What are some questions I might be asked at a college interview?


Rita Kirshstein, Higher Education Consultant, Researcher, and Private College Counselor

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You are likely to be asked questions about how you think the college fits your interests and educational goals. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what you might major in; it’s perfectly fine to indicate that you believe the college gives you the opportunity to explore a number of different areas that you may eventually want to pursue. Make sure you have researched the college and can be fairly concrete in your responses (e.g., you really like the freshman seminar topics; you want to take some Italian courses even though you don’t want to major in it).

You should also be prepared to ask the interviewer questions. He/she will often ask, “what questions do you have for me?” Please go beyond, “Do you think I will get in?” Ask questions about some extracurricular activities you might want to pursue, what types of tutoring services they have, whether they have a writing center, etc. It’s important to show that you want to succeed. You may also want to ask questions about the types of students that tend to be most successful at that college.

Whatever you do, engage in the conversation, don’t interrupt and dress nicely. Appear interested in what the interviewer is telling you and be sure to thank him/her for taking the time to talk to you. If you have the interviewer’s email address, I suggest sending a thank you note and perhaps asking an additional question “that you didn’t think about at the time of the interview.”

Nina Berler, College and Career Readiness Specialist

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Interviewing is a life skill, and there's no better time to start than with your college interview. Are you ready?

Even if you’re a first-time applicant, you may have heard people talk about their interviews. In some ways, job interviews and college interviews are quite similar. You should exhibit poise and enthusiasm while answering a variety of questions such as:

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • Where do you hope to be in five or ten years?

  • Tell me about yourself.

  • Describe a situation in which you faced a challenge and overcame it.

But there are also very important, college-specific questions for which you must be totally prepared. These include:

  • What will you study your freshman year?

  • Why [name of college]?

  • What activities do you hope to participate in your freshman year?

  • What books have you read recently?

  • How do you feel about leaving home?

  • What courses are you taking this year?

Some interviewers like to really challenge you, for example:

  • How would you sell yourself during an elevator ride?

  • With all the wonderful candidates out there, what makes you stand out?

Be sure to keep a list of possible questions for your interviewer. For example:

  • How was your experience at [name of college]?

  • What do you think of the [subject] department?

  • If you had to do it again, what might you do differently?

Be sure to come prepared, dress nicely, smile often, and send a thank-you email when you're done. Interviewing is cumulative; you'll continue to get better!

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher

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I agree with much of what Colleen had to say above. Colleges want to know what is unique about you. They will have a general idea of who you are just by looking at your grades, transcript, and the classes you chose and excelled at. However, what they'll really want to know is what makes you tick. As you get older, you'll find that the world wants you to be great at one thing, and good at several other things. What else can you do is what they are probably thinking. That could include hobbies, or things that you love to do on weekends, even talents that you may have inherited from family members whether you liked doing it or not. You'd be surprised, some of the things that you might think aren't even interesting about yourself could be fascinating to a college admissions officer. Don't be afraid to open up and tell some stories, and even give some opinions or world views. After all, it is college, and professors and others at the university want to know that you have a mind of your own, and that you're not a follower or another cookie cutter student. You're entering into a time when you can really start to cut your own path in life, and make things the way you want them to be. If you show that passion, drive, or initiative to an interviewer, trust me, they will recognize it. Good luck!

Stacey Ebert, Educator, Writer, Event Planner, Traveler

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What a great question. I second the above suggestions. When I did interviews for my university, I often had a standard list of questions (similar to many aforementioned) and then would tailor the interview to the student in front of me. As with any future job interview, it's good practice to have your resume/CV/activities sheet with you and be prepared to discuss it. Standard questions apply (strengths, weaknesses, favourite subject in school, most influential class/teacher, most recent book/movie) as well as others depending on your interviewer and of course, you.

If you've highlighted some of your achievements on your sheet or application, it's possible that those may be discussed. Be prepared to give a specific example of something you accomplished or a day you felt successful or even why you joined a certain organization.

Remember, that this interview is your time. It's as much about how you hold yourself and how you ask questions as it is about your answers. Come on time and prepared, look professional, look your interviewer in the eye and turn your phone off during the interview. Be sure to have a few of your own questions that you'd like to ask (that DO NOT include: will I get in, when will I know about my decision and how much influence do 'you' have over this decision). Questions about campus life, attitude, courses, clubs, sports and opportunities are another way to engage your interviewer. Ask as many pertinent questions as you can to get as much relevant information that might help you be better prepared when the time comes to make your own decisions.

Good luck with your interviews.

Christine VanDonge, Senior Research Analyst

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I would second all Nina's comments -- but wonder if you could tell us a little bit more. Are you applying at the graduate or undergraduate level? Who is the interview with? Is it with someone in the department of your selected major? It this interview in an individual or a group format? How long is the interview expected to last? If you are not sure about the answers to these questions, it might be best to reach out to the individual who extended the interview to get clarification on these items. In addition, I would suggest researching the professors and/or staff that will be at the interview. It would be good to have a sense of who they are as well as their role at the university. If you respond with more details, I would also have some additional ideas.

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Matthew Clemens, Physics and Math Teacher, Parent, and Tutor

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You also might be asked about a low grade. Be prepared to discuss your strengths--and weaknesses--when it comes to your learning. Be honest about the student you are and what you do to overcome any weaknesses. Good luck!

David H. Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD

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There are many resources online about preparing for college interviews. At the bottom of this post, I’ve listed two that I have found useful for helping my students.

I would like to highlight a few points for you here.

