Common Postgraduate Interview Questions

Preparing for a postgraduate interview can be a stressful experience – it’s impossible to predict the exact questions you’ll face and difficult to know where to start when it comes to preparing. However, with the right support and tips from our postgraduate interview experts, you’ll be ready to tackle any questions you are presented with.
Here are some common types of postgraduate interview questions and top tips from our Head of Postgraduate Admissions, Joseph Robbins, on how to answer them.

If you’re looking for an overview of the different types of postgraduate interviews, what to expect from them, and how to prepare, read this helpful guide. It is packed full of exclusive tips from our postgraduate admissions team, who help more than 90% of our postgraduate students pass their postgraduate interviews and receive offers from universities such as Oxford, London Business School, Imperial, and more.

How to prepare for a postgraduate interview

‘Describe yourself’ questions

Interviewers often lead with questions which require you to ‘describe yourself’ in some way. These types of questions are a good indicator of your overall strengths and interests, but also of your self awareness and ability to self-reflect and improve. Some questions you might be asked include:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • Please introduce yourself to a fellow student.
  • What word best describes you and why?
  • Tell us something about yourself that we cannot find in your application/is not included in your CV or personal statement.
  • How do you think a close family member or friend would describe you?

Joe’s tip: The most simple questions are often the ones that catch students out the most in interviews. Talking about a subject you’re passionate about and have studied for multiple years is often easier than talking about yourself in any great detail. That’s why it’s so important to prepare for ‘describe yourself’ questions beforehand.
Write down a list of all of your key strengths, skills, interests and experience so that you have an idea of how you would best describe yourself ahead of your interview. You could even talk to friends and family members in advance and ask them to make a similar list.
When faced with a ‘describe yourself’ question, though it may be tempting to describe your personality, this isn’t really what the question is assessing. Instead, run through the highlights of your CV and include your proudest achievement and one key word to describe you (e.g. ambitious). This prevents rambling or being too modest – both common pitfalls of a postgraduate interview.

Academic experience questions

Some of the questions you might be asked in your interview could be based on the information you’ve provided in your personal statement and/or CV relating to your academic experience and achievements. Unsurprisingly, your interviewer will want to feel reassured that your academic ability is of a high enough standard to succeed at postgraduate level, so it’s important to answer these questions honestly and give examples where necessary. Some questions you might be asked include:

  • Why did you study [subject] in your undergraduate degree?
  • Why did you choose to attend [previous university]?
  • How has your undergraduate background prepared you for our programme?
  • What modules/courses have you enjoyed the most?
  • What courses have you found the most challenging and why?
  • Tell me about a research project you have completed.
  • Do you feel your academic record accurately reflects your abilities and potential?
  • In what ways has your previous experience prepared you for graduate study in our programme?
  • Describe an accomplishment that has given you the most satisfaction and why.

Joe’s tip: For particularly competitive postgraduate courses, your academic experience is a great way for you to stand out. If you went to an academically prestigious university (such as Oxford or Cambridge), make sure you name-drop it and describe what you learned and any academics or modules in particular you studied. If you studied a notoriously demanding or interdisciplinary course, such as Oxford’s Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE), go into detail about what skills that course allowed you to develop. Don’t hesitate to go into plenty of detail about your outstanding academic accomplishments.

University-specific questions

In your postgraduate interview, your university will want to find out more about why you chose them in particular – but it’s more than simply flattery they’re seeking. Your interviewer will want to see that you have done your research on your chosen university and course, and that you are motivated and driven to succeed. Some of the questions you might be asked include:

  • Why did you choose this university?
  • What kind of skills do you want to learn at this university?
  • Why did you choose to apply for this course?
  • How did you make the decision to apply to our programme?
  • What other programmes did you consider/apply to?

Joe’s tip: It’s not good enough to say that you just ‘like the feel’ of a university or you’re interested in the subject area generally; you need to be more specific. Before your interview, write down one module, one lecturer and one society (or additional benefit such as a field trip) that you’re excited about and aim to include at least two of them during your interview. This will show your interviewer that you have done your research and is one of the easiest ways to impress them.

Strengths, weaknesses and skills questions

When applying for a Master’s, interviewers will want to go beyond your academic achievements and look at what transferable (and, if relevant, technical) skills you have that would make you well-suited to your chosen course. These types of questions are commonly known as ‘core competency’ questions and will usually infer the need for an example to support them so as to evidence the development or application of these skills. Some questions you might be asked include:

  • How do you work under pressure?
  • Working in a team, how do you put forward a point of view that others disagree with?
  • Tell me about a time when you had many tasks you had to work on at the same time. How did you prioritise?
  • What are your greatest strengths (and why would you consider these strengths)?
  • What would a supervisor or professor tell me are your strengths?
  • What are your greatest weaknesses?
  • Give an example of how you have improved your weakness.
  • How would you rate your analytical/communication/critical thinking skills?
  • Give an example of a time when you worked successfully as a part of a team.
  • Tell me about a time when you went out of your way to help a colleague or a client.
  • Tell me about a time when you were the only person holding an idea you felt strongly about. How did you share your position? What was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a quick decision. What were the circumstances and what did you do?
  • Tell me about a situation in which you showed initiative.
  • What is your strongest personal asset?
  • Tell me about a time you assumed a leadership role.

Joe’s tip: Whether you are asked explicitly to give an example or not, always offer an example or piece of evidence to support your point. It is not enough to simply tell your chosen university that you are a good communicator, have great leadership skills, or can manage your time effectively. While it may all be true, your interviewer will not be convinced unless you are able to prove it with examples, ideally from your academic studies, work experience or volunteering.

What is the STAR technique?

