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The College Interview

What will your interviewer ask you?

Only the interviewer knows that. However, there are some topics that are common to many interviews.

The following questions reflect those topics, but this list is by no means exhaustive. You should expect to be asked questions you aren't prepared for. With that in mind, understand that these questions are not meant to be memorized; they're intended to help make the college interview process feel familiar, with explanations to help you gain a general understanding of why certain questions are asked. The more you understand about the process, the more comfortable you will feel during your interview.

We have a whole section of the Senior Toolkit dedicated to the college interview, including a 5-minute video, so if you haven't already gone through that, please do so now. It's free, and it will help you better understand what the college interview process is all about.

We also offer a mock interview with a Collegica counselor as part of our College Visits Planning Session, or you can recruit a friend or family member to conduct the mock interview at home.

Interview Tips

  • Try to relax.
  • Be yourself, not someone you think they want you to be.
  • Be energetic! 
  • Try to convey your excitement about the school you're interviewing for.
  • Take your time when you respond to the interviewer's questions. Don't rush your answers. Your interview should feel like a conversation not an interrogation.

Common Interview Questions

1. Tell us about yourself. Where you come from, what high school you attend, etc.

This is just a sample opening question, but generally they will ask you for a broad overview of your life. It’s okay to be general during these opening “get to know you” questions. You don’t have to detail your life story or future plans just yet. Relax, get comfortable, and keep it conversational. You will have plenty of time to get into more detail later.

2. How did you first become interested in our college?

This is common; they might be interested in how you found out about their school in the first place. If your mom or grandpa went there, it’s okay to admit this, as long as it’s clear that you have enthusiasm for the school beyond your “legacy” connection. If you met a representative at a college fair, this is where you should mention it. If you started researching colleges online and came across their school, that’s absolutely fine too. In other words, just be honest. There is no “right answer” to this question.

3. What is it about our college that especially appeals to you? or Why are you interested in our school?

This is the “why us?” question. It's important, because this is where you get to show that you’ve done your research and that you’re a clear fit for their college, both inside and outside the classroom. Do not focus on rankings. It’s okay to mention the school’s location, as long as location not the primary reason you’re applying (“I am interested in NYU because I want to live in New York City” sounds much worse than “I love how students at NYU are able to take advantage of the many resources and opportunities available in New York City”). Also, try to paint a picture of yourself as a college student on their campus. What classes would you take? What professors would you want to get to know? What clubs/organizations would you join? It’s crucial that you describe the student you are truly likely to become, not the student you think they want you to be. Be yourself, and be excited about all their school has have to offer.

4. Describe your high school experience: your favorite classes, your extracurricular activities, etc.

They want to learn about how you've spent the past few years. The more detailed you can be here, the better. Also, stay positive. Focus on the teachers that inspired you, the subjects that you enjoyed learning about, and the activities that you were most passionate about. Don’t be afraid to tell a story or two about a specific class or extracurricular experience. Keep it conversational.

This is also a good opportunity to clarify any problems you have had. If your grades took a turn for the worse at some point during your high school career, here’s your chance to explain. If you were sick and had to miss a bunch of school, they need to know. If you had difficulty balancing home life with everything at school, tell them that. If you were a late bloomer and discovered your passion for learning later in school, they definitely need to know. If you have one class that shows a grade you’re not proud of, explain that grade.

Important: try to avoid blaming others for mistakes you made (your teachers, for example). We all make mistakes, and how you view those mistakes now will tell the interviewer a lot about how you’ll handle the mistakes you’ll make in the future. College admissions officers are going to be very attuned to this, so be sure to take responsibility for your choices and actions.

5. Which activities would you like to continue—or join for the first time—in college?

They want students who will get involved on campus. This is where your research will come in handy. Think about the activities you’re involved in now that you’re certain you want to continue in college. Does their college offer them? If so, be prepared to mention them. Also, don’t be afraid to discuss any activities that you might pursue outside of college (“I plan to take Hapkido lessons off campus”), or nonexistent activities that you might want to explore on campus (“I would love to start a baking club”). However, don’t feel like you have to make something up; simply expressing a real interest in a few on-campus opportunities is enough.

6. What has been your most challenging academic experience?

They may want to know how you handle academic pressure. You should take some time to think about this. It might be that you overcame a difficult freshman year, or that you worked extremely hard to pass a certain class, or something even more specific, like a science project or research paper. The more detail you provide, the more they will be able to picture you overcoming such challenges when you're a student at their school.

7. What are you hoping to major in, and what are you interested in pursuing after college?

This makes sense, of course. They will want to know your academic interests. But you should realize that it’s okay if you don’t have a specific answer to this question. It’s okay to mention a few areas of study that interest you, or a few career options you’re considering. They'll understand if you don't have the rest of your life mapped out. You haven’t even graduated high school yet, and you are likely to change your mind once or twice in college. You do need to show an interest in learning, and an eagerness to discover an academic passion in college, however.

If you do have a specific major in mind (engineering, business, or architecture, for example), this is your chance to discuss it in depth. What got you interested in it? How have you developed that interest throughout high school? How do you intend to continue developing it in college? And what might you want to do with it once you’ve graduated?

8. What do you like to do for fun?

They care about you outside of the classroom. High school is often so busy that it’s hard to enjoy free time, so when you do have free time it’s understandable that you might spend it catching up on sleep, hanging out with friends, watching TV, or reading for pleasure.

The good news is that college is going to offer you much more free time. Knowing that, and knowing what you enjoy doing now, how would you like to spend that free time in college? That’s how you should answer this question.

9. What is the biggest problem today that you would like to address?

They may want to know what matters to you in a larger context. Be prepared for this type of question: one that probes your level of engagement with your community and with the world. College is often considered a “bubble,” and it would be nice if you could show them that you’re committed to learning about or engaging in causes that matter to you outside that bubble. You don’t have to have a track record of student activism; you simply have to show that you’ve cared enough to learn about what’s going on in the rest of the world, and to begin to form opinions about issues that matter to you.

10. Do you have any questions?

This is very important. They will want you to come to this interview prepared to learn more about their college. Whether you’re at an on-campus interview across the country or an alumni interview down the street from your house, you must come prepared with a few questions; otherwise, they may question the depth of your interest in their school.

Don’t waste their time with questions that you could easily find the answers to on their website (“What’s your average SAT score?” or “Is there Greek life on your campus?”). Instead, treat this as an opportunity to ask them questions that really matter to you—questions that would help you decide whether to attend their school if you’re accepted.

 

That's it. Those ten questions should provide you with a strong basis for understanding and feeling comfortable with the college interview. It's also worth noting the college interview is not a make-or-break situation. Your grades, test scores and extracurricular activities has much more of an impact on whether you're accepted to a college than the interview.

Good luck!