The Columbia Interview: Info, Prep Tips + Sample Questions

Image of Columbia University
August 28, 2023

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

If you’ve been offered an interview from Columbia University, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to learn more about the school and assess your fit. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Columbia interview! 

Interviews are a common feature of the undergraduate admissions process. If you've been offered an interview from Columbia University, this is your time to shine and show your interviewer why you're a great fit.

Read on to learn more about the Columbia interview process, how to prepare, questions, and more. If you’ve still got questions, take a look at our step-by-step guide on how to get into Columbia University.

What Is a Columbia Admissions Interview Like? 

The Columbia interview, like most other undergraduate interviews, is more conversational. Your interview will only be conducted virtually; you may not ask to meet in person, regardless of "country or regional-specific guidelines for in-person interactions." 

You and your interviewer will pick the most accessible mode of communication for both of you. This can include: 

  • Video chat platforms, including but not limited to Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, FaceTime, Teams, WhatsApp, BlueJeans, WebEx, and Duo.
  • However, social media video platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are not permitted for the Columbia interview.
  • Students can request a phone interview if they don't have reliable access to the Internet or if their participation would be negatively impacted by using video conferencing.

Your interview will not be scheduled within school hours (7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., depending on local time, but this can vary) and must not be recorded by either you or your interviewer. 

Who Will Interview You?  

Most undergraduate interviews are not conducted by the admissions committee or any admissions committee member on campus. A current Columbia student volunteer alumni from the Columbia Alumni Representative Committee will interview you.

How to Get An Interview at Columbia 

Getting an interview at Columbia may be (at least in part) up to the luck of the draw. Due to the volume of applications and a limited number of volunteer students and alumni, Columbia doesn't have the capacity to offer interviews to all applicants and can't guarantee that any applicant will have the chance to interview.

However, candidates who aren’t offered an interview “are not at any disadvantage in the admissions process.” However, standing out in the admissions process may make you more likely to be offered an interview: the school may want to learn more about you.

The first step is displaying strong academic capabilities. As an Ivy League school, Columbia’s curriculum is rigorous: the admissions committee wants to admit students whom they are confident will perform well. To show off your ability, you should: 

You must also ensure you submit a well-rounded application. Take extra time building your activities list, writing your personal statement, and crafting Columbia-specific essays. 

That said, it is important to mention that Columbia has a test-optional policy in place until at least the 2022/2023 cycle.

How to Prepare for the Columbia Interview 

Although the Columbia interview will be more conversational rather than an interrogation, it's essential to present your best self on interview day. These tips ensure you feel more prepared and help your interview run smoothly.

Understand What Columbia Is Looking For 

Columbia interviewers write interview reports after meeting with prospective students. There are four main things interviewers look for in your responses: 

  • How would you fare at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering? 
  • A sense of your character and intellectual ability 
  • Your ability to learn from others and challenge your perspectives 
  • Whether your interviewer thinks you’ll be a good fit for Columbia and New York City
Diagram of tips on how to write your interview report
Source: ARC Representative Training

Your answers should touch upon these four main points: remember to show, not tell. Understanding what your interviewer is looking for can help you feel more confident and prepared.

It's important to note that starting this fall, Columbia University will no longer be interviewing applicants for admissions.

Have a General Idea of How to Answer Common Questions 

Having a general idea of how you’d respond to common interview questions can help safeguard you against slip-ups or blanking mid-conversation. You never want to come across as rehearsed (it can make you sound robotic), but knowing what to expect helps. 

Dress Professionally 

You don't need to be dressed to the nines, but you should wear something clean, appropriate, and professional-looking: a nice top, blouse, button-up, or dress would be appropriate. 

Remember to wear professional bottoms, too: you don't want to be caught in PJ pants if you need to stand up for some reason!

Check Your Tech 

Check all your technology before your interview: you want to ensure your microphone and camera are working properly with no issues. Ensure you're at your computer or device at least 10 minutes before the interview to settle in and ensure everything works. 

Keep It Conversational 

Keep your tone and speech conversational yet professional. Don't use slang, but don't feel like you have to pull out your thesaurus to keep a conversation going. Keep it light! 

Do Your Research 

A little school research can go a long way. Use course catalogs, research opportunities, club offerings, and anything else that made Columbia one of your top-choice schools to show how you’d fit in. Alluding to Columbia-specific offerings shows your conviction to get accepted and your passion for the school.

Sample Columbia Interview Questions

Good sample Columbia interview questions are provided to alumni interviewers through training documents. Some possible Columbia University interview questions include: 

  • What are your interests outside the classroom/schoolwork? 
  • Which non-academic activity (for example, volunteer work) are you most committed to? How has this impacted your academic performance? 
  • What do you and your closest friends have in common? What traits do you possess that make you different from them? 
  • How important is diversity to you in a school setting? 
  • What, in particular, drew you to Columbia University? 
  • What piece of media have you consumed in the past year that made you think differently or impacted your perspective? 

Other universally common prompts/questions that you might encounter in your Columbia interview include: 

  • Tell me about yourself. 
  • What do you want out of the college experience? 
  • Tell me more about your interest areas or potential areas of study. 
  • What specific opportunities or offerings at our college excite you? 
  • What are your strengths? 

Columbia interview questions can differ depending on the interviewer and student: you should always be prepared for other questions!

Columbia University Interview FAQs 

If you still have questions about Columbia University interview questions or the process, read on to gain more clarity. 

1. How Important Is the Columbia Interview? 

If you're offered an interview, the Columbia interview is important because it allows you to learn more about the school and let Columbia learn more about you. A glowing recommendation from your interviewer can help improve your candidacy. 

2. Is There a Columbia Video Interview? 

Columbia is currently offering only virtual interviews. All domestic and international applicants offered interviews will participate using video conferencing technology (or phone interviews, in exceptional cases). Applicants in China are urged to submit pre-recorded video interviews using InitalView or Vericant. 

3. When Does Columbia Stop Sending Interview Invites? 

While there isn't clear information on when Columbia stops sending interview invitations, if you haven't heard anything from mid-late February, you can generally assume you aren't offered an interview. 

4. When Are Columbia Interviews Scheduled? 

 Columbia interviews are generally scheduled sometime between October and March. 

5. Can I Request a Columbia Interview?

Columbia asks applicants not to call or email to try and schedule an interview. 

6. Does Columbia Interview All Applicants? 

Columbia doesn't offer interviews to all applicants. With thousands of applicants annually and a limited number of alumni volunteers, it's impossible to offer everyone an interview.

Final Thoughts

The Columbia interview is an excellent opportunity for you to learn more about the school from someone with first-hand experience. It's also the perfect chance for you to demonstrate your fit and passion. 

If you aren't offered an interview, don't worry too much: you won't be at a disadvantage. But if you do receive an invitation, you know potential Columbia interview questions you may be asked. With confidence and preparation, you can ace your Columbia interview!

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