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The Ultimate Guide to College Interviews

There are a couple of reasons why colleges set up these interviews. It is either to conduct an official meeting to gauge the applicant or use the meeting to have a casual, easy-going conversation with the applicant and respond to any college-related queries like campus life, research possibilities, etc.

A Cornell University alumni who interviewed applicants states that his brief while interviewing applicants was to concentrate on checking if the applicant was suitable for the university and vice versa. While doing so, the applicant was given the opportunity to discuss anything that wasn’t mentioned in his application – for instance, a challenging life situation, an unusual aptitude, or a latter-day achievement.

The following is all you need to know if you have a college interview coming up:

Getting Ready

1. The week before your interview 

  • The week before your interview, make sure to structure some questions that you will ask your interviewer. 
  • Get a friend or relative who can conduct a mock interview for you
  • Know what you are going to wear – make sure its appropriate
  • Know the directions to the interview locations
  • If the interview is online, make sure which application will be used (zoom, meet, etc)
  • Prepare a professional resume that you will carry when going for the interview. 

2. A day before your interview 

  • A day before the interview, review the information you have gathered about the college and make sure to talk about it during the interview. 
  • Conduct another mock interview
  • Double check the interview time and location. 
  • Go through your resume and correct any mistakes, then print it out together with other documents you might need. 
  • Go to bed early.

3. Morning of the interview

  • Have a heavy breakfast – it will help churn the creative juices during the interview
  • Recheck the direction of the college to make sure you are choosing the right direction. 
  • Leave the house early enough so you reach there 15-30 mins early 
  • Switch off your phone at least 30 minutes before the interview commences. 

4. Day after your interview 

  • Sending a thank you note to your interviewer
  • Do a follow up through email or telephone regarding the application outcome. 

What’s the best attire? 

Before you decide on the outfit, please make sure that you have inquired with your college because different colleges have different attire considerations. 

Generally choosing a business casual outfit is a good bet for a college interview. That said, below are what is safe to wear: 

  • Collared, or button shirt
  • Slacks
  • You can put on a skirt or dress with a considerable knee length. 
  • Closed-toe shoes

The following is what you should not wear to an interview: 

  • Open-toed shoes
  • Hats
  • Excessive makeup
  • Sneakers
  • T-shirt
  • Flip-flops 
  • Excessive cologne
  • Shorts

Now that you have a better understanding of what you should and should not wear, let's look at the Do's and Don'ts during a college interview. 

1. The Do's

  • A firm handshake with the interviewer shows you are confident enough. 
  • Be honest with every question you will be asked and don't pretend to know every answer when you don't. 
  • Avoid religion or political issues during the interview. 
  • Have a list of priorities you'd want to talk about during the interview. 
  • It’s okay to be witty. 
  • Be inquiring – ask questions as well.
  • Elaborate your answers to make sure the interviewer has enough information to capture. 

2. The Don'ts 

  • Slow yourself down when stumped with a question. 
  • Avoid sounding as if you rehearsed. 
  • Avoid getting personal. 
  • Don't brag. 
  • Foul language is a big NO. 
  • Avoid the use of slang. 
  • Yawning is a sign you are bored, so avoid by all means. 
  • Don't let your parents come along with you for an interview. 
  • Chewing gum is unprofessional. 
  • Mumbling is a sign of under confidence. 
  • Avoid behaving in a way suggesting you are rude. 
  • Avoid getting into the interview room with a script. 
  • Don't guess answers. 

You must know that interviews are meant to provide additional information. They won't change your test scores, but they do create a better picture of yourself to the college administration.

College Interview Most Common Questions 

The following are the most common questions you are going to be asked. Please ensure you have rehearsed answers for all these questions prior.

1. Can you describe yourself briefly?

Usually, interview questions in college begin with this one. Like all interview questions in college, use this opportunity to talk about yourself and leave a lasting impression. Use examples to convey a quality - like ‘I keep adding numbers on car number plates to sharpen my mind’. This will be more memorable than simply saying that you like to keep challenging your mind.

What not say:
While answering interview questions in college, don’t talk about your academic achievements or grades, etc. All that information will be already there in your application. 

