General Education

The Different Types of Grad School Interviews (And How to Prepare for Them)

The Different Types of Grad School Interviews (And How to Prepare for Them)
While the value of grad school interviews has always been the opportunity for a department to get to know prospective students beyond their applications, the interview process has progressed to follow several different formats, depending on the university and subject you apply to study. Image from Unsplash
Lizzie Perrin profile
Lizzie Perrin October 4, 2019

Time to show the admissions committee that you’re qualified, capable, and not afraid to let your personality shine.

Noodle Programs


Noodle Courses

Article continues here

Earning a master's degree is a step in the right direction for your career, statistically speaking. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), holding a graduate degree means you'll earn more money. On average, those with a master's degree earn a median of $1,434 per week, while those with an undergraduate degree or high school diploma earn a median of $1,198 and $802 per week, respectively. BLS data also indicates that they're less likely to be unemployed.

If you've decided that a master's degree is right for you, you'll likely have to prepare for grad school interviews. Here we'll discuss how the interview process has evolved—and how you can best get ready for what it has in store for you.

Making sense of the grad school interview process

If you receive an interview invitation, it means you've made it one step closer to getting accepted—congratulations! While this is certainly a win, don't forget that an interview is one way admissions counselors make final cuts. Your interview is your chance to make connections between who you are on paper and how you come across in person.

How have grad school interviews evolved?

While the value of grad school interviews has always been the opportunity for a department to get to know prospective students beyond their applications, the interview process has progressed to follow several different formats, depending on the university and subject you apply to study. While not all graduate programs require interviews, be prepared for the possibility—especially if you're applying to a particularly competitive program or field.

Grad school interviews have historically taken place in-person and on-campus, where applicants meet with a faculty member, tutor, or panel to discuss their reasons for choosing their school and program, and what they'd like to achieve with a master's degree. With the increase in online graduate programs, some grad schools offer interviews via Skype or other video conferencing software. Other programs may invite multiple applicants to their school and plan a variety of formal and informal gatherings.

How to prepare for your grad school interview

Preparing for an interview can be stressful. After all, you're planning to walk into a room (or log in to a video chat) with at least one person who, by nature, is judging you. But preparing and practicing give you the fuel you need to stand apart from other applicants. Here are a few ways you can prepare for what's in store.

Leading up to your interview

  • Choose the right time slot. Meaning, select a time that works best with how you operate. If you tend to be groggy in the morning, plan for sometime in the afternoon. If you know you'll get a stomach ache from being nervous all day, go with an earlier time.
  • Do your research. Learn everything you can about the university, your potential master's program, and its faculty, and think critically about how all of these factors are an excellent fit for your needs and interests. Look through your program's coursework thoroughly and be ready to explain why you are interested in it.
  • Consider the big picture. Write down what you've accomplished and what you've planned for your future career. Understand and be prepared to articulate how you need this program to reach your goals.
  • Nail down expectations. How many people will be present during the interview? If in-person, where will it take place? Will the people or group you'll be speaking with have access to your application before or during your interview?
  • Practice interview questions. Go over common questions and be prepared for variations of each. After you've written down your accomplishments, be prepared to mold them, so they work as a response to a variety of potential questions. Practicing in front of a mirror can help you see if you're slouching or fidgeting, and correct it so that you won't distract from the conversation.
  • Take care of yourself. This one covers the basics, like eating a balanced dinner, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of rest before the big day.

On the day of your interview

  • Give yourself time to get ready. Wake up with enough time to relax and mentally prepare for the day. Draft a short schedule leading up to your interview so you can eat breakfast, prepare the right outfit, and review potential interview questions before leaving your house. If you've scheduled a video interview, choose a clean and well-lit workspace for the best possible video quality. Be sure to make sure any software you'll be using is running properly to avoid running into problems during the real thing.
  • Know when to stop. Taking a final glance at your notes ten minutes before your interview is acceptable, but you shouldn't be frantically flipping through them as you're getting ready to walk into the interview room or log in to a conferencing platform. It will only make you more nervous and potentially confused. If video conferencing, turn off notifications, close any running applications, and mute your cell phone.
  • Be on time. If you've scheduled an in-person interview, double-check your confirmation email to make sure you know the correct address, building, and room. Give yourself plenty of time for travel so that you arrive at your destination at least fifteen minutes prior to your interview. For video interviews, try to be the first one in the session to avoid making your interviewer or panel wait.

During your interview

  • Make an excellent first impression. Confidently greet anyone introduced to you, make eye contact, and ask if you can write down names. Be natural, as you would meeting any new person or group.
  • Be ready to lead the conversation. The interviewer may ask an icebreaker question like "tell me about yourself." This is your chance to set the tone for the entire interview. You must be prepared and ready to speak and lead the conversation by expressing your ideas clearly and enthusiastically.
  • Don't be afraid to let your personality show. If it's appropriate and your interviewer or panel seems receptive to it, make a joke. If you're nervous, say it. They've all gone through this, so they know what it's like to be in your shoes.
  • Ask questions. Asking questions is a great way to show your interest in your program while making sure it's the right fit for you:

  • Wrap things up in a memorable way. The interviewer will likely ask, "do you have anything to add?" The worst thing you can say is, "no, I think that's about it!" Develop a short closing statement that wraps up your qualifications and sets you apart from other candidates.

  • Common grad school interview questions

    As you prepare for your interview, gather a list of common questions to practice answering often. You can also reach out to a counselor or professor from your undergraduate studies for advice on what's typically asked and how to frame responses. Here are some common grad school interview questions to get you started


    • Tell me about yourself.
    • Tell me about your professional and educational background.
    • Why are you here?

    Academic and professional background

    • Where do you struggle academically and professionally? How do you overcome this?
    • Describe your undergraduate experience. What did you enjoy most, and what was your greatest challenge?
    • What was your relationship with your college professors like?
    • Why do you think you're ready to take on a graduate program? What steps have led you to this point?

    Personal attributes

    • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
    • Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you react to your failure, and what did you learn from it?
    • What do you enjoy most in your personal life?
    • Describe your proudest accomplishment.

    Professional goals

    • Why do you want a career in this field?
    • If this school does not offer you a place in this program, what will the next year look like for you?
    • Why do you believe you will be successful in this field?
    • What has been your greatest challenge in this field? How did you overcome it, or plan to overcome it?


    • Why did you choose to apply to this program?
    • Why did you choose this school?
    • Have you considered applying to other programs?
    • What sets this program apart from others you're considering?
    • What excites you the most about this program, and what is most concerning?
    • What skills can you contribute to this program?
    • How will this program influence your career?
    • Why should you be selected over another candidate with the same qualifications?

    After your grad school interview

    Once you've completed your interview, send a thank-you note to the interviewer, or interview panelists within 24 hours. Whether a hand-written note or an email, be sure to express your appreciation for your interviewer's willingness to spend time discussing your professional goals, remind them of the main points of your conversation, and reiterate why you would be an excellent fit for the program.

    Questions or feedback? Email


    Noodle Courses


    Noodle Programs