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College interview questions & admissions interview tips

College • October 18, 2019 • Meg Mahoney


What you’ll learn

  • Common college interview questions
  • How to stand out
  • Tips for college interviews


Let’s talk about the college interview in a way that you may never have considered before: as something you might like. Yes, when you know how to prepare for a college interview, they can be both enjoyable and enlightening.

Here’s what to keep in mind during your college interview:

Know the rules

Not all universities and colleges offer interviews (in fact, many don’t), so first you’ll need to find out if an interview is offered, recommended, or required.

If there is an available interview, you should find out whether it’s evaluative or informational. Evaluative interviews become part of your admissions file. Informational ones are a simple chat between you and somebody related to the university so you can learn more about the school.

Every school will let you know about the type of interview they require.

Don’t miss the biggest opportunity in the college interview

At Collegewise, we’re big on coaching our students to make a strong first impression. In fact, according to Kevin McMullin, Collegewise founder, if you get the first five seconds right, your odds of the entire interview going swimmingly increase dramatically.

You can go from applicant to “this kid is different” in this brief moment by making eye contact, having a firm handshake, and simply smiling when you meet your interviewer. All three of these to-do’s, convey that you’re ready to have a relaxed and comfortable conversation.

Inevitably there will be a short walk to the interview room or a moment of settling in at the place where you’ve arranged to meet. This time is also important. Like in radio broadcasting, avoid “dead air” at all costs. Prepare some basic conversation starters prior to the interview.

Try openings, such as, “thank you for seeing me; how many other students will you be interviewing today?” or if you’re at a coffee shop, ask what they usually order. Doing this will ensure that you quickly establish a connection with your interviewer.

Find your stories

Your job is either to tell the interviewer more about you (this is for the evaluative interview) or to learn more about the college (the informational interview).

In both instances, this discussion is taking place to serve your needs—either you’re going to aid your chances of getting in, or you are going to come away knowing a lot more about the college, which will absolutely help you when it comes time to make your final decision.

I recommend to my students that they prepare three stories ahead of time—key pieces that they want the listener to know. The stories should be authentic and seamless, which means you should practice talking about them. Having interviewed and worked with hundreds of students over the years, I promise you that somebody who comes to the table with interesting, well-told stories is like a unicorn—magical and glorious.

Anticipate the common topics and questions

    At Collegewise, we think that if you’re prepared to discuss the following questions, you’re ready for any college interview.
  1. Why do you want to attend our school?

  2. What’s your favorite subject (and what do you think you want to major in)?

  3. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in class?

  4. What are three interesting things about you that I wouldn’t know from the application? Or what are three adjectives to describe you?

  5. How would your friends describe you?

  6. What are your abilities and strengths? What are your weaknesses?

Ask great questions

The best way to formulate questions to ask during an interview is to ask yourself what you want to know about the school. The interview is a unique opportunity to get first-hand knowledge about the school, whether from an employee, current student, or alumnus. It’s particularly relevant to have these questions ready for an informative interview, since that’s what they’re designed for.

    Here are a few examples:
  • What is a favorite tradition on campus?
  • What is the college most proud of?
  • What distinguishes your university from its peers?
  • What kind of students are happiest at your university?
  • What surprised you the most about your experience at the college?
  • Are there any students that end up not fitting in?
  • Why did you decide to attend this college? (or work at this college)?

7 tips for interview success

    Here are a few extra college interview tips and strategies:
  • Avoid one-word answers.
  • Thrown off by a question or unsure of the answer? Ask if you can think about it and get back to the question.
  • Dress appropriately—like you’re going to your grandparents house for Thanksgiving.
  • Send a personal thank you note immediately after the interview; include something unique you discussed in the conversation (e.g., “It was so nice to talk about our mutual love of horror films!”).
  • If you have a first-choice college, don’t interview there first. Get practice with other interviews.
  • Don’t ask questions that are easily answered somewhere else (e.g., “Do you have a good finance major?”).
  • Accommodate the interviewer’s schedule. Being difficult about scheduling conveys a lack of interest in the school.

You’ve got this

With a little prep and a few thoughtful talking points and questions in mind, you’re bound to have a great college interview.


Meg Mahoney is a college counselor at Collegewise, where she helps students find, apply, and get accepted to the right college for them. She has more than ten years of experience as a teacher and a counselor.


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