What Questions Should I Ask About Grad School?

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at GradSchoolCenter.com, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

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Updated: February 28, 2024, Reading time: 9 minutes

grad school questions to ask

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Graduate school admissions are highly competitive. Apart from your academic credentials, admission officers will assess your personality and competence through an intensive interview process. Treat your graduate admissions interview with the same importance as you would a professional job interview.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Come prepared.

If you have received an invitation to sit for an interview at a graduate school of your choice, consider this as a step toward getting accepted. At this point, you have been shortlisted and are among the applicants who are under serious consideration for admission. However, if you were not invited for an interview, there is nothing to worry about. Not all graduate programs require an interview as part of the application process.

The best part about your graduate school interview is the opportunity for you to interview your admissions officers as much as they are interviewing you. Researching the university and graduate program beforehand will help you prepare your answers and your interviewer’s questions. 

Below are some of the most common and most important questions to ask about graduate school.

What characteristics are unique to this program and distinguish it from other institutions?

An excellent graduate program prides itself on offering advanced systemic study and experience and in-depth understanding, knowledge, and scholarly competence in the field. What distinguishes a graduate program from another are the principles it upholds and aims to develop among graduate students. 

A strong program encourages a wide representation of perspectives where intellect and culture are cultivated within rich encounters inside and beyond the classroom’s four walls. Prioritizing study and inquiry in a context that is sensitive to ethnic and cultural diversity. It cultivates mastery of the subject matter, facilitating critical thinking and theoretical understanding in graduate students.

Graduate education provides a venue for students to develop their research proficiency, including good writing and communication skills and presenting original ideas and theories, and creative expression. Most importantly, a strong graduate program and education put primacy on integrity, credibility, intellectual honesty, and the responsibility to return the privilege and benefits of graduate training through public service.

Of course, a strong and distinguished graduate program is characterized by its selective admission process. It only admits highly qualified students and employs renowned experts as faculty members. Here are a few fundamental principles that distinguish one graduate program from another:

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How much weight do you put on admission test scores, undergraduate credentials, recommendations, experience, and other requirements?

In the United States, colleges and universities require both undergraduate and graduate student applications to take one or more standardized admission tests. These tests are intended to provide a benchmark or a common measure for comparing student applicants’ abilities from diverse educational backgrounds.

Your scores from these tests will be sent along with your application packets and the other requirements – essays, transcripts, references, work experience, and other information as may be required by the graduate program.

Among the many standardized tests, graduate schools often require Graduate School are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and the Medical College Test (MCAT). Standardized tests for graduate school are long, tedious, proctored exams designed to assess test takers’ aptitude and ability to succeed in any graduate school education.

However, international students need to take additional standardized tests to measure their ability to write and speak English. English tests may be English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

To know which of these tests you need to take to secure your admission, inquire with your admissions officer. Take time to prepare, but do not obsess about getting high scores. Most graduate programs prescribe a score range for admission. Consider taking a standardized test, even if it is not required. This demonstrates to the admissions committee that you have the initiative. Of course, a high score will not hurt your application.  

What percent of applicants are accepted? If I get accepted, under what circumstances can I defer admission?

Getting into graduate school can be challenging, and even the most qualified and confident applicants worry about their chances of getting admitted. The program’s acceptance rate can give you a glimpse of the percentage of applicants who get admitted to a particular program in a given academic year. This will also help you determine the likelihood of you getting in.

Graduate school admissions statistics can be accessed through the institution’s website. The lower the acceptance rate, the more competitive and selective the program is, so make a good impression! Consequently, the higher the acceptance rate, the less selective it is, and you have a higher probability of getting into the program.

How much emphasis is put on getting published, research, teaching, or professional experience?

Among the many pressures graduate students face is getting published. There has been increasing pressure on graduate and medical students, postdoctoral fellows, research assistants, and even lab technicians to write or co-author research and scientific publications. The number of papers you publish in grad school or your publication credits is a key criterion for students’ admission into an advanced study, like postdoctoral degrees, fellowships, and employment.

If you want to pursue postgraduate education, publication matters, and getting into a graduate program that emphasizes that will give you an advantage. More importantly, getting your dissertation, thesis, or research published will put you at the top of considerations for a tenure-track position in the academe.

How helpful and available are your faculty to students? Are advisors assigned?

This is an important factor that you should seriously consider. Faculty-student working relationships can greatly affect your graduate education and training. The importance of faculty in integrating graduate students into the graduate program is crucial to students’ success. Having a mentor enhances a student’s likelihood of degree completion.

Advisor-advisee relationship during a student’s graduate school education is a critical dimension in a grad student’s development. An effective and involved advisor is someone who participates in meetings with each advisee. He or she must interact with advisees, help them secure future employment, and engage in professional activities both in informal and formal settings.

Graduate programs assign you an advisor upon admission. Ideally, you want to have the freedom to choose your advisor. If you are given this freedom, make sure that your advisor has the background and experience in your chosen field of study. Advisors and advisees learn from each other. As you are co-learners, engaging with your advisor may lead to new intellectual and personal discoveries and a fruitful graduate school experience. 

How long does it usually take for students to graduate?

The number of years spent in a graduate program will depend on various factors. On average, a master’s degree takes one year and a half to two years to complete. However, it varies depending on the number of program units you need to complete on a full-time or part-time track. There are online learning options to explore and accelerated master’s degree tracks offered in most graduate programs.

On the other hand, a Ph.D. or a Doctor in Philosophy degree takes up to eight years to complete on average. It typically takes four to six years, but this will depend heavily on the program design you choose to follow, your field of study, and the institution offering the program of your choice. The degree requires 60 to 120 credit hours per semester. Approximately, this will translate to twenty to forty college classes.

Many graduate programs have streamlined their programs to make it less overwhelming to seriously consider getting a doctorate. You must spend time researching the graduate program that will align with your academic and personal goals. 

What types of financial aid are offered?

Graduate institutions that offer financial aid are a sign of their commitment to making graduate education accessible to every student. The federal government has long been committed to offering financial aid and support to students who need it. The Federal Student Aid (FSA), an office of the United States Department of Education, is the country’s largest student financial aid provider.

Whether you are attending undergrad or graduate school, you can apply to FSA. Each year, the federal government allocates $120 billion to help millions of students pay for higher education. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the first step to getting the financial aid you need for graduate school. 

Here are the federal student aid programs available to graduate students:

From this list, Federal Pell Grants do not need to be repaid. This is a study grant awarded to students on need- and competency-based eligibility.

Consult with your university’s financial aid office for your financial assistance and scholarship program options.

What is the average graduation rate in your program? How much impact does the alumni association have in terms of professional networking?

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A higher education institution’s graduation rates are a means of measuring its accountability and transparency. It is often cited as an important factor in judging and evaluating institutional performance. Simply put, the higher the graduation rate, the better the graduate program’s performance – the lower the graduation rate, the poorer the performance.

Some financial and scholarship programs use graduation rates to gauge the program’s capability to produce competent graduate students. The thinking goes, that funding or the withdrawal from institutions that fall behind in producing masters and doctorate graduates depends on this number.

The graduation rate is especially important to attract alumni to give back to their alma mater. With the decreasing federal financial support in higher education, public institutions depend on private philanthropy as a vital source of financial support. A higher graduation rate will undoubtedly attract more alumni engagement.

Another potential influence that may increase the likelihood of alumni giving is the positive student experience. Corollary, a more engaged alumni association, means a diverse pool of professional connections that can help you as you navigate your professional life.

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