Stanford Interview Questions: How to Crack Them

Student wearing a white sweater shaking interviewer's hand after Stanford interview
November 28, 2023
7 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 04/26/23

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the application process is interviewing. If you’d like to know more about how to ace the Stanford interview and want to explore some sample Stanford interview questions and answers, read on. 

You’ve heard it a dozen times: the best way to crush an interview is to prepare for it. But this tip can be a little ambiguous when it comes to admissions interviews since every school has a different interview process! 

To ensure you complete targeted practice for your Stanford interview, this guide will go over a few questions you can expect to be asked, followed by how to answer them, and tried and true tips to help you succeed.

Does Stanford Interview Everyone?

Stanford University

Stanford is a highly selective Ivy League university. While it receives thousands of applications each year, only 4% of these candidates get into this prestigious school. Knowing these statistics, you may be wondering what percent of Stanford applicants get an interview. 

The Stanford interview is not an admission requirement. It does not signify the second phase of the admissions process, and only serves as another way for students to learn more about Stanford, and for Stanford to learn more about its students! 

The Stanford undergrad interview questions aren’t meant to trick you but rather to gain a deeper understanding of who you are off paper!  

If your high school is listed in one of Stanford’s interview areas and there is a trained alumni member available to interview you, you’ll be offered an interview. Students who do not fall within these areas will not be invited to interview.

As such, the percentage of interviewees depends on where applicants live and alumni members’ availability!

The Stanford Interview Process

Two men shaking hands

Once you submit your Stanford application, your location will be reviewed by the admissions committee. If you fall within one of their interview regions, and there is an alumni member available to interview you, they will reach out to you via email or phone.

Interviews will be conducted virtually or in person, depending on what’s most convenient for your interviewer. In-person interviews will be conducted at local coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, etc., but not on campus. 

The process will take around 45 minutes. The main Stanford interview questions you’ll be asked will relate to your interests and goals. You will also have the opportunity to ask your interviewer questions about the school or their experience at Stanford. 

Types Of Stanford Interview Questions

Stanford urges its applicants to view the interview as an informal conversation. As such, there isn’t a set list of questions that interviewers are required to ask. However, the Stanford interview questions tend to fall into four categories:

1. Extracurricular Involvement & Leadership Activity

Male student picking up trash on beach

The first type of questions you can expect to be asked will revolve around the activities you pursued outside of the classroom. Your alumni interviewer will not have access to your application beforehand, so they’ll likely first ask about your extracurriculars more broadly and then follow with more specific questions.

A common interview question that fits within this category is “what was your most memorable extracurricular activity and why?”

Your interviewer will use this question to gauge your values and figure out what’s most important to you. Ensure you emphasize any passions that influenced you to pursue your favorite extracurricular and how you developed as a person through it.

Sample Answer

Here’s a sample answer you can draw inspiration from:

The majority of my extracurriculars revolve around local community service. I’ve volunteered at my town hospital, the local women’s shelter, and two of our food banks. However, my favorite extracurricular activity actually took place abroad. 
During the summer of my junior year, I participated in a medical brigade through an external volunteer organization that I learned about through my Biology teacher. I spent two weeks in Panama where I helped build a school for girls. 
I was able to gain new experience with a culture I knew little about going into the brigade. I gained new perspectives and further developed my cultural competency, a trait that I believe is important for everyone to have in an increasingly diverse world. 
The experience also influenced me to continue volunteering abroad, and I have made it a goal of mine to do so at least once a year. This summer, I am going to Ghana to participate in a medical brigade for two weeks. 

Why This Works

This answer works because it addresses the question at hand but also craftily ties in other admirable extracurriculars the student pursued. While they only briefly mention their extensive community service experience, doing so proves their dedication to the community.

2. Academics and Intellectual Interests

Female student writing in notebook

Your academic performance in high school will be used to predict your potential to succeed in college. Your interviewer will likely ask at least one or two questions about your academics to gain more perspective on the type of student you are, your skills, and your commitment to growth and improvement.

For instance, you might be asked “what academic project or achievement are you most proud of?” To answer this question, be honest! Think back to all of the assignments and projects you completed. A few of them will stand out; pick the one that demonstrates the most skill and development.

Sample Answer

Consider this example of a student who completed a successful poetry slam:

While I’ve always had an interest in writing, I’ve been hesitant to share it. I tend to criticize myself harshly and only used to share my writing with teachers when I had to, but never my peers. 
This all changed when I participated in my first poetry slam. In my sophomore English class, our teacher decided to start our school’s first poetry slam, open to all students and teachers. Everyone in my class was required to participate in the slam, and we were graded on our performances.
It was arguably one of the hardest projects I completed. Writing the poem wasn’t difficult, but sharing it was. I doubted my writing abilities and wondered how people would react to my work. 
Putting my fears aside, I gave considerable thought to the poem I wrote and spent hours editing it until it was perfect. I decided to talk about my feelings towards my father, who left me when I was a child. I knew it was a personal topic, but as Mrs. Walker always said, vulnerability makes the best poetry. 
The entire library went silent for my poem; I had everyone’s attention till my last word. Clapping isn’t allowed in poetry slams, but dozens of teachers and students clapped for me anyway. Many of them also came up to me afterwards to commend me on my compelling writing, and I received the highest mark in the class. 
This experience gave me more confidence in myself and pushed me to always produce the best work I can, despite my own doubts or how challenging the project is.

