College Interviews


How Do College Interviews Work?

Most competitive colleges will offer interviews to their applicants. We highly recommend signing up for an interview even if the college says it’s optional. Most of the time, the interviews will be conducted by alumni who live near you often at a local coffee shop. Do your research on your interviewer by looking at their LinkedIn or other online resources. Bring a resume to the meeting (see Dollar Scholars tips to building a high school resume here), but don’t be surprised if the interviewer is not allowed to accept it. We recommend making flashcards and/or a google doc with basic questions and bullet points. Business casual dress is appropriate (see Dollar Scholars tips for interview outfits here).



Common Questions Asked at College Interviews:


1. Tell me about yourself.

  • This question may be phrased as formally as we have it listed or your interviewer may indirectly ask this when they tell you to introduce yourself. Either way, it is the most important question in the interview. Spend about 1-2 minutes on this answer. You only make one first impression, so make it count!



DO:

  • Talk about your professional experience (this doesn’t have to be prior work jobs but can be camps, workshops, extracurriculars)

  • Indirectly talk about the qualities that make you the perfect candidate by giving examples not name dropping adjectives

  • Give examples/number figures when possible

  • End with telling them why you want to go to the school

DON’T:

  • Answer this question with lots of details - save some examples for the rest of the interview

  • Tell your whole life story

  • Spend a lot of time talking about your personal life - they will see your personality in other ways

  • Name drop - don’t give a laundry list of adjectives such as “I’m ambitious, motivated, a quick learner, and responsible”

2. Why are you interested in this college?

  • You’ll need to do your research on the school that you’re interviewing for to prepare for this question. Be sure to have specifics ready; what exactly drew you to apply for this school? Maybe it was a particularly strong academic program (something that not every school offers) that piqued your interest and some professors or classes you have looked up online, or a cultural group that seemed to be the perfect fit for you. Maybe it’s their musical theatre program, or their undergraduate research opportunities. Or its size and location. Regardless of what you’re interested in, make sure to communicate your passion by providing specific examples, showing the effort that you put into researching the school and learning about the community. The point that you want to get across is that you’re super interested in this college and that you actually want to contribute to its community.

3. Tell me about a time when you were a leader?

  • A leadership role doesn’t have to be major; it’s totally okay if you aren’t the Captain of a sports team or the President of a student organization. Remember that leadership manifests itself differently in different people, and your interviewer isn’t there to listen to you rattle off your leadership accomplishments. Rather, the interviewer wants to hear about your leadership skills, even in a situation where you weren’t necessarily in a titled leadership position. Take some time to think about what makes you, specifically, a strong leader. Maybe it’s your empathy, your patience, or even your ability to lighten the mood in tense situations. Then, pick a story where these skills have helped you succeed in a leadership role, regardless of how trivial it may seem. Maybe you’ve had to train someone at work, or maybe you decided to take the lead in planning a class presentation in a group project. Structure this story by contextualizing the situation, explaining how you applied your leadership skills, and the results of the actions that you took. If you can, briefly explain how you were able to overcome an obstacle to being a strong leader.

5. What do you want to major in/study? Why?

  • This question is again about showing passion not only for the subject that you’d like to study, but also the major program that you are applying to be a part of. You again want to bring in examples of how you’ve pursued this academic interest in the past, even if they seem to be insignificant. If you’re applying as undeclared, don’t worry! Lots of people apply without one specific major in mind, and this is totally reasonable. That being said, you’ll still want to have some direction to speak about with your interviewer. If you’re conflicted between vastly different majors, elaborate on this and explain how you plan to go about deciding your major once you’re actually taking classes. Speak about relevant professors, classes, related extracurricular activities, annual department events, and research opportunities that the school has to offer - all of this information is available on the school’s department pages!

6. What will you add to our college?

  • The student body of a school is a major defining trait, and thus colleges reasonably want their students to contribute meaningfully to the school’s community. Essentially, they’re looking for students who are excited to engage in extracurricular activities, take on leadership roles, and really become a part of that college’s community. Again, you’ll want to bring up specific examples of where you see yourself contributing to and enriching the community. Student clubs, community service organizations, campus jobs, and cultural groups are all great examples to have in mind.

7. What are your academic strengths?

  • Rather than answering this question by stating subjects you are good at, instead expand on why you excel at that subject. For example, I work well with numbers because I have an analytical mindset and am problem-solving oriented. Thus, I excel at subjects like Math and Finance. If you can, take the time to expand on a project that used these skills.

What are your academic weaknesses?

  • Similar to strengths, don’t list your least favorite subjects. Instead, pick a skill such as public speaking. However, regardless of your answer make sure to include how you have taken steps to improve. For example, with public speaking maybe you purposely signed yourself up to give a presentation versus a different project offered. The biggest tip is just be honest - saying you have no weaknesses will come off as arrogant. But don’t finish the answer on a negative note - show you have improved or are working to improve.

Where do you see yourself in 5 (or 10 years)?

  • A lot of students get tripped up over this question. One thing that’s important to realize is that no interviewer expects you to have your life figured out at 17. It’s okay if your answer doesn’t end up coming to fruition (your interviewer will never know)! A great answer is to focus on a career that seems interesting to you (this can be found in a 30-minute google search a few days before the interview). Feel free to tell the interviewer two careers that interest you. Focus on the soft skills that these jobs require and how both you and the professionals in these careers exhibit that. If you have experience with these areas (classes or extracurriculars), include a story about your experience and how much you enjoyed it. Or perhaps you can share that you have a mentor in this industry, a teacher or parent who suggested it to you, books you have read about it, or online research you conducted that shows it would be interesting.

  • Make sure to be fairly realistic with your answers. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that any of us will become the CEO of Google a year after graduation, but you can say that starting and owning a technology company like Google is your ultimate dream and show your ambition (if this is really the truth and you have taken steps to show your interest in this industry)!

What’s your favorite book/give me a book recommendation?

  • The great thing about this type of question is that there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, answer honestly and explain what you learned from this book or how it made you think differently even if it was just for a second. By no means does your favorite book have to be a super long and heavy classic, it can be a fun novel you have read too. You shouldn’t pick a book you read 10 years ago, and try to stray away from a super common book like “Harry Potter.” The key with this one is honesty. After all you don’t want to say you have read a book and then unexpectedly have to discuss it with your interviewer!

Ending The Interview:

Your interviewer will most likely end the interview by answering your questions. DON’T ask about your acceptance chances - they most likely won’t know, and it will also leave a bad impression. Also, don’t ask about statistics that you can find online. Instead use this time to learn more about the college experience firsthand. Additionally, if your interviewer is in a field you are interested in, feel free to ask about that. General rule of thumb: people love to talk about themselves, so it’s hard to go wrong here.


Some example questions:

  1. What was your favorite part about attending ___? (If an alumni)

  2. Why did you choose this school?

  3. How can a student be successful at ___ (insert college name)?

  4. Is there a large alumni network in our area? How did you utilize the alumni network when you were in school, and how have you after?

  5. What is the ___ (insert academic or personal interest) community like? What is the ___ (insert school name) community/culture like?

  6. If you change one thing if you went back to college, what would you change or do differently?

  7. What was your best academic/extracurricular experience on campus?

Photo Credit: Photo by Gustavo from Pexels