That’s the good news. The slightly less good news is that interviews can also be nerve wracking and answering interview questions on the fly can be tough. After all, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression, so you’ll want to get it right.
Thankfully, we’re here to help. Here are 20 common college interview questions to get ready for, so you can walk in (or log on) confident, and ready to answer any and all curveballs that come your way.
1. Why us?
We 100% guarantee that whatever the school you interview with, they will ask why you want to attend their institution. They might not say it so directly, but there will be a question of this type. It’s simple: schools want students with the right “fit” and the best way to determine that is to simply ask their reasons for applying.
The right answer will depend on your school and program of choice, as well as your own personality and talents. Does the school have an outstanding reputation in the field of your choice? Are you interested in any particular professors? What about extracurricular activities? Does the school’s reputation match your interests? Non-academic factors like location count for something too, just make sure you don’t entirely ignore your academic interests. And whatever you do, don’t say “I don’t know” or “because I can afford it” or the dreaded “because my first choice didn’t accept me.”
2. Why do you want to major in X?
This is another slam dunk question that every single school will ask in some form, so make sure you have a good answer ready. If you’re applying fresh out of high school, no one’s expecting a long drawn out story about how you were passionate about microbiology since the age of three, but it helps to have an anecdote and a good personal reason for applying to your program of choice. Maybe your dad works in finance and that got you interested in the field. Or maybe you just loved high school physics and that developed your passion for the field. As for wrong answers, “because I want to make money” and “because my parents are forcing me” are at the top of the list, so avoid those.
3. How will you contribute to our university?
This is a college interview question where a bit of preparation and personalization goes a long way. Be honest and draw on a real quality of yours that stands out from the applicant pool, and then back it up with a short story or anecdote. Maybe you’re a great listener and would love to help your peers as part of a campus group dedicated to mental health. Maybe you’re a dynamic organizer and want to launch an event or help organize an already established one – this is a great place to show you’ve researched the school and know what’s going on there. The trick here is to connect something cool you’ve done in the recent past to something you hope to do at your new school.
4. What do you think about [insert news story here]?
This is a trick question – the school doesn’t necessarily want you to double down on your views and get political, they want to see if you’re a well-informed citizen of the world and if you can use your critical thinking skills to understand what’s taking place in the world today. So don’t get all riled up: connect the current event to who you are and what you think, and bring up some (non-controversial) ways you would contribute to fixing the problem. Oh, and for 2020-2021, this question will almost DEFINITELY be about COVID-19. If it doesn’t come up in a specific question, it’ll come up naturally in the conversation, so make sure you have something intelligent to say.
5. What extracurricular activities do you pursue?
While we’re certain you have TONS AND TONS of interests and activities, this is not the place to list every single thing you’ve pursued in your life. Just because you went bowling once, doesn’t mean you have “a passion for bowling.” Speak about a couple of interests and then use them to tell 1-2 stories about a specific pursuit that means something to you, whether that’s a particular sport or a school club, or even a creative hobby like painting or making music. Make sure you end by highlighting what you’ve learned from this activity, and if possible, how you plan to use it to contribute to the school.
6. What makes you unique?
This is a tough one, because with over 7 billion people on the planet and several thousands applying to each school, chances are you’ll have overlaps with a lot of people. If you’ve got a unique family background or history, this is a great place to mention it – schools love diversity, so lean into it. If not, zero in on a unique interest, point of view, quality or other singular element that makes you who you are. The key is to be genuine, and since it’s a bit of an off-putting question, preparing an answer in advance here will help.
7. What questions do you have for us?
Finally! An opportunity to flip the script and ask the college interview questions of your own! Except the questions you ask here are just as much of a test as the answers you give to theirs. Be sure to research each school online and prepare unique alternative questions for each interview. Hopefully, if you know something about the school, you’ll have genuine questions about campus life, classes, clubs and more. If your interviewer is an alumni, you might ask questions about things that they did on campus that seem relevant to your interests as well.