Why This Works

This answer works because it demonstrates this student's passion and proves they were able to work on a skill they lacked—confidence. It offers a personal experience that is unique and portrays one of their talents.

3. Goals and Aspirations

Person holding test tub in lab

Another category of questions you can expect during your Stanford interview is those used to gauge your interest in the school.

While there are a variety of questions you could be asked, preparing for “why Stanford?” should give you content for the majority of related questions.

Your interests must be supplemented with research; your answer should not be generic. 

Sample Answer

This example explains why an aspiring bioengineer is interested in attending Stanford:

The main draw for me to attend Stanford is its innovative bioengineering program. I have an interest in biomedical sciences and engineering, which Stanford uniquely blends in their program.
I am also excited to participate in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program, especially the recent project on creating antibodies as cancer therapies.
I joined this field in hopes of creating treatments for illnesses like cancer, which are so difficult to cure. I know Stanford makes the impossible possible, so I believe with their resources I can make significant contributions to the medical field.
An added perk is the campus itself—just visiting it for a day I could feel the energy and vibrance of the community, not to mention just how beautiful the campus is!

Why This Works

This answer touches on various parts of Stanford that intrigue the student, demonstrating a clear drive to join this school. They use specific information about the program they’re applying to and show that they’ve put careful thought into their application.

4. Personal Background and Experiences

Female student with chin in hand

Your interviewer will also want to know more about your background and the experiences, choices, and people that have shaped you. For instance, a common question interviewers like to ask is “what is one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome?”

Remember to go beyond simply retelling the experience. Dip deeper by explaining what you learned through these experiences and highlighting admirable traits like resilience, self-awareness, and perseverance. 

Sample Answer

One of the hardest challenges I've faced was turning my academic performance around after a rough freshman year. I had just lost one of my favorite aunts, who had been like a second mother to me. My grief felt debilitating, and I struggled to focus on school.
My grades suffered that year but I recognized the importance of honoring her memory by overcoming this obstacle and striving for excellence in my studies. I reached out for help, talked to mentors, and picked up better study habits. It was like rediscovering myself. 
It certainly wasn’t easy, and I still feel that grief every day, but I managed to get my grades back up and even made it to the top 10% of my class by graduation.
Going through all that taught me that you can find strength even in the messiest situations. Now, I carry that resilience with me. It's not just about grades; it's about facing life head-on, learning, and growing. I'm proud of how far I've come, and I know I can handle whatever comes my way.

Why This Works

The student is open and vulnerable about the challenges they faced during their freshman year. They don’t just dwell on the challenge but emphasize the efforts to overcome it. 

The response highlights a commitment to personal growth, seeking help, and developing better study habits. This shows resilience and a proactive approach to overcoming hurdles, which are valuable traits to have in college, considering how challenging it can be. 

What To Ask Your Stanford Interviewer

Near the end of the interview, you’ll be given the chance to ask your interviewer more about Stanford or their experience. Here are some questions to consider asking:

  • How did Stanford help you achieve your post-college goals?
  • How would you describe Stanford’s campus culture?
  • In what ways are you still connected to campus and your Stanford peers?

Prepare insightful questions that can offer you more information on Stanford. If you have program or extracurricular-specific questions, you may ask those as well.

How to Prepare For an Interview at Stanford

Young woman being interviewed by woman

To ensure you ace your Stanford interview, follow these three tips:

Create Outlines

While we’ve provided you with full answers to some Stanford interview questions, you should only prepare outlines of the important traits, experiences, or values you’d like to highlight. This interview should be informal, so don’t memorize your answers!

Do Not Look Up Your Interviewer

Stanford University asks that students resist the urge to research their interviewers. This interview is about you and your interest in Stanford, so the only research you conduct should be on the school itself.

Prepare Insightful Questions

This interview is as useful to you as it is to the admissions committee. Prepare at least two to three insightful questions to ask your interviewer beforehand, as it may be difficult to think of some on the spot!

FAQs: Stanford Interview

For any remaining questions about the Stanford interview, read on.

1. What Percent of Stanford Applicants Get an Interview?

The percentage of undergrad applicants who get a Stanford interview depends entirely on their location. Stanford aims to interview as many eligible applicants as possible.

2. Does Getting a Stanford Interview Mean Anything?

Getting a Stanford interview simply means your application was received and there is an alumni member in your area available to interview you. 

3. How Hard Is It to Get a Stanford Interview?

As soon as you apply to Stanford, you’re eligible for an interview. The only requirement is that you live within the designated interview locations. 

4. How Long Is the Stanford Interview?

The Stanford interview should last around 45 minutes.

5. Can You Get Into Stanford Without an Interview?

Yes! Not everyone gets the opportunity to interview, and it is not a necessary part of the admissions process. You will not be disadvantaged for not interviewing. 

Final Thoughts

After learning more about what the Stanford interview entails and its purpose, you should have a more unambiguous understanding of how to prepare for it. Use the samples shared in this guide as inspiration, but ensure your answers are unique and reflect your personal story!

Good luck!

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