College Interview Questions 101
Is your student nervous about facing a college interview? That’s certainly understandable! The good news is that there’s a lot they can do to prepare in advance.
Keep in mind that although many interviews at prestigious schools are part of the evaluation, the reality is that the interview is a place where your student can really shine.
Help your student see that coming alive – beyond the paper of an essay – is a huge advantage as they look to stand out from other applicants. Then, you can help them prepare and practice for the interview itself.
College Interview Questions to Expect
College interviews are generally conducted by an alum at a coffee shop or other local location. The goal of the interview is to get to know your student and find out what makes them unique among other applicants.
Also, schools want to see that your child is genuinely interested in attending their particular program, as opposed to applying to dozens of places and hoping for the best.
Here are some questions that are common, and how to answer them confidently.
“Tell me about yourself.” This question is a standard at every interview your child will ever take part in, so they may as well get started practicing an answer! The key for a school interview is for your student to focus on the parts of their story that relate to their education and their desire to attend that particular college.
Be memorable, but avoid being too personal or emotional, especially since this is likely the first question!
“Why are you interested in this school?” Universities and colleges are looking for students that are committed to them and truly interested in their programs. Help your student practice an answer that relates to a specific academic program, not just answers about prestige. Your child can also share interest in the school’s mission or specific extracurricular activities.
“What are your strengths and weaknesses, academically?” This will probably be asked as two separate questions, but understanding personal strengths and weaknesses is an important part of self-knowledge as well as preparing for an interview. Don’t say there are no weaknesses! Everyone has challenges, and it’s OK to admit them as long as you talk about how you are also addressing them.
“What will you contribute at our school?” The university or college wants to know, beyond academics, what your student hopes to do on campus. Do they want to participate in student government, Greek life, or specific club sports? Giving clear answers is vital – being vague makes it seem like your student has thought much about college life.
“What is your favorite…” Whether the questions are about a favorite book, free-time activity, or other pursuit, this gives the interviewer a chance to know your student more deeply. Help your student give not just a title or activity, but an explanation of why they enjoy it so much.
Here’s a surprise question shared by someone in our Facebook group, Paying For College 101:
“One question that my daughter was unprepared for was a specific question about the school’s curriculum. They asked something to the effect of – what classes really jazz you that you can take at XX school? She hadn’t spent any time looking at course listings.”
Questions to Ask the College Interviewer
When the interview is over, your student is likely to be asked, “So, you have any questions for me?”
The answer is always YES!
One parent in our group gave this advice:
“Also have (your student) have some questions ready for her to ask the interviewer. Like: what are some of your favorite memories/classes/experiences at/of XX college?”
Many young people are so relieved to be done that they say no and simply scoot out of there as fast as they can. Your student can take advantage of an additional opportunity to stand out by asking insightful questions of the interviewer.
Of course, these questions aren’t just to impress the interviewer – they also help your student get key insights into the school to help them make their final decision.
Here are some ideas:
- What is a typical weekend or night like on campus?
- What was your favorite part of attending this school?
- What’s one thing you would change about this college?
- What do you wish you knew as an incoming freshman at this school?
- Why did you choose this college over other options you had?
Another parent shared this idea:
“A great question is to ask about a tradition or yearly event on campus they are interested in.”
Don’t ask questions that are easily answered by reading the college’s website. Instead, try to get the interviewers specific insight and view into how the school works and why your child might want to go there.
It Pays to Be Prepared
Getting ready for any interview can be nerve-wracking, but with practice your child can ace the experience. If they’re nervous, have them meet an adult friend or relative at a coffee shop and practice their answers.
The goal is not to memorize answers and sound robotic, but to simply have talking points. It’s fine if your student takes notes with them. Being prepared and genuine is all that’s needed.
Here’s what one parent had to say about her daughter’s experience:
“My daughter talked about how she was excited to join their running club if she did not make the CC team and about a class she had sat in on and enjoyed. Just make your answers relate back to what you know about the school and why it is a good fit for you.”
Peg Wahrman, a professional career counselor at Wahrman Career Counseling, suggests:
“If you’re scheduled for a college interview make sure you practice beforehand. Doing an interview puts a face to the name and lets the school know more about you. If it is required, or you chose to do one, the most important thing you can do is be prepared. Go on the school’s website, be knowledgeable, and have some these types of questions at the ready.
Here are 7 interview tips I give my clients to make sure they are prepared:
- First ask a question to show you have been listening to the interviewer, expand on something that they already mentioned.
- Ask something specific about their school, traditions that you have heard about, specific programs that they offer.
- Why should you choose their school vs. other schools that are similar in nature? What makes them special?
- What is the general atmosphere like on campus? Does it change at different times?
- Ask them to describe dorm life. How long do students stay in dorms, when do they move off campus? How is living off campus different?
- Study abroad is very popular with students these days. Ask about their programs, how many students participate and do they have campus in other countries.
- Of course my favorite is what services does the Career planning office offer? You are most likely going to college to get a job. What is their placement ratio? How do they help you? Do they help you get internships? When does their career planning begin?
With these questions in your pocket, and having done your research on the school, you should feel very confident walking into an interview. So put on your smile, and good luck!”
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