How to ace your college interview

By Lindsey Conger

College interviews can be an intimidating part of the college application process, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Often, the point of college interviews isn’t for the school to learn more about you, but so that you can learn more about the school. An alum or student interview has very little weight in the overall admission decision.

Instead, the alumni or student interview is there, so you can ask questions, learn about their experiences, and get more excited about attending the university if you are accepted. The interview is also a great way to demonstrate an interest in the school.

If it is an in-person interview with a faculty member or admission officer, the interview will likely play a more significant role. They will be making the decisions, and if it is a highly competitive program, then the interview might be one of the deciding factors. To prepare, here are three tips to help you through the college interview season.

Practice Common Interview Questions

College admission interviewers aren’t trying to trick you. For the most part, they will ask you open-ended questions that allow you to talk about your interests and extracurricular activities. Before the interview, research some of the most common interview questions and prepare them with a friend or family member.

Extend Your Answers

When answering the interview questions, don’t just give a short answer. For example, if they asked what your favorite subject was, just saying “AP Literature” isn’t enough. A better answer would be “AP Literature because I love exploring different forms of writing. After reading ‘King Lear’ and ‘Hamlet’ in the class, I realized my love for Shakespeare and joined a local theatre group’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’”

Prepare Questions for the Interview

For many, the most dreaded part of the interview is: “What questions do you have for me?” Research beforehand so you can ask a few questions to the interviewer as well. Think about things you couldn’t find easily on the website. Don’t be overly personal, but you can ask questions like, “What was your favorite class you took outside of your major?” or “Any advice for incoming freshmen?”

Preparation is key for a successful interview. Take advantage of this opportunity to showcase your talents and demonstrate interest in the school.

7 common college interview questions and responses

1. How would you describe yourself to someone who did not know you?

Use this question to communicate your passions and even your quirks. This makes you a “person” and not just a name on an application. Find something that makes you memorable and use it to give the interviewer a snapshot into who you are. You could answer, “I love exercising and create competitions with my friends to see who can run the furthest over a given period of time.” Or you could say, “I do my best thinking in the shower.” The colleges have your grades and your application. They want to know what makes you unique.

2. What do you expect to be doing ten years from now?

This is six years after you’ve graduated from college. Who knows what they will be doing ten years from now? Odds are you have no idea and haven’t even thought about it. It’s acceptable to answer, “I don’t know”. You are just out of high school and entering into college. Explain that college will shape who you are, what you pursue, and what career path you take.

3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

It’s not enough to say you are a leader or you are a loyal friend. You need examples and incidents that communicate your strengths, and will help the judges understand why you believe they are strengths. When talking about a weakness, be honest. The key is to show that you are taking steps to minimize or overcome this weakness.

4. How would you contribute to our college community?

How will you make the college a better place? Think about how you see yourself interacting with other students on campus and how you will enhance your experience there by becoming involved in activities outside the classroom.

5. Why do you want to attend this college?

Don’t state the obvious and say—because it’s a top-tiered college, or they have majors that interest you. Walk the interviewer through the thought process you took when selecting the college

6. How have you been a leader or displayed leadership?

Don’t list off a bunch of titles and positions. Focus on one specific leadership position and give detail to show the depth of your commitment. Cite concrete accomplishments like organizing a drive to gather toys for the Ronald McDonald House or enlisting a group of volunteers to teach senior citizens how to use social media.

7. What challenge have you overcome?

You can draw from many different types of challenges: academic, personal, work, goals, tragedy, and even an ethical dilemma. This question is designed to determine what type of problem solver you are; college is about developing critical thinking and problem solving skills.

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