Common College Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Hands of an interviewer and candidate
September 19, 2023
15 min read


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 9/19/23

Need some advice on how to ace your college interview? This guide is for you. Here, we will help you by listing the most common college interview questions and how to answer them.

An interview

Just like you seek the best schools to add to your dream list, colleges also look for the best candidates to fill their seats. 

College interviews are a crucial part of the admissions process, not only for yourself but also for the school. Preparing for college interviews can help reduce anxiety and allow you to enjoy the experience. An interview does not have to be scary; if you come prepared, it can be fun and boost your confidence, along with your chances of being accepted.

Here, we will discuss the top 15 common college interview questions and the best possible answers to help you prepare, along with some general tips.

Which Schools Offer College Interviews? 

Many well-respected universities offer interviews for admission, including many Ivy League schools. These interviews may be required or optional depending on the school. Here are some of the top schools that offer college admission interviews:

Many schools that do not offer general admission interviews do still require interviews for some scholarships. Many of the questions below also double as scholarship interview questions.

Common College Interview Questions (Sample Questions and Answers)

Here is a list of the most common questions asked in college interviews. We’ll analyze each question and offer an example of how you can approach your response. 

1. How Would You Describe Yourself to Someone Who Did Not Know You?

What they want to know: Colleges ask this question to know more about your passion, interests, and quirks. It requires you to demonstrate that you are more than just a name on an application. Use this question to showcase who you are as a person.

Example answer

"I am a people person. I enjoy meeting and working with a lot of different people, and I am known for being a great listener and clear communicator..."

Why we like it: It has the right amount of details and doesn’t overshare. The answer is clear and concise, showing the interviewer that you have a good work ethic and are easygoing.

2. What Do You Expect to Be Doing X Years From Now?

What they want to know: Your interviewer wants to know your ambitions after graduating and how you will use what you learned in their institution in the real world. There is a good chance that you might not know exactly what you will be doing years after graduation. However, even a basic outline of goals is an acceptable answer.

If You Know What You Want To Do

If you already have a set plan, this question should be easy to answer. Nonetheless, you should elaborate further. Explain why you want to pursue the career path you chose. What interested you about the field? What do you hope to accomplish?

Example answer

“I am eager to continue developing my academic skills in graduate school. I have noticed that many graduates with my credentials tend to seek higher education before entering the job field, which interests me with my X-year plan.”

Why we like it: It tells the interviewer that you are interested in continuing your education and shows you want to prepare before jumpstarting your career.

If You Don’t Know What You Want To Do

The interviewer doesn’t expect you to know exactly what you will be doing years from now.  When facing this question, it is important to show that you have put some thought into your response, analyzing the relationship between your dream school and your future.

Example answer

"I am not sure what I will be doing X years from now, but what I do want to do is help people with their problems. Once in college, I plan to take sociology and psychology classes to get a good idea of my career options."

Why we like it: This answer displays your uncertainty, but it also depicts your way of thinking. It shows that you’ve taken time to think about your future and are able to create a broad idea of your career paths.

3. Why Are You Interested in Pursuing Your Major?

What they want to know: Colleges ask this question because some college students go into their educational programs with little idea of what they will study. This question permits you to show you have at least a plan during your college career. It would help if you answered with honesty and explained the reason for choosing your major. 

Example answer

"I am interested in a career in political science because I feel like my generation should be involved with the development of our nation. I also feel that my generation has an equal responsibility to contribute to our nation and I hope by studying political science that I can inspire more young people to take part in our country's governmental processes."

Why we like it: Your knowledge about the major you are pursuing demonstrates that you have drive and passion. It also showcases your integrity in giving back to the world and making it a better place.

4. What Skills Do You Expect to Develop Throughout Your Program?

What they want to know: This question assesses your ability to self-reflect, identify your weaknesses, and discuss how you plan to improve them. Your answer should include one or two primary skills you want to work on.

Example answer

"In high school, my research writing wasn't as strong as I would have liked, and I continue to build my skills in this area. I took some writing workshops and hired a tutor to help me. After figuring out which methods I was most comfortable with, I was able to improve my research writing skills dramatically. I hope that through my educational program I can further develop this skill to become an efficient researcher and writer."

