How to Prepare for College Interviews

by | Nov 5, 2021

Written By: Tony Choi

The college application process is undoubtedly an extremely strenuous process. From taking rigorous standardized tests to writing deeply personal essays, the entire process is an ultimate culmination of your academic and personal achievements. As you approach the finish line, however, there is still one last hurdle: the interview. 

The public education system trains students to excel on pen-and-paper exams but rarely teaches them how to interview, which is arguably one of the most important skills to have when entering the job market. Even the strongest students fear the interview because it is not just a textbook concept that they can memorize; it is a skill that requires thorough preparation and practice. 

If you want to do well, you should spend time studying for every upcoming interview. To study for an interview means: making a list of potential questions, writing out answers in bullet points, and articulating those bullet points as full sentences out loud. However, do not memorize your answers word by word since the interviewer will quickly detect an unnaturalness that comes with rote memorization. To reduce anxiety, practice mock interviews with your friends or try speaking in front of a mirror. Make sure to maintain eye contact and keep the flow of the conversation going. 

Even though you should prepare for your college admissions interview, do not think of it as another exam. Instead, treat the interview as a conversation where your goal is to become friends with your interviewer. Remain professional and polite, but take comfort in the fact that the interviewer is not trying to test you. The admissions team just wants to know who you are as a person, and the interviewers are often alumni volunteers who genuinely want to help you. You want to present yourself as likeable, interesting, and impressive while not coming off as arrogant.  

Below are some of the most common interview questions and advice on how you can answer them. Each answer should be roughly 1 to 3 minutes long, but always prioritize keeping a natural flow to the conversation rather than fixating on the time. You have worked so hard to get to this point, so stay strong until the end! No matter what happens, always remember that you are more than just a test score, more than your GPA, and more than just some essays. It is impossible to encapsulate the multiple facets and accomplishments of an individual onto a few pages, so the interview is your chance to share who you really are. 

1. Tell me about yourself.

The best way to answer this question is to build an overall narrative while mentioning the most important aspects of your identity. These aspects can be anything such as your family background, unique upbringing, extracurricular activities, academic accomplishments, work experience, or future goals. Strong interviewees are able to naturally weave several components of their lives into a cohesive story. 

The interviewer is likely to ask follow-up questions to interesting points you mention, so make sure to give them something to work with while still saving some details you can elaborate on later. 

2. Why are you interested in this college?

It is okay to not have a groundbreaking answer, but it is not okay to have an unprepared answer. For example, do not just say “the location,” “strong academics,” or “provides many opportunities.” These are general statements that can be relevant to a hundred other colleges. Instead, go into the specifics. If you’re attracted to strong academics, talk about specific professors or courses that you’re interested in. If you’re interested in the opportunities, mention a program or a resource that is unique to the school. 

Interviewers do not expect high school students to know exactly where they want to spend the next 4 years of their lives. However, they do expect the top students to have done their research on the schools they’re applying to and have valid reasons regarding why they want to attend those institutions. 

3. What major are you interested in? Why?

Be genuine when answering this question because it is very easy to differentiate students who are honest and passionate from students who are disinterested or even lying. Rather than just saying you enjoy a certain subject in school, try to provide more evidence by talking about a related extracurricular activity or sharing a personal story that portrays your interest. 

It is completely acceptable to be undecided on a major; however, instead of just saying you’re undecided, you should mention a few majors that you’re considering. You still need to show a certain level of intellectual curiosity. 

4. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

When answering these types of questions, use the “show, don’t tell” technique. When you mention a strength, support your answer by sharing a story of a time where you exhibited your positive trait. When you mention a weakness, show that you’re being proactive by mentioning efforts you’re currently making to overcome your shortcoming. 

5. Do you have any questions for me?

Always ask your interviewer a few questions. This demonstrates your level of interest. If your interviewer is an alumnus, try asking some questions specifically directed towards the interviewer’s college experience. Frankly, many interviewers love talking about themselves, so this can help end the interview on a positive note. You can also prepare some general questions, but try not to ask questions that can be easily answered with a quick online search. 

Additional common interview questions:

How would you describe yourself?

How would your friends describe you?

What are your future goals?

What is your favorite book?

What is your favorite movie or TV show?

Who is your role model?

If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be? Why?

What is your biggest accomplishment?

What is a challenge or a mistake you had to overcome?

If you went back in time, what is something you would do differently?

What did you like and dislike about your high school?

What are your additional hobbies or interests?

What do you do in your free time?