Ultimate Guide to College Interviews

Your voice may never be heard during your college application process unless you are called for a college interview. And this is good news because you will get an opportunity to defend your application and possibly secure a chance. 

Now, there are a ton of colleges that will conduct interviews either before you submit your application or after to help give them a clear picture of who you are. If you don’t know what an interview is, an interview is the exchange of information between you and your college interviewer, but take note that the questions will vary depending on who is interviewing you. 

Why Colleges Interviews?  

College interviews are rarely conducted in some colleges, and they aren’t the determining factors. But college interviews are still beneficial for both parties - students and colleges to gather as much information as possible. 

Now, most colleges invest in interviews to get more information about students that may not have been captured in the transcripts or the application documents. 

Likewise, students can leverage college interviews to know more about their prospective colleges. Also, college interviews will allow you to explain in detail that could have been a red flag in your application documents. In other words, it helps make everything that seemed unclear in your application more clear. 

FAQs to College Interviews 

1. Do all colleges conduct interviews? 

Like I mentioned earlier, some colleges don’t do interviews, but be sure that most Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, Brown, Columbia, among others, leverage interviews. These colleges conduct interviews to supplement the information provided by students in their application process. In some cases, colleges conduct interviews to help their prospective students gain more information about the college they are about to join. 

2. How will I know if my college conducts interviews? 

In most cases, you should find this information on the college’s official website, and if you don’t see this information, make sure you call the admission office and inquire. Usually, you will find the college’s contact information on the contact page. 

3. Is college interview optional

Optional college interviews will, in most cases, be informational, but I still recommend that you attend it. This is because college interviews will allow you to know more about the college you are about to join, as well as the program you are about to enrol in by asking a series of questions during the interview. 

4. Why do colleges conduct interviews? 

There are a ton of reasons why colleges conduct interviews. The general reason is for them to get a clear understanding of who you are. Colleges will invest in interviews to know what your interests are, your strengths and weaknesses, passions, high school experiences, among other things that may not have been captured in your application documents. 

5. Do I need to carry my resume when going for a college interview? 

Some colleges will make it clear that a resume is a requirement, but even if a college doesn’t make it clear, it is still essential that you carry one. 

In your resume, make sure to include what you do as extra-curricular activities, your skills, your referees, work history, internship programs, education experience, among other things. 

Feel free to check out Princeton Review hacks on how you can develop a killer resume.

Getting Ready

1. Weeks before the interview 

  • During these periods, you need to stay informed. 
  • Organize your thoughts about your extracurricular activities so that you can easily talk about them with confidence during the interview. 
  • Do your homework by researching the colleges you are most likely to interview. 

2. 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 help you brainstorm some of the questions that are likely to feature during your interview. 
  • Make sure to prepare the best outfit, or get a new one if you have none. 
  • Start to familiarize with the school - operation hours, as well as the directions. 
  • Learn to prepare a professional resume and prepare one that you will carry when going for the interview. 

3. 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. 
  • Use the possible questions your friend or your relative helped you to brainstorm. 
  • Make sure to confirm when the interview will commence ensuring that you don't get to the interview late. 
  • Go through your resume and correct any mistakes, then print it out together with other documents you might need. 
  • Go to bed early. 

4. Morning of the interview

  • Prepare yourself a good breakfast - not too heavy and not too light. 
  • Recheck the direction of the college to make sure you are choosing the right direction. 
  • Leave the house early enough to make sure that you still arrive early for the interview even if the unexpected, such as a traffic jam occurs. 
  • Switch off your phone at least 30 minutes before the interview commences. 

5. A week after your interview 

  • Sending a thank you note to the college is a good bet. 
  • Do a follow up through email or telephone regarding the application outcome. 

Best Practices and Etiquette

Just like when job hunting, college interviews also have best practices that can help you stand out and secure a place in your most desired college. That is why it is also essential to look at them, so you have a clear understanding of the Dos and Don'ts. 

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

Below is what I recommend that you don't wear or include in your attire when you are going for a college 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 Dos and Don'ts during a college interview. 

1. The Do's

  • Make sure that you have inquired about each college's interview specific before it's late. 
  • 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. 
  • 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 unconfidence. 
  • 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 

Several admission websites, as well as interview guides, will provide you with additional questions to prepare you for the task ahead. As such, I'm going to list some of the most common questions, giving reasons why colleges are asking, what they anticipate in specific response, and finally, how to prepare adequately before the interview. 

#1: "Tell Me About Yourself"

Why colleges are asking you this question: While this is a general question, figuring where to start can be a challenge. However, most institutions will prompt you to answer this question because they are interested in knowing more about you. 

What colleges need to know: Because the interviewers are interested in your unique portrait, give them enough reasons as to why it should be 'you' and not other applicants. Refrain from cliches such as hardworking, instead explain some of the driven factors towards your diligence. 

