Questions to ask at a graduate school interview as a potential student – my best advice

Are you gearing up for your grad school interview and feeling a mix of excitement and nerves?

Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! In this blog, we delve into the most important questions to ask during your interview and what you can expect to be asked in return.

By understanding the mentorship style of your potential advisor, getting insights from current graduate students, and learning about the program’s structure, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision about the right grad school for you.

So, buckle up and join us as we explore the secrets to acing your grad school interview and pave your path to a fulfilling academic journey.

The top question to ask in your grad school interview – What they look for in awesome graduate students

The top question to ask in your grad school interview is about the mentorship style of your potential advisor.

This crucial aspect will significantly impact your graduate school experience. As a prospective grad student, understanding the faculty’s approach to guiding students through research, coursework, and career goals is essential.

Make sure to visit the institution, attend social events, and communicate with current graduate students to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the program.

Asking this question will help you anticipate challenges and set realistic expectations, ultimately leading to a successful and fulfilling grad school journey.

Here are some other questions that you may consider asking at your grad school interview:

CategoryQuestions to Ask
Faculty Members1. What is your mentorship style?
2. What are your expectations for your students at each year of the program?
3. What is the culture of the lab?
4. How does the university handle issues of cultural competence or diversity?
5. What are the opportunities to present at conferences and for co-authorship?
6. What types of research projects are currently being conducted in the lab?
Current GraduateWhere do students usually live? What is the cost of living in the area?
 What is work-life balance like in the program?
Students (Practical)2. How do students afford the program (grants, scholarships, stipends, etc.)?
3. What does the university or the program do to support students’ well-being?
4. What are the networking opportunities and involvement in student/professional organizations?
5. How do students balance academic responsibilities with extracurricular activities?
Students (Academic)2. What is a typical day like for a graduate student in this program?
3. What stood out about this program? Why did you pick this program over others?
4. How is the academic rigor of the program?
5. What resources are available for academic support, such as tutoring or writing assistance?
Program Structure1. How is the curriculum structured?
and Resources2. What are the research facilities and resources available to students?
3. Are there opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations?
4. What kind of career development resources and support are available to students?
5. How does the program support students in finding internships, research placements, or other practical experiences?

Faculty Members: Asking questions related to faculty members can provide insights into the mentorship style, expectations, lab culture, and opportunities for growth within the program. This information is crucial in understanding the kind of support and guidance you will receive throughout your graduate school experience.

Current Graduate Students (Practical): These questions help you gain practical information about living arrangements, cost of living, financial assistance, and student well-being resources. This information is essential for determining if the program is a good fit for your personal needs and preferences.

Current Graduate Students (Academic): Academic questions focus on work-life balance, daily life as a graduate student, academic rigor, and available support resources. This information is vital to understanding the learning environment and overall experience you can expect during your time in the program.

Program Structure and Resources: Questions related to program structure and resources give you a better understanding of the curriculum, research facilities, interdisciplinary opportunities, and career development support. This information helps you evaluate the program’s ability to meet your academic and professional goals.

Questions that you may get asked during your grad school interview – impress the program managers

Navigating grad school interviews can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. As a prospective grad student, it’s essential to be prepared for questions that you may get asked during your interview.

You’ll likely face questions regarding your research interests, career goals, and why you’ve chosen to apply to a particular graduate program.

Faculty and staff will also be interested in your communication skills and how you handle stressful situations.

Additionally, make sure to inquire about funding opportunities, mentorship styles, and department culture.

Don’t forget to attend social events and visit potential labs to get an insider’s perspective on the institution.

Here are some of the potential questions that you should practice answering.

CategoryQuestions You Might Be Asked
Academic Background1. Can you discuss your undergraduate research experience?
2. What coursework have you completed that is relevant to this program?
3. How have your past academic experiences prepared you for graduate school?
4. What are your strengths and weaknesses in terms of academic skills?
Research Interests1. What specific research topics are you interested in pursuing?
and Goals2. How did you become interested in your research area?
3. What are your short-term and long-term research goals?
4. How do your research interests align with the faculty members in this program?
Motivation and Fit1. Why did you choose to apply to this particular program?
2. What do you think sets you apart from other applicants?
3. How do you see yourself fitting into the program’s culture and environment?
4. How do you plan to contribute to the program and the university community?
Challenges and Overcoming1. Can you discuss a challenge you faced during your academic career and how you overcame it?
Obstacles2. How do you handle stress and maintain a work-life balance?
3. What strategies do you employ to stay organized and manage your time effectively?
4. How do you plan to address potential obstacles during your graduate studies?
Career Plans1. What are your career goals after completing this program?
2. How do you see this program helping you achieve your career objectives?
3. Are you considering a career in academia, industry, or another sector?
4. What steps have you already taken to prepare for your future career?