  1. Why do you want to attend this school? It’s OK to say that one of the reasons why you want to attend this school is because it’s prestigious in some way. By itself, this is not a reason that will set you apart from the crowd, but it’s fine to admit that it is one of the reasons why. However, you should be able to list specific reasons why you like a school. It shows that you took your time and did your homework.
  2. What do you bring to this school? Competitive schools like competitive students. Students feel the pressure to talk about their ambitions and dreams of success and glory. This is great, but schools also like to bring in a diversity of backgrounds, such as first generation college students and students from challenging circumstances. It’s OK to say that while you’re not sure how you’ll measure up against your fellow classmates, you know that by admitting you the school allows you to become part of its tradition of making dreams come true for people from challenging backgrounds. A simple way of relieving pressure off of yourself is to say that your guess is that many people brought themselves to this university but were transformed in the process. Thus, what you bring is an openness to be transformed into something that is bigger than you can see at this time, since that’s what's great about this school. Having dreams and ambitions is important. Being able to be confident with a clear vision is great, but depending on how long ago the interviewer graduated from the school, they’ll understand the humility beneath your answer.
  3. Do you have any questions for me? Get to know the interviewer as a person. They, too, have a story. They, too, were once like you. Interviewing well is like being a good listener. It’s possible to communicate a lot about yourself by letting others do a significant amount of talking. It’s called being a good friend. This is important beyond having great specific questions about the school or career prospects of alumni.

College Interview Questions

Interviewing: A Guide

Pamela Petrease Felder, Preparing for the college interview

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There are two very important community-oriented questions you might want to consider in preparing for a college interview. Prospective students may be joining a community of constituents who care very deeply about the institutional environment as well as the ways in which the environment facilitates experiences for its members. First, think about ways you think you could contribute to campus as a citizen within the community. Be very specific about your role and commitment to strengthening this community. Also, how might the community support your interests? Consider what your previous academic experiences and ways you'd like to grow. How can the institution both challenge and support in your personal growth and development?

Amy McElroy, Law School Graduate, Writer, Editor, Parent of Child Interviewing for Colleges

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In my experience, two really good components make an interview stand out as memorable. It's advice I received and my daughter has, too, as she continues her college interview process.

One question that came up over and over for me (back in the day), and for my daughter recently has been "Why do you want to come to this school?" or "How do you think you can contribute to this institution?" That's a question you really need to have done your homework on, so you can give a reasoned, thoughtful response that reflects well on both your specific interest in the school and your preparation.

Also, try to connect with the interviewer on a personal level, like finding a common interest, is one great way to making a lasting impression. This isn't something that can be forced, but make the effort. If the interviewer says she just got back from a trip, casually ask her where she went. Then try to make a connection, like saying you've been somewhere similar. Or if you see a photo of her skiing and you love to ski, speak up. Treat the interviewer like a person, not a judge. You will appear more confident and make a more lasting impression.

Jennifer Oleniczak, Founder and Artistic Director of The Engaging Educator

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I definitely echo the other responders in “what” will be asked. To add a unique voice, you should pay attention to “how” you answer. All too often we have recent college grads in our Presentation Skills classes that realize a bit too late in the JOB interview process that they need to put some work into the polish on top of the degree. It’s something that can make a difference on all levels, so it’s best to start as soon as possible.

Often times we worry more about the content of our answers – while this is important, how you say things is just as important. Fillers and cadence are two big areas you can work on pre-interview. Ums, ahs and extensions of words (annnnnnd, sooooo) are distracting fillers – we use these when we are searching for the next thing to say. The repetitive pattern of fillers can distract from our message and answer. To stop this, you need to first know you are doing this. Record yourself or ask a very honest friend or family member. Next, work on speaking a bit slower; this ties into cadence. Most of the time we are running our mouths faster than our brains can keep up, and the filler is there to help us avoid silence. By switching up the speed in which we are speaking can both give our brains a moment to work out the next point as well as allow the interviewer to pay closer attention to our words because their brain has to keep up with our changing vocal patterns. Think of white noise – you start to block it out after awhile. Voices are the same; if they are moving at the same rate consistently with the same fillers, we can block it out. Pauses, when used deliberately, can break up cadence and allow for a moment of thought. Finally, practicing awareness is essential. A nice way to break create an awareness is having a conversation with a good listener (and patient person) who will raise their hand every time you say a filler. The more you practice this, the better you’ll get. You have to think of speaking like going to the gym – it involves muscles, you need to warm up, and it’s not so much fun at first, but becomes easier the more you do it.

Good luck!

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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Colleges want to know that you have done your homework, and they want to see if you will "fit" with the campus. I tell my students that if a place doesn't want you for who you are, then you probably don't want to be there.

During an interview, you need to find the fine balance between being prepared and being yourself--that is, relaxed. The interview means that you meet all of the qualifications and they are really wanting to learn about you and your interests and to see if you would do well at the school. No university wants to admit a student that they think won't succeed.

Prepare a short answer to "So, tell us about yourself." This seems to be the place many interviewees stumble. Think about specific elements of your life: service, travel, activities. You already have the grades--they wouldn't be interviewing you if you didn't. What can you add to their picture of you?

Some more to consider:

How do you see yourself being involved on the campus?

What was your favorite class in high school? (if applying to be an undergrad)

What are your hobbies?

What is the last book you read/your favorite book?

You want to show that you are interested and interesting. Be sure you have questions for them! You can't leave without asking something about an element of campus life or academics there. Avoid the "When will I know about my decision?"

I wish you the best of luck!

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