2. Why do you want to pursue higher studies?

This question in a college interview is asked to gauge your academic goals and what drives you. Talk about what you want to achieve, how studying at college will broaden your outlook and help you to become intellectually and emotionally stronger.

What not say:
In reply to interview questions in college, never say you are doing it because your parents want you to or because it is the normal course of events in one’s educational life.

3. Why do you want to pursue higher studies in this college?

Some interview questions in college may seem tame but your answer will convey a lot. Prepare this answer thoroughly as it is one of the most important interview questions for college admissions. Every college wants to know why you have chosen them so research about the college and talk about what attracts you to the college – the college’s core beliefs/mission, the program, the reputation, student culture, and campus life. Your answer should convey your keenness to attend college.

What not say:
In response to interview questions in college, a big no-no is to say that you want to study at the college because of its proximity to your home or because of the college’s ranking. 

4. What program do you want to major in?

Most interview questions for college admissions are asked to know what’s not there in your application. If you haven’t indicated your preferred major in your application, this is your chance at the college interview to talk about what major you are aspiring for. And if you have already mentioned it in your application, talk about why you are drawn to that major and why you are ardent about it.

What not say:
In no college interview should you ever say that you are pursuing a major because it has good career prospects and will give you job security.

5. What do you hope to achieve from this program?

Questions college interviewers ask are always sequential. Answer this college interview question by mention your career goals – e.g. law or business administration and if your chosen major is not directly linked to a career, do some research and have an apt and valid answer for your college interview.

What not say:
Never respond to such interview questions in college by saying you want to follow in the footsteps of your father or uncle or to make good money.

6. What are your strengths?

At a college interview, it’s hard to talk about your strengths without sounding pompous so you should mention your strengths with examples. To convey how disciplined you are about keeping time, e.g., mention how you are always on time in class project submissions, etc. and mention incidents to further strengthen your answer. Examples will be better remembered.

What not say:
Interview questions for college admissions give you an opportunity to be elaborate so don’t just list out your strengths or praise yourself endlessly.

7. What are your academic weaknesses?

Such interview questions in college are meant to evaluate how aware you are about yourself. Use examples of the challenges you have tried to overcome. It could be e.g., ‘I’m a bit weak in Math so I studied right through my vacations to get better’. This will indicate that you identified your weakness and then dealt with it.

What not say:
Do not grandly announce at a college interview that you have no weaknesses.

8. How do you utilize your spare time?

This is another of many questions college interviewers ask to know you better. Your hobbies and interests are a reflection of who you are so even if your interests aren’t linked academically, talk about it. 

You may be pursuing music or learning a foreign language – mention anything that conveys how fruitfully you utilize your time.

What not say:
Don’t blunder by saying that you like chatting with friends on social media.

9. If accepted, how will you contribute to this institution?

This college interview question is asked to see how much you know of the college and how well you will fit in. Prepare your answer with ample research of all the extracurricular activities at the college and what all you can participate in besides your academic pursuits. You may be a good sportsman and aspire to become part of the college team.

What not say:
Never respond sketchily to interview questions in college and vaguely mention how you will contribute to making it a better place for students etc.

10. Which other colleges have you applied to?

This question at the college interview can be awkward but it’s best to respond honestly. Even if you have applied to a rival college, mention it without hesitation – who knows, they may find you even more interesting.

What not say:
Don’t pretend that you haven’t applied anywhere else.

11. Given a chance, what would you improve in your high school?

Your answer at the college interview will help the college understand your ability to see a problem and come up with a workable solution. Be precise in mentioning the problem and giving the solution. Your clarity of thought should come through.

What not say:
Some interview questions in college are bait. Don’t fall for it and malign your high school by finding fault and saying ungracious things about it.

12. What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?

You may not have thought so far into the future and like most interview questions in college, this one is asked to size you up and understand how inspired you are. Be honest and talk about your academic and career goals as also what you dream of doing in life – you may want to set up an orphanage. 

What not say:
In reply to such interview questions in college don’t simply say that you see yourself well entrenched in your career and contributing positively to the world.