Why we like it: You talk about an academic skill that was not up to par during your high school years. It is a skill that is essential for excelling in college, and you wish to work on it in order to get top grades during your program. You took the initiative to work on the issue and were able to remedy it. It shows you are willing to improve on your weaknesses.

5. Do You Plan to Continue Your Education?

What they want to know: This is a more direct version of question #2. It is acceptable to say you are not sure if you want to continue your education. What’s most important is that you demonstrate that you have put some thought into your future and that you answer honestly. 

Example answer

"I can see myself pursuing a higher degree after undergraduate school, though I do not quite know yet if that is something I want to do. I feel like I will have a better idea of my higher education goals after attending my program for a while."

Why we like it: Though you note that you are not 100% sure if you want to pursue a graduate degree, this response demonstrates that you have started thinking about your future. It shows critical thinking and honesty.

6. What Career Fields Interest You?

What they want to know: This question assesses your interests and evaluates the programs you would best qualify for. You can narrow down your interests to two or three careers related to your major.

Example answer

"I honestly don't know what I will be doing after graduation, but I know I would love to pursue a career in law, legislation or another political field."

Why we like it: You are being honest that you do not know what you specifically want to do but have solid ideas of what you would like to get into with your major.

7. Tell Me About an Academic Challenge You Faced. What Did You Do to Overcome It?

What they want to know: There is no such thing as a challenge-free school experience. This question asks you to show that you have the honesty and bravery to admit you went through a tough time and the lessons you may have learned from it.

Example answer

"Like many students, I suffer from test anxiety. My academic performance outside of exams was typically top-notch, but my nerves were hard to overcome when it came to tests. Luckily, I discovered an approach that worked for me. Studying continuously in small doses made me more confident in my knowledge and made the material easier to absorb. I also joined study groups for subjects I found more challenging, giving me an additional resource and source of confidence. This allowed me to avoid cramming, which would often amp up my anxiety.
Additionally, I learned a breathing technique that I can use for the exam. It is subtle and straightforward, allowing me to calm my nerves and regain my focus whenever the need arises. Together with the studying techniques, I can perform at my best during tests, ensuring I can showcase my understanding of a subject with greater ease."

Why we like it: You offered an issue that plagues most students but came up with a unique solution that worked for you. You went step by step on approaching the issue through trial and error until you found the best possible way to fix it. You have shown that you had a weakness and were not afraid to ask for help. 

8. What Are Some Academic Goals You Hope to Accomplish in College?

What they want to know: This question requires you to evaluate your motivation and work ethic in your education. Share any specific goals you have in your answer, whether short-term or long-term.

Example answer

"I would love to increase my knowledge of applied mathematics and earn top scores in my political science classes by the end of my first year in college. I feel that by accomplishing these goals, I can further develop my critical and creative thinking."

Why we like it: You are talking about utilizing your skills in a particular subject to achieve a set goal in a reasonable time frame. Your response tells the interviewer that you are dedicated to putting your skills to good work as well as trying to enhance them. This tells them that you are a hard worker who believes there is always room for improvement. 

9. How Will You Contribute to Our University?

What they want to know: This type of question may need a bit of preparation in advance. You should research the college you applied to, learn about the student experience, what they find pride in, and maybe any charities or partnerships their departments may have. 

You have to take time and personalize your answer. Do not just say, "I will be a good student and earn good grades." It would be best if you explained the specific ways you plan to contribute to your prospective university. Talk about a quality of yours that helps you stand out from other applicants, then back it up by talking about a past accomplishment or anecdote.

Example answer

“I was very involved with my high school political science club. Since I will be majoring in political science, I hope to join the club here, too, so I can continue developing my skills in that subject."

Why we like it: What makes this answer work is that you are connecting something unique you did in high school and expressing your interest in recreating it in college. Being able to shift your goals to college shows you wish to continue your success and would be great in helping the college's reputation. 

If you were good at being a treasurer, you could use those skills as the treasurer of the new club. If you were able to schedule special events, you could use your event planning skills for this club as well. It’s all about adjusting to the new environment and transferring your skills to facilitate it.

