few specific points that distinguish you as a candidate. It can help to think about your personal brand and the values you possess as a leader. Discuss your passions and what you hope to achieve with the knowledge and skills gained from the program.
How will you fit in and contribute to our school’s culture?
If possible, use an example from your past to describe a time when you had to adapt to a new culture. For example, you could talk about how you became a valued member of your current company. Then, tie this example to the school by discussing what you bring to the table as a leader, student, and future member of the alumni community.
What type of leader are you?
Graduate programs are looking for prospective students who will become leaders of tomorrow. Use examples from your work history to show how you lead teams and projects. Think of a specific story to help frame your answer, show the admissions officer how you interact with other professionals, and reveal what kind of results you achieve.
What sort of changes would you make at work?
This question is an opportunity to share some of your ideas. Reference a couple of courses in the program and explain how you would apply what you learn to make a positive impact at your company. Avoid saying anything negative about current management and leadership.
When was a time you failed?
Failure is an inevitable part of doing business. This question is intended to help the admissions officer understand how you deal with (and learn from) your failures. Choose an example from your professional or academic life. Explain what led to the failure, what you learned from the experience, and how you used those lessons in future situations.
When was a time you succeeded?
This interview question gives you a chance to brag a little about yourself. However, be careful to give others credit where it’s due. If you led a team to success, share how each person contributed. Be sure to talk about the processes you used to achieve your intended results.
What do you enjoy most about your work now?
College admissions officers want to see that you’re passionate about your chosen field. Identify something that you really like about your job, then connect it to the reasons why you’re pursuing the program. Or share a story about how you discovered your passion and how you see the online program helping you do more of what you love.
How have you solved conflicts at work?
This question gives the admissions officer a chance to assess your emotional intelligence. Think of an example that you had a direct hand in solving. As you answer, try to discuss both sides of the issue to avoid casting blame on your colleagues. Explain what lessons you learned from the conflict and how you carried them forward into subsequent work situations.
What is your biggest weakness?
This common interview question can easily throw you off, so practice rehearsing your response in advance. Ideally, you’ll want to discuss a weakness that you are currently working on. Start by explaining the weakness and how it affects your job performance. Then illustrate how you plan to overcome it.
What is your greatest strength?
The trick to answering this question is to sound confident yet remain humble. Think of two to three talents that come naturally to you. For instance, if interpersonal communication is one of your strengths, tell about a time when you were able to achieve a positive result through conversation.
How would your supervisors and colleagues describe you?
There’s a good chance that letters of recommendation were part of your application process. Read them over before your interview and highlight one or two things you were praised for within the letters. If possible, try to include one professional characteristic and one personal trait. This will help the admissions officer understand the type of student you will be.
Have you faced any ethical dilemmas at work?
This question doesn’t necessarily have a right or wrong answer. The admissions officer wants to understand how you’ve been tested in a professional environment and how you reacted. Be careful about the situation you choose to discuss; it doesn’t have to be a moral disaster. In answering, you should briefly describe what happened and how you reacted. Explain your thought process and why you made your decision.
What do you think about [current event]?
It’s important to stay up to date with current events and trends that relate to your industry. You don’t have to scour the internet before your interview, but you don’t want to look ignorant for not being familiar with a major news story. Give a succinct opinion on the topic and try to avoid getting political.
How do you plan to make use of your online degree?
Discuss a couple of concrete short- and long-term goals and how the degree will help you achieve them. Ultimately, you want your answer to show that you understand the goals of the program. Pick one or two outcomes and provide examples of how you will apply them in a professional environment.
What to do after a graduate school interview
The steps you take after a college interview are just as important as those you took to prepare. Immediately following your conversation with the interviewer, review your notes and make additions as necessary to ensure you have an accurate record.
If you promised to follow up on something, add it to your calendar so you don’t forget. If you were given business cards or other materials, file them away with your other application documents so you know where to find them later.
Finally, you should write and send a thank you note. These days, it's common practice to send an email. Your note should express your appreciation for the interviewer’s time and consideration. Here’s a brief template you can use:
Dear [name of interviewer],
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me [yesterday/today]. I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the program. I particularly enjoyed speaking with you about [something positive you talked about].
Our conversation helped me to better understand what [name of school] can help me achieve, as well as what I have to offer the school. I was happy to learn that [a fact about the school]. It was also interesting to hear about your own experiences with [the school]. The program seems like a great fit for me.
After you send your thank you note, you can sit back and breathe. You’ve done your part. Now it’s up to the admissions committee to make their decision.