13. Have there been any challenging events in life that you overcame?

Talk specifically in response to such interview questions for college admissions. Mention how you dealt with it. If you have been fortunate in having it smooth sailing, you can still talk elaborately about a challenging problem you overcame – e.g., learning to swim even though you suffered from hydrophobia. Your answer will convey  persistence in dealing with a problem and overcoming it.

What not say:
In your college interview don’t underplay your struggle to overcome a challenge however insignificant it may feel.

14. What motivates you?

This question at a college interview is meant to know what drives you and keeps you going. Reply honestly and with passion – it could be the major that you want to pursue or looking forward to working in a multinational company.

What not say:
Don’t say I want to own a few Lamborghinis one day - do not talk about material things being motivational factors in any college interview.

15. Who has inspired you? Whom do you admire?

By asking this question at the college interview, they want to understand your values and priorities so mention in detail who you admire and have found inspiring. It could be your parents’ constant endeavour for excellence – talk about it with instances. 

What not say:
Your answer to such interview questions in college can be a giveaway. Don’t mention that you admire a smalltime entertainment star whose popularity is like a flash in the pan.

16. Which is your favourite book?

This question at the college interview aims to check if you really read and to understand what your reading interests are. Talk about a book that has inspired you or a character in the book that you have an affinity with and how it has shaped your values and the way you think.

What not say:
Never respond to interview questions in college briefly. Don’t just name the title of a book and stop there.

17. How are you unique?

This question at the college interview is another way of asking you what’s special about you. Each of us is unique and has events that have shaped us into who we are. So think this one through of how you project yourself as being different from others. Use incidents from your life to showcase your uniqueness.  

What not say:
Don’t respond awkwardly at your college interview even if you can’t praise yourself.

18. Do you want to ask us anything?

By asking this question at the college interview, the college gives you a chance to know more about the college. So do ample research and ask questions that will impact you as a student. It could be about life on the campus for an international student – e.g., the food.  

What not say:
At a college interview, don’t ask questions that you can find answers to on the college website or the Internet.

Additional Questions to Expect 

  • What motivates you to join this school ? 
  • What drives you to pursue higher learning? 
  • Have you faced any bad or good experiences? 
  • Did you have a role back in your high school? If yes, tell me what it was and how you performed the role. 
  • Do you have any negative and positive experiences? 
  • Do you have dreams or projections in your life? 
  • What makes you unique from other students we are yet to admit into this college? 
  • Why have you chosen this college over the other colleges? 
  • What has been your motto, and since when? 
  • What do you spend most of your time doing? 
  • Why do you think we should consider your application to join this college? 
  • What's driving you towards this program? 
  • Is there any role model you have? Who is he or she and why is he or she your role model? 
  • Have you ever felt challenged? How did you by-pass the challenge? 
  • What are the extracurricular activities you participate in? 

What Can You Do If You Interview Doesn't Go As Expected

1. If you miss an interview

If you're unable to make it to the interview, please inform the interviewer ahead of time so that they can reschedule. If an emergency happens to occur on the D-day, make sure you contact your interviewer immediately, apologizing for your inability to attend. Request the interviewer to postpone the interview to a later time.   

2. If your cell phone is ringing 

You should switch off your mobile phone or set it in a silent mode to avoid interruptions. If you did not switch off your phone and someone starts calling, kindly excuse yourself, switch it off, and apologize.  

3. If you meet a rude interviewer

Interviewers are humans like you, so it's normal to find them in a bad mood. If that's the case, remain calm and let it not affect you. Maintain professionalism and make sure to answer all the questions as asked by your interviewer.  

Ending the interview and follow up

The interviewer will end the interview – you do not need to worry about it. At the end, ask for a business card or email address. This way you can personally follow up with a thank you email the next day. Always remember to share hands and smile to leave a good impression.

Video Resources

1. College interview at Cambridge University

2. Mock College interview at Oxford University

Students sharing their perspectives on the college interview at Yale University:

Bottom Line 

College interviews are critical, and you must take each of them seriously. It's an opportunity to defend your application and increase your chances of getting your application accepted. 

Wish you all the best for your interview.