To ensure you are covering all bases in your answer, practise using the tried and tested STAR technique. STAR stands for:

  • Situation – introduce the event in one sentence.
  • Task – what had you been asked to do?
  • Action – what did you do?
  • Response – what was achieved or else what did you learn from the experience?

The difference between good and great candidates is that good candidates spend too long setting up the situation (wasting time giving too many minor details). Great candidates, on the other hand, describe the situation and task in just 2 lines and then focus on what actions they took and the positive outcomes from that. For example:

“When I interned at Masons & Sons, a boutique accounting firm, I was asked to complete a client report. I felt that the report, whilst good overall, was overly long in parts and could afford to lose a few slides. My manager disagreed strongly. I completed the task I was set by them, but also created an alternative which moved this information into an ‘appendix’ and everyone agreed it was better for it. I successfully avoided conflict by putting in extra work to show my point of view and passion for my opinions.”

As you can see, the above example is succinct and only gives the most basic information of the Situation and Task, allowing the interviewee to focus on showcasing their skills and making themselves the hero of the story.

Subject or industry-specific questions

Unlike in an undergraduate interview – where prior knowledge is not typically the focus of their assessment of you – postgraduate applicants are assumed to have existing, in-depth knowledge and experience in their subject area. Therefore, you will likely be asked more challenging or thought-provoking questions on your chosen degree subject and may be expected to engage in a detailed discussion or informal chat on a particular topic or issue.

Due to the nature of these style of questions, what you may be asked will differ greatly depending on your experience and the contents of your chosen degree course. Some styles of questions that you might be asked include:

  • If you could teach a class on any topic, what would it be and why?
  • In the last 10 years, this industry has changed significantly. How do you see it changing over the next 10 years?
  • What do you believe to be the major trends in your intended career field at this time?
  • What do you think about [current news event]?
  • What do you think about the work of [name of academic]?
  • What are your thoughts on [topic area]?
  • What is the most important development in this field over the past 25 years and why?

As a more detailed example, in an interview for a Master’s in Economics, some questions you might be asked include:

  • What has the impact of Brexit/Covid-19/a recent global event been on London’s economy?
  • Do you think social responsibility should always take precedence over profit? Why or why not?
  • In the next 10 years, how do you think the role of the UN will change?
  • If you could move anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
  • What are the most important drivers of a successful business?
  • What problem in the world troubles you most? What would you do about it?

Joe’s tip: Subject-specific questions can be your time to shine. If you’re particularly passionate about or interested in a certain topic, make this known throughout your interview. If you’re lucky, your interviewers might pick up on it and start a discussion in which you can show off the depth and breadth of your knowledge.
As part of your preparation, have some poignant examples, notable books or established academics ready to name-drop into the conversation to show that you’ve really done your research.

For more mock questions relating to your specific course and how best to prepare for them, get in touch with our team of expert admissions tutors. We cover more than 200 subjects across our network and 90% of our postgraduate students get into their first or second choice universities. Simply put, no subject is too niche for us, so get in touch for support with your postgraduate interview today.

Goal-related questions

Universities are looking for postgraduate students who have clear goals or, ideally, a career plan they are working towards. The clearer your goals, the more ambitious, driven and committed you will seem to your chosen university. Some goal-related questions you might be asked include:

  • What are your career goals?
  • How will this programme help you achieve your goals?
  • What is your personal ambition and what the steps are you taking to achieve it?
  • Give an example of a time when you worked towards a goal.
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • Tell me about a goal you have set for yourself and how you have achieved it or intend to.
  • What’s your goal in life and how are you going to achieve it?
  • How do you see this programme fitting into your career goals?

Joe’s tip: If you’ve previously read our guide to writing a postgraduate personal statement, then you’ll know that having a 5-year plan is an incredibly useful and important part of your application.
Coming up with a 5-year plan doesn’t mean that you’re committed to it and that you cannot change your plan; it’s inevitable that events in your life will mean your plans are constantly changing. However, demonstrating that you have a long-term goal and that you have strong career or academic prospects after graduation is attractive to your chosen universities.

Interests/personality questions

As part of your postgraduate interview might include being asked some questions that relate to your personality, hobbies and interests. The goal of the interviewer here may simply be to get to know you better as a person. However, it could also be an opportunity for them to assess whether your interest in the subject area extends beyond a purely academic or professional setting and is a genuine commitment of yours. Some questions you might be asked include:

  • Tell us about the last book you read or movie you saw.
  • What is the best piece of advice you have received and why?
  • Describe the most interesting place that you have travelled to. What did you enjoy most about the experience?
  • What is your proudest accomplishment and why?
  • If you could have dinner with someone (living or dead), who would that person be?
  • If you had an extra hour of the day, what would you do with it?

Joe’s tip: Whilst the rarest form of question asked, sometimes interests or personality-based questions can be very specific and catch candidates out. We recommend having one book or author on a relevant subject and one person who inspires you up your sleeve, as these can be surprisingly difficult to think up on the spot! It is, however, very common to be asked for your proudest achievement (in any type of interview) so make sure you also have a really positive answer planned for this.

How can we help?

The Profs’ postgraduate admissions consultants are true experts in helping students prepare for and succeed in university interviews. We have ex-admissions staff in our network who have conducted hundreds of interviews at top universities, as well as up-to-date knowledge of interviewing trends and university-specific question banks from past years.

Our tutors have helped students excel in interviews for even the most demanding and competitive postgraduate programmes, with more than 90% securing places at their first or second choice universities, including Oxbridge, Imperial, London Business School, LSE, and more.

For professional, one-to-one interview training as well as wider support with your postgraduate application, get in touch with our team today.