10. Can You Describe a Challenging Situation You’ve Faced and How You Handled It?

What they want to know: Colleges ask this question to assess your problem-solving skills. They are trying to learn how you might face difficult situations in the future and if you will crumble under pressure or rise to the challenge. Your response will help them know how you will function within the demanding college environment. 

Example answer

“In my role as Editor-in-Chief of my high school newspaper, I was in charge of a small writing team. Two of my team members had a personal conflict that was affecting their work on the paper and the culture of the team. I took each of them aside individually and listened to their perspectives. Then, I facilitated a conversation with them both, where we were able to resolve the conflict and move forward as a team.”

Why we like it: This answer succinctly describes the challenging situation and highlights how you took action to overcome it. You also avoid speaking negatively about your team members and focus on the positive outcome of your actions. This shows that you are willing to step into difficult circumstances with a positive attitude.

11. What Do You Like to Do for Fun?

What they want to know: This question is a chance for your interviewer to get a window into your personality and passions. This will help them assess the kind of energy you will bring to the college community and if you align with the culture. 

Example answer

“I really enjoy cooking. I experiment with a new recipe every Sunday evening and while some are disastrous, it’s always fun finding a good meal and adding it to my arsenal. And I never stop trying to tweak my recipes to perfection; except for my grandma’s meatballs.”

Why we like it: Your answer shows aspects of your personality -- that you’re adventurous and willing to try new things -- and also demonstrates an eagerness to learn and improve your skills. 

12. What Extracurricular Activities Have You Been Involved In, And What Leadership Roles Have You Held?

What they want to know: This question is similar to asking what you like to do for fun, but with a twist. Colleges want to know how your interests and passions take shape within an academic context; if you’re passionate enough to pursue your hobbies in school. They also ask about leadership roles because they’re interested in assessing your ambition and leadership capabilities. 

Example answer

“I’ve been involved in school athletics since I was a freshman. I joined the varsity basketball team as a freshman and became team captain in my junior year. I think that being on a team has taught me a lot about working well with others and communicating well. I also think that as team captain, I’ve learned how to take charge when I need to and to encourage others when they’re feeling down.”

Why we like it: Your answer shows not only a passion for and commitment to a certain activity (basketball), but you also talk about what you learned from that activity and how you’ve grown from being a leader in that context. 

13. Whom Do You Most Admire?

What they want to know: The interviewer wants to know more about your motivations and values. It also demonstrates what you respect in other people and, therefore, what kind of person you yourself strive to be like. You might choose a family member, a personal mentor, or a well-known figure in pop culture.

Example answer

“I have always admired my mother most of all. As a single mother, she works incredibly hard to support me and my siblings, but she never gets discouraged. She is caring and empathetic and treats everyone she meets with respect and kindness, even if she’s tired or busy. As a health sciences student, I hope to one day be a nurse so that I can help others and treat them with the same compassion that my mother does.”

Why we like it: Your personal answer shows your interviewer what you care about and the kind of person you want to become. You also tie your personal aspirations to your goals at college, which demonstrates that this school is a good place for you to realize your aspirations.

14. Describe a Book, Article, or Idea That Has Held a Significant Impact on You.

What they want to know: Your answer to this question will tell colleges what kinds of ideas or thoughts you entertain or spend time thinking about. This will help them understand your goals, aspirations, and passions. From there, they will evaluate whether your passions align with the vision of the school. 

Example answer

“I recently read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and was really struck by his findings on farming and food processing in America. As an aspiring environmental science major, I’m fascinated by the relationship we have with the plants and animals we consume. I would love to learn more about the science behind farming and gardening and discover ways to innovate our processes.”

Why we like it: Your answer not only gives insight into your interests and passions but also describes a possible study and career path. You’ve shown that you care deeply about what you want to study at college and that you are eager to continue learning.

15. Do You Have Any Questions for Us?

What they want to know: Colleges give you a chance to ask your own questions because it shows you are eager to know more about the college you wish to attend. Asking a good, thoughtful question will impress your interviewer. 

