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Interviewing for Graduate School

It’s best to visit graduate schools before deciding whether to attend. Many of the best programs will fund a visit for better candidates, covering travel and incidental expenses. The visit is an excellent time to meet with faculty and learn what to expect. On site, especially talking with current students, is also a good way to learn of any potentially disruptive tension or rifts among the faculty.

Stephanie Kane, a W&M alum who completed two M.S. programs (biology and biostatistics) compiled the following list of questions for her interviews:

  • How many people complete the program? 

  • How easy or hard is it to get summer financial support? 

  • For how many years are you guaranteed funding? 

  • How easy is it to meet people outside the department? 

  • How much money does the lab have? 

  • Does a key professor have or will get tenure? 

  • What's the lab atmosphere like? 

  • How many years to complete the program, on average? 

  • Where are former students now? What percentage are in academic jobs? 

  • What's the attitude to finishing in X years? 

  • What's the mentality or attitude of the department to nonacademic and/or traditional careers?
  • How many hours per week do grad students work, on average?
  • How much do they want or need to spend? 

  • Do people get TA-ships if they need them? 

  • What are other sources of funding? How do you get them? 

  • How long will they provide you with TA-ships? 

  • How many internal small grants? How many people get them? 

  • Is there travel money for meetings? 

  • How many people are going into debt? How much debt? 

  • What are the expectations for work hours? For success? Is it worth it? 

  • What is the attitude of the graduate student community? Social? Isolationist?
  • Are most people married? Single? Older? Younger? 

  • Where do people live?
  • Do graduate students tend to live together or by themselves? How would you get a roommate your first year if the former?
  • How much does it cost to rent?
  • How far is housing from the school?
  • Is public transportation available? 

  • How many seminars and paper-discussion groups meet regularly? 

  • Do students seem happy, content, enthusiastic, frustrated, angry, bitter, depressed (on average)? 

  • Does the program offer the classes you want to take? 

  • Would you be able to TA classes that you would potentially like to teach later on? 

  • How are graduate students treated by faculty? As junior colleagues, lab slaves, or something in between? 

  • What kinds of things do graduate students do for fun?