8. Tell us about a failure you’ve overcome
This is another one where preparation is key. The trick here is to give an honest story about a time you messed up, but more specifically, a time you messed up and LEARNED from it. Your story should either include how you fixed your mistake or how you avoided a similar mistake in the future. Make sure the adcom understands the delta between you when you made the mistake, and you now, after learning from it.
9. Who do you consider a role model?
There are two paths here. You could go with a close relative or personal mentor here, which may make it easier to come up with a story regarding how they influenced your outlook on life. Alternately, if you choose a celebrity or historical figure. If you go with someone famous, you REALLY need to sell your interviewer on how they made you the person who you are today. Whatever you do, don’t choose a random historical figure because they’re “important.” It has to be someone important TO YOU.
10. What do you hope to be doing in 5/10/20 years?
This one really depends on you. If you’re applying to a program meant to funnel you into a specific career, you should emphasize that: no one goes into pre-med hoping to be a lawyer. On the other hand, if you’re not certain, focus on what you hope to gain from your college experience – this is one question where the interviewer will understand that you’re fresh out of high school, so if you have a couple of different ideas floating around in your head, that’s totally fine.
11. Tell us about a tough decision you’ve had to make?
Have an example ready for this one beforehand. The key here is to show your thought process, why the decision was difficult, and the factors that ultimately led you to make your choice. Also, be certain that you made the “morally correct” choice or at least have a strong moral justification for the choice you ultimately made.
12. What makes a great leader?
Whereas a question about a role model could push you to name a family member or close friend, this question calls out for examples from a favourite historical figure or current political/business leader. We suggest using historical figures as your reference points, since their reputations are already established. From there, name a few qualities and tie them back to actions that leader has taken.
13. What type of student are you?
Be honest here (and throughout your college interview). Maybe you’re constantly taking notes, perhaps you ask a lot of questions. Perhaps you learn best by listening and reflecting. This question can teach the school a lot about you, so you’ll want to share examples of how you’ve contributed to classes in your prior academic life.
14. Why You?
This question is the flip side of “Why Us?” – where the school asks you to give reasons why they should admit you. This one should be a slam dunk. You’ll want to give a confident answer without seeming too arrogant, focusing on your prior academic success, track record of extracurricular activities and your personal values. If possible, connect those three areas to how you’ll do in college. For example, how you were a member of the swim team and hope to continue to participate in this activity as part of your college’s team.
15. What school activity have you been most proud of?
This one should provide a lot of options. Focus on an event or project where you took a leadership role, or a personal achievement that stands out from the rest, be it athletic or academic.
16. What does success mean to you?
This can be a bit of a trick question. Don’t say something like “make lots of money”. Instead, focus on the JOURNEY, what role would you like to pursue and what would you contribute to society. You’ll want to include specific examples, for instance: “To me, success would mean achieving X in the field of medicine, making the world a better place by ridding it of ABC disease.”
17. What are you good at?
Go wild. This is one of the easier college interview questions you might be asked, since you probably gave this a lot of thought earlier in the application process – speak about it and let your passion shine through. The important thing here is to be enthusiastic and genuine, rather than delivering a rehearsed speech about something you don’t care about because you think THE SCHOOL wants to hear you say it.
18. How did you spend last summer?
They probably won’t ask about THIS summer, given the Covid-19 situation, but they might go back a little further. This is an opportunity to speak about something cool you did that you didn’t have room or time to include on your college application. Whether it’s a part time job, a vacation or any other activity you took, this is the place to mention it to show off your personality.
19. How would you spend free day without work or school?
Make sure you get specific if this question comes up, and do NOT say you’d get some extra sleep and watch TV or play video games, no matter how true that would be. Highlight some of your daily interests here, whether cooking or art or sports.
20. What convinced you to apply to our school?
Talk about something that impressed you in your interactions with the school, whether conversations with alumni and current students, a campus tour, or the school’s activities in your field of choice. Don’t say “this college interview”—that’s overused.
And there we go—our college interview tips, and the questions to expect in a college interview. If you think you might need more help, take a look at our admissions consulting services. Our crack team of college admissions consultants is always happy to help!