Some institutions or courses may require you to complete a postgraduate interview. To ace this stage of the application take a look at these example Masters interview questions

Admissions tutors use postgraduate interviews to establish whether you're committed to, and prepared for, study at Masters or PhD level. Academic interviews are generally less formal than job interviews, but you still need to take them seriously - your ambitions to pursue further study could depend on your performance.

You'll be asked a variety of questions focusing on your preparedness for postgraduate study. Below are some of the most common postgraduate interview questions.

Can you tell me about yourself?

This question gives you the opportunity to emphasise things that perhaps you didn't articulate strongly in your CV or initial postgraduate application and personal statement. Discuss your education and work experience, highlighting your achievements and qualifications.

Avoid talking for too long and don't go into detail about your social life. While the interviewer isn't interested in a long list of your hobbies, you can explain how your non-academic background - in combination with your undergraduate degree - has prepared you for postgraduate study.

This may be by showing initiative in setting up an event, raising money for a project, demonstrating determination in completing an activity (for example, a marathon or climbing a mountain), doing something that received media attention, or implementing something from your undergraduate studies such as generating a business idea and engaging with a business in its implementation.

Ultimately, this question allows you to set the agenda and explain anything unusual about your application - for example, if you're choosing a subject that's different from previous studies.

What are your strengths?

Talk about things that will make your application look positive. Mention soft skills, such as teamwork, organisation, and the ability to remain calm under pressure.

Anything that highlights how you've overcome a challenge is useful, as this shows what type of problem-solver you are. However, you must have concrete, practical examples of every skill that you mention. For example, ways in which you assisted team members to perform effectively in a club, society or sports team or a time when you've persuaded others (such as in a sales environment or negotiation situation, maybe in a part-time job environment, or a time when you made an effective presentation).

Demonstrate the skill of leadership and give details to show the depth of your commitment. You don't have to hold an office or a title to display leadership - it can be demonstrated in many different ways. Describing how you organised something or motivated a group of people is just as impressive.

Don't mention anything irrelevant or obvious, or things that a graduate in any discipline will have, such as the ability to use email, social media or word processors. Sell yourself here, but make sure you don't sound too boastful either.

What are your weaknesses?

This is a classic postgraduate interview question. Choose a weakness that you're currently succeeding in overcoming. For example:

  • 'I used to stress about deadlines, but now I allow myself plenty of time before a deadline to make sure that I don't leave everything to the last minute.'
  • 'I tend to be disorganised, but the calendar on my phone is helping me to stay organised so I can be truly effective.'

Try not to say silly things that can act against you, or sound corny or banal. Also, never say that you don't have any weaknesses - we all do.

Do you think that your undergraduate record accurately reflects your effort and ability?

This gives you the opportunity to explain a poor grade or a bad semester. You need to be careful here - don't come across as a moaner by blaming other people - for example, your tutors.

However, this is your opportunity to let the interviewer know if you really did have extenuating circumstances. It would be unusual to explain a whole year of poor marks without serious mitigation, and an interviewer would easily see through waffle and excuses, but an out-of-line mark that you feel doesn't reflect your knowledge and ability could be highlighted. Ensure that you rehearse your answers with other people beforehand.

Describe your dream job in the future

When university admissions staff ask this question they are trying to see if you have logically thought through your future plans and how the postgraduate degree fits in with these.

If there is a massive disconnect it doesn’t reflect well, so your career trajectory must look like a sensible, relevant choice. Don't make up a ridiculous job - it should demonstrate that you have knowledge of the prospective industries and the job market. For example, many students want to start their own businesses and this is fine, but you need to explain how the degree will enable you to do this.

Which academic or businessperson do you most admire and why?

When interviewers ask this question, they're trying to learn something about you through the person that you admire most - so explain your choice. It's not enough just to give a name - you need to know something about the person and why they inspire you. Avoid well-known figures, unless you can say something original about them.

A variation on this question could be 'what is your favourite book and why?' Again, the interviewer is not looking for a detailed report. They want to learn more about you from the books that you read. This is because your answer can indicate your interests, beliefs or goals.

What difficult decision have you had to make in the last six months?

This question aims to test the candidate's reasoning ability, problem-solving skills and judgement.

Having no answer to this question is bad news. Everyone has had to make tough decisions at times. Think of examples from part-time work experience, undergraduate study or your social or family background.

Decent answers show that you can make a difficult analytical or reasoning-based decision, for example being able to sieve through lots of data to find an optimum solution. A good answer shows that you can make a difficult interpersonal decision, or even more impressive, a tricky data-driven decision that includes interpersonal considerations.

Making decisions based on data is important, but almost every decision has an impact on people too. The best candidates look at all sides of an issue, not just the business or human side and try to make an informed, balanced decision. It's good to talk through your logic as you try to solve the problem - admissions tutors like that. Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself or criticise yourself as you talk through it too. No one is perfect and it's suspicious if everything went swimmingly first time round.

What questions do you have for me, or about the course or university?

You need to do your homework here, and show that you're a serious candidate that has carried out some research. Avoid asking anything that's already explained on the institution's website, and try to come up with some probing and focused questions, such as:

  • 'What would graduates say was the most valuable thing about the postgraduate programme?'
  • 'I read that there is the opportunity to study abroad or an internship - can you tell me more about that?'

You shouldn't say that you have no questions. If your questions were answered during the interview, say something along the lines of 'I had a couple of questions but you have already answered them'. However, you should have some follow-ups in reserve.

Finally, don't ask about how much spare time will you have, how long the holidays last or whether there are lectures and seminars every day - this will make it look like you want an easy life.

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