Example questions:

  • What aspect of this school would you recommend to each student and why?
  • What made you work at this college?
  • What can you tell me about the X program?
  • What does a typical day look like on campus?
  • What is a common challenge students face, and how do they get past it?

Why we like them: You can’t find the answers to these questions online. They’re thoughtful and demonstrate a genuine interest in the school. Asking these questions may also the door for a more personal conversation between you and your interviewer.

General Tips for College Interviews

A smiling woman

If you’re still feeling stressed about your college interview, don’t worry. Here are some general tips to help you prepare. 

Do Background Research

It is always important that you do background research on the school you’re interviewing with. It demonstrates that you care about learning the values of the school and can also help you navigate unexpected questions that the interviewer may ask. 

Knowing the context is also helpful. Becoming familiar with the “vibe” of the school you’re applying to may give you more well-rounded expectations for how the interview will be conducted.

Be Punctual

Not only should you be on time for your interview, it’s recommended to be at least five to ten minutes early. This demonstrates respect for your interviewer’s time and shows maturity and self-sufficiency. It’s a real-life example of good time-management skills and makes a good first impression. 

Dress Appropriately

Similarly, it’s important that you dress well for your interview to show respect and make a good impression. 

If you don’t know what to wear, dressing in a business casual style is a good way to go. You should wear professional clothing in solid, neutral colors. Be sure to also keep your hair neat and tidy and leave any wrinkled or stained clothes at home. 

Write a Thank-You Note

It’s good etiquette to write a thank-you email after the interview. Make sure that you take a few minutes to write a note thanking your interviewers for the opportunity and their time. 

In this email, you can also re-iterate points of conversation in the interview that you appreciated or elements of the school that you’re excited about. It shows the college that you were present during the interview and that you care deeply about this opportunity. 

Remember to Relax

It can be hard to relax, but try to calm your nerves! It’s essential that you come across as confident and secure in yourself during your interview. Smile, be friendly, and take some deep breaths. You’ve got this!

FAQs: College Interview Questions

Still have some more questions about college interview questions? That is normal. Here are some common FAQs that address some students' main issues.

1. How Much Do College Interviews Matter?

It depends on the school. College interviews may be a significant part of your application, especially if they’re conducted by the admissions committee. However, some schools give their interviews very little weight or sometimes no weight at all. 

2. Are There Any Ways to Handle Nervousness?

Interview anxiety is a genuine problem for most interviewees. It is okay to feel this way. You can try deep breathing exercises, meditation, taking breaks, and having a good night's sleep before the day of. Some resources offer more relaxation tips.

3. Can I Use the Same Answers for Each College I Get Interviewed At?

Yes, you can. You most likely have the same educational goals for each college, so repeating answers to the same questions would be satisfactory. You can also tailor each answer for each different program you apply for.

4. What if I Am Caught off Guard by a Question Not on the List?

Don’t panic if you’re caught off guard. If the question is not on the list, college admissions officers will understand and allow you some time to think of an answer. You can always ask for clarification on the question, ask to come back to it, or you can even add some humor and admit that the question caught you off guard.

5. Are There Any Workshops or Resources to Help Me Prepare for College Interviews?

There is a good chance your school can offer workshops on preparing for college interviews. However, there are also online resources like YouTube videos or college blogs where you can find tips and reenactments of college interview dos and don'ts.

6. How Do I Reschedule a College Interview?

If something has come up and you have to reschedule, you can contact the person you were supposed to be interviewed by. Just make sure that you cancel promptly and reschedule to a date that best fits both of you.

7. Should I Consider Not Attending the Interview If It’s Not Required? 

It’s recommended that you attend the interview, even if it’s optional. It’s a chance for the admissions committee to put a face to the name on your application and for them to get to know you better, which gives you a higher chance of being accepted. It’s also an opportunity for you to ask any questions you’d like. 

Final Thoughts

Getting into college is a big step in your life. It is good that you are adamant about getting into college and working on your career and academic goals. College interviews are another milestone that you have to work towards to get accepted into your dream college, and with all the advice given, you can excel to the best of your ability.

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