How you can prepare: Meanwhile, you can talk about your hobbies, passion, and interests. Elaborate on each of them by telling them your inspirations. This way, you can convince them that you're fit for the application.   

#2: "Why Do You Really Want to Join this College?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: Of course, you should have an interest in the college in the picture. This question has a vital role in your application, and as such, you need to be fully prepared. Most colleges will ask this question to leverage your seriousness, as well as interest in attending the school.  

What colleges need to know: Whether it's academics or the cultural values of the school that drove you to the college, you need to be specific. Again, be unique and avoid general answers such as 'you just love the school' as it may not prove your sincere interest in the school.    

How you can prepare: It would help if you do an in-depth search of the specific college before the interview. That way, you'll be able to give precise answers, while also citing specifics. The same applies when writing your application essays. 

#3: "What Would You Like to Specialize in?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: When sending your application, you'll have to major in a specific field of study. As such, you may be prompted to say why you're interested in that particular subject. Colleges will ask this because they want to see whether or not you're a perfect match for that specific field.  

What colleges need to know: You can talk about your inspirations towards that particular subject or why you're passionate about it. Don't say that you're taking the course because it has a broad job marketing, instead give a genuine reason like you'd love to transform the world for a better tomorrow. 

How you can prepare: Thoughtfully say why you're passionate about a specific course, why you find it interesting, what are some of the experiences that drove you towards the major, and finally how you intend to achieve your goals with the subject.    

#4: "Do You Have any Academic Strengths?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: As much as colleges are interested in knowing you as a student, they would also inquire about your academic strengths. 

What colleges need to know: You need to be informed when it comes to this question. Say how you've maximised on your strengths. For example, if you're good at Mathematics, how have you implemented your skills to become proficient? And how do you intend to continue using your strengths? 

How you can prepare: It is essential to identify your academic strengths and plan on making good use of them in the future.  

#5: "Do You Have any Academic Weaknesses? What Measures Have You Taken to Address Them?

Why colleges are asking you this question: It's a no brainer that most colleges are looking forward to admitting only good students who will keep their flag high. Additionally, colleges want to have a sense of your challenges and what you can do to address them. 

What colleges need to know: Colleges are looking for students who are aware of the challenges they are facing and can confront those challenges. It would be best if you outline the strategies you have used to better your academic weaknesses. Also, it would be a plus if you could explain how you were able to perform better in a subject that gave you a hard time. 

How you can prepare: First you need to make sure that you know your weaknesses. Please don't make a mistake of claiming that you have no flaws. Honestly, it's hard to believe that. In fact, you may sound as arrogant, even if you are not. 

#6: "What Value Will You Add to This College?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: Apart from academic excellence, colleges would love to admit students who will contribute positively towards the school. In short, colleges are looking for students with a positive mindset. 

What colleges need to know: Colleges want you to be specific when it comes to this question. Refrain from imprecise positive attributes; instead, get specific as to why you'd love to be admitted to the school. Make it snappy by telling them how your admission will impact the school in both academics and extracurricular activities.   

How you can prepare: Once you've identified your college objectives as well as the extracurricular activities you'd love to pursue, decide on the specific contributions towards the school in the picture. 

#7: "What Are Your Goals in the Next Ten Years?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: Like I mentioned earlier, getting specific shows your genuine interest in the college. As such, get straight to the point and say what your dreams are. Of course, you should have something in mind, even if your plans are likely to change in the future. Most importantly, have a goal that proves your sincerity application.  

What colleges need to know: Colleges want to admit students with direction, and as such, you need to focus on your goal. The dumbest answer you can ever say is that you want to have a fruitful career and be independent. That's obvious, and everyone wants that, after all! Instead, say some of the specific projects you'd love to pursue in the community and how you plan to impact the world for a better tomorrow. 

How you can prepare: In practice, jot down informative answers to this question. Try reflecting your life in the next ten years. This should give you an overview of your projections in life.  

#8: "Is There a Way You’d Make Your High School Better?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: Colleges want to leverage your abilities towards identifying a problem and what your intentions are. Through this, you know some of the things you'd love to modify once you enroll in the college. 

What colleges need to know: Colleges want you to be specific, meaning you'll have to give a thoughtful response. Again, refrain from vague attributes and say how you'd want to contribute positively to the school. For example, if you're an excellent speaker, say how you plan to allocate days precisely for debates so that students can equally participate. 

How you can prepare: It is important to identify your academic pluses, as well as the weaknesses you had in High School. Also, you can identify some particular downfalls while stating the consequences. Finally, say how you plan on improving the problems. 

#9: "Who’s Your Mentor?"

Why colleges are asking you this: This question helps colleges get a better understanding of your values. If you admire Bill Gates, for example, colleges might start thinking of you as an innovative mind. 