Academic Background: These questions focus on your past academic experiences, research involvement, and relevant coursework. They help the interviewer gauge your preparedness for the program and understand your academic strengths and weaknesses.

Research Interests and Goals: Questions about your research interests and goals help the interviewer understand your passion and commitment to your chosen field. They provide insights into your potential research projects and how your interests align with the faculty members in the program.

Motivation and Fit: These questions aim to assess your motivation for applying to the program and how well you fit within the program’s culture and environment. They also address your potential contributions to the program and university community.

Challenges and Overcoming Obstacles: Questions in this category help the interviewer understand your problem-solving abilities, resilience, and adaptability. They give insights into how you handle stress, maintain work-life balance, and plan to address potential challenges during your graduate studies.

Career Plans: Career-related questions help the interviewer determine how well the program aligns with your career goals and what steps you have already taken to prepare for your future career. They also assess your commitment to pursuing a career in academia, industry, or another sector.

The secrets for acing your grad school interview – my best advice!

Here are some essential takeaways to help you excel in your graduate school interviews, ensuring you stand out as a promising grad student candidate:

  1. Prepare for common questions: Make sure you’re ready to discuss your research interests, prior experiences, motivation for pursuing a PhD, and long-term career goals. Practice answering these questions to effectively communicate your thoughts during the interview.
  2. Be genuine and true to yourself: Presenting your authentic self and providing sincere responses will make you more relatable and memorable to the interviewers.
  3. Research your potential advisor’s interests: Conduct a thorough investigation of the faculty member’s work and find common ground between their interests and yours. Show enthusiasm and curiosity to learn more about their research projects.
  4. Build rapport with the professor: Engage in friendly conversations during events and department visits, helping both parties feel comfortable. This will enable you to better understand the supervisor’s personality and working style.
  5. Focus on what you can control: Concentrate on preparing and delivering your answers effectively. Accept that you cannot control how your words will be received by the interviewer.
  6. Reflect and learn from each experience: Keep in mind the lessons learned from each grad school interview and apply them to future interviews.

Remember, the ultimate goal in graduate school interviews is not just to provide accurate answers to the questions asked but also to make a positive impression on the interviewer. Attend social events and visit potential labs to get an insider’s perspective on the institution.

As a prospective graduate student, it is essential to ask questions about the program, funding opportunities, mentorship styles, department culture, and first-year requirements.

Anticipate potential challenges, handle stressful situations with grace, and make progress towards your career goals.

Embrace diverse communication styles, attend conferences, and be open to outreach opportunities. By keeping all these aspects in mind, you’ll be well-prepared for a successful grad school journey.

Wrapping up

As you approach your grad school interviews, remember that preparation is essential. By asking the right questions and being ready for the questions you’ll face, you’re on the path to making a confident, informed decision about the most suitable program for you.

Engaging with faculty, current students, and staff will offer a comprehensive understanding of the program and its culture, ultimately leading to a successful and fulfilling grad school experience.

Acing your grad school interviews is about more than just responding to inquiries – it’s about showcasing your genuine passion for your current research interests, your commitment to personal and professional growth, and your ability to adapt and thrive in demanding, academically challenging situations.

By following our helpful tips and practicing your interview skills, you’ll be well-equipped to make a lasting impression on the interviewers and pave your way to an exciting academic adventure.

Raise questions about assistantships, diversity, and wellbeing. Download recruitment materials and get a sense of how students apply, the admit process, and the next 5 years of your academic journey. Congratulations on taking this crucial step towards your future success!

So, go forth and conquer your grad school interviews with confidence and enthusiasm, knowing that you have the tools and insights needed to make the best possible impression. Good luck, and here’s to fostering your success in graduate school and beyond!

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.