What colleges need to know: Don't just name one person and leave it at that. Make sure you elaborate why you love that person you named. For example, if you admire Jeff Bezos, make sure that you elaborate on why you admire him. Perhaps it could be that he was innovative enough to create the largest online retail system that has improved people's lives. 

How you can prepare: You need to have deep thinking of the person you admire. Maybe get quotes from that person, so you can use them to answer some of the questions. This will make your point credible, and the interviewer will know that you genuinely admire that person. 

#10: "Do You Have Any Favourite Book?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: Colleges are asking you this question to help them determine your interests and to see if you are a reader who can't help but read a ton of books. 

What colleges need to know: Don't limit yourself by just giving your favorite book and leaving it at that. Make sure you elaborate on why you love the book, how it inspired you, and how it has shaped your thoughts. 

How you can prepare: Now, you need to think about some other books you read that probably drove you to this favorite book. This will help you explain better why that is your favorite book. Also, make sure that you are updated with the current news. Some colleges may ask you about the latest news. 

#11: "What’s the Main Reason You Want to Further Your Studies?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: Colleges need to know what's motivating you to go for higher education. Are you going for the sake of your parents, or are you trying to fulfill your dreams?

What colleges need to know: Now, colleges want to confirm that you indeed have goals that you want to achieve in life. This makes them see you as someone passionate about something and a go-getter. Colleges will not love to hear that you are pursuing higher education because your parents want you to. This sounds as if you are forced to pursue higher learning, and colleges are not ready to entertain such students. 

How you can prepare: Think about your passions and see if they relate to pursuing higher education. If you’ve always wanted to become a pilot, higher education will be vital to you getting your ambitions. 

#12: "What’s Your Hobby?"

Why colleges are asking you this: Colleges want to get a better understanding of what you do most during your leisure time. This will help determine your personality. 

What colleges need to know: Now, don't get sleazy with this question and start giving only academic-oriented activities. You will sound unrealistic and the interviewer might think of you as a liar. Include non-academic activities such as dancing, watching football, etc. And please take note that general answers are not the best. General answers are like "hanging out." 

How you can prepare: There's nothing much you should prepare because the chances are that you already know what you love doing in your free time. So just go ahead and list them while justifying them at the interview. For example, if you like to sing, give reasons why singing makes a lot more sense to you than any other activity. 

#13: " Have You Encountered any Challenges and How Did You By-pass Them?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: Colleges want to know if there are any challenges you have faced in the past and how you managed to bypass these challenges. Colleges also want to see you as a persistent student who never gives up when something comes across your way. 

What colleges need to know: You must not have an awful challenge. Think of any problem you have faced or that challenged you and how you managed to overcome that challenge. Colleges only need to know the challenge and how you were able to overcome it. 

How you can prepare: You need to start by thinking about a challenge you had in the past, then reflect on how you managed to bypass the problem. What did you do differently? Did it work?  

#14: "Are You Unique and What Makes You Different?"

Why colleges are asking you this question: This is a question that encloses other questions. It is important to note that every other person is unique, but in what way are you unique? Colleges are asking this to affirm the answers you gave in the previous questions. In other words, it's a summary of what you have answered. 

What colleges need to know: Colleges want to know you better. They want to know if the answers you gave above matches your personality. And as I said, this is a summary question. 

How you can prepare: For this question, I recommend that you list down specific anecdotes that showcase your unique personality. For example, consider what makes you comfortable or proud of yourself. 

What Questions Should I Ask? 

1. "Do You Have any Advice For New Students?"

You want to ask this question because whoever will be interviewing you already knows more about the college, so he or she should be able to give you insights you may not get from the college brochure. 

2. "Are There Internship Opportunities For Students in This College?"

You want to ask this question to know how the college will help you achieve your dreams. Additionally, this question makes the interviewer see you as someone serious and want to get the best out of your education. 

3. "Do Students Have Leisure and How Do They Spend it in This College?"

You should ask this question to know other activities that the college has to offer you. Does the school have sports games, music, among other extracurricular activities? Asking this question could also help you familiarize yourself with the school culture before you officially get admitted. 

4. "Is There a Way You’d Better This College?"

You would want to ask this question to know if the college has any shortcomings. This will help you prepare for any challenges the college is facing if your application will be accepted. Additionally, this information can influence whether or not you will accept the college if they offer you a chance. 

5. "Are There Issues Students Worry About and What’s the Administration Doing About it?"

This will give you a better understanding of what other students are interested in and whether or not the college is working towards them. 

What You Can 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 that mood not shake you. Maintain professionalism and make sure to answer all the questions as asked by your interviewer.  

Sample Exercise Questions 

  • 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? 

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. 

But you need to know that college interviews will not change your test scores or change the decision of the college if they had made a decision earlier. 

This ultimate guide to college interviews should help you prepare well for your interview and get the best out of it. Well wishes with your interview.