The college interview process can be nerve-racking. This interview gives the college you’re applying to another opportunity to evaluate you and help determine whether or not to offer you admission. However, your college interviews won’t be nearly as scary if you know what to expect.
In this article, I give you the 14 college interview questions you absolutely must prepare for. I explain why you’re being asked these questions and how to provide great answers. Furthermore, I offer advice on how to prepare for your interviews so that when the time comes, you’ll be ready to ace them.
A Short Introduction to College Interviews
A college interview provides a college with an opportunity to give you more information about the school and answer any questions. In addition, the interview gives the college a chance to learn more about you, your interests, and how you’ll be able to contribute to the school.
Very few colleges require interviews, although a fair number offer optional or recommended ones. These are typically highly selective or small private colleges, such as Columbia, Occidental, and Bates. Most large public universities don’t even offer interviews because there are simply too many applicants.
Check a college’s website or contact its admissions office to determine whether interviews are offered and how to schedule one. Interviews can be on-campus, usually with an admissions representative, or off-campus near where you live, usually with an alumnus of the college.
If you have the option of getting interviewed, do it. It’s to your benefit to take advantage of an opportunity to interview because it shows the school that you’re genuinely interested in attending. And demonstrating interest can greatly help your chances of admission. Finally, the interview gives the school another chance to get to know you outside of what’s in your application.
Try not to stress about the interview too much, though. As long as you’re polite, attentive, and prepared, it should only help your chances of getting accepted. The interview will also give you an opportunity to learn more about the school, and help you decide whether or not it might be a good fit for you.
The 14 Most Common College Interview Questions
The questions I’m listing and explaining were either referenced in multiple admissions websites and interview advice guides, or are general enough that you’ll be able to answer a number of similar questions by preparing for them.
Below, I provide you with each question. I then explain why colleges are asking it, what they’re looking for in a response, and how you can prepare for the question ahead of time.
Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself
This isn’t even actually a question, but it’s something you might be asked to do in an interview. Because it’s so general, you might have trouble figuring out where to begin.
Why they’re asking this: Colleges are asking you to do this because they really do want to know more about you. That’s one of the primary purposes of the interview, after all!
What they’re looking for: You need to paint a unique portrait of who you are to separate yourself from other applicants. Avoid clichés or descriptions that would be too common. For example, don’t just say you’re hardworking—explain what has driven you to become as diligent as you are and why you feel it is important.
How to prepare: Rehearse answering this question. Try talking about your passions, hobbies, and interests. You can discuss what inspires you or what your friends like about you. Be specific. Again, you want to make yourself memorable.
Question 2: Why Are You Interested In This College?
Why they’re asking this: This is an important question and one you should definitely prepare for, since colleges want to see that you’re taking the application process seriously and have a legitimate interest in attending the school.
What they’re looking for: Talk about your interest in a major or academic program, the cultural values of the school, or extracurricular activities that drew you to the college. Again, be thorough and specific. Don’t talk about prestige or rankings, and don’t say you just want to go there because it’s close to home; none of this shows genuine interest in this specific college!
How to prepare: To answer this question well, you’ll need to conduct extensive college research before the interview. You should be able to cite specifics when answering this question. Follow the same advice as if you were writing the answer to this question for your application essay.
Question 3: Why Do You Want to Major in _____?
If you’ve indicated that you want to major in a certain subject, you might be asked why you’re interested in that particular field.
Why they’re asking this: Colleges are interested in your academic goals and want to see that you’re academically inclined.
What they’re looking for: Talk about why a certain subject inspires you or why you’re passionate about it. Don’t say that you’re pursuing a certain major to make a lot of money or have job security. That doesn’t demonstrate genuine academic interest; it just makes you seem shallow.
How to prepare: Think deeply about why you want to pursue a specific major. Why do you find it fascinating? What experiences provoked your interest in the subject? How will the major enable you to reach your future professional goals?
Question 4: What Are Your Academic Strengths?
Why they’re asking this: In an effort to get to know you as a student, colleges are interested in getting your perspective on where you excel academically.
What they’re looking for: Don’t make this answer too short. Don’t just say, “I’m good at science.” When discussing your academic strengths, explain how you’ve capitalized on your strengths. If you’re an excellent writer, for example, how have you used your writing skills to excel in school? How do you plan on continuing to use your strengths?
How to prepare: Make sure you know your academic strengths. You should be able to explain how you recognized your strengths, how you’re currently using them, and how you plan to use them in the future.
Question 5: What Are Your Academic Weaknesses? How Have You Addressed Them?
Why they’re asking this: Colleges want to admit good students, but they’re aware everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Colleges want to see that you have the persistence and work ethic to succeed despite your challenges.
What they’re looking for: Schools want students who can demonstrate their ability to confront and overcome challenges. Try revealing strategies or specific approaches you’ve taken to improve your academic weaknesses. You could also tell a specific story about how you managed to do well in a subject that was especially difficult for you.
How to prepare: Be aware of your academic weaknesses and how you’ve addressed them. It’s not good to say that you don’t have any weaknesses. That’s not very believable, and you’ll come off as arrogant.
Question 6: What Do You Plan to Contribute to This School?
Why they’re asking this: Colleges want to admit students who will make positive contributions to campus and academic life. Essentially, they’re looking for students who will make the school better.
What they’re looking for: In short, specifics. Don’t limit your answer to vague positive traits. Don’t just say you’ll contribute a good work ethic and a regard for others. Is there specific research you wish to pursue? Do you want to have a leadership position in an extracurricular activity? Are there specific community service projects you want to do? How will your presence on campus and in the classroom make a difference?
How to prepare: Know the specific contributions you want to make to the school. Identify your college goals as well as the activities you want to pursue while you’re in college.
Question 7: What Do You Expect to Be Doing 10 Years From Now?
Why they’re asking this: Just to set the record straight, you don’t need to have your entire future figured out. Colleges understand that you probably won’t have everything decided and your plans are likely to change. What they do want is students with direction.
What they’re looking for: Colleges want students who are motivated to achieve their goals. The bad, general answer is to only say you expect to have a fulfilling career and be making a positive impact on the world. What are some specific activities you’d like to do? How do you plan on impacting the world? You don’t have to limit your plans to professional goals. Do you want to take your mom on a vacation? Or have weekly gatherings with your best friends from high school?
How to prepare: You can write down some detailed notes answering this question. Paint a picture of the life you want to have in 10 years. That picture should reveal your uniqueness.
Question 8: What Would You Change About Your High School?
Why they’re asking this: With this question, colleges are looking for your ability to identify problems and get a better understanding of what you’re looking for in a school. By learning what you’d change, they get a chance to learn more about what matters to you.
What they’re looking for: Colleges want a thoughtful response. Be specific and respectful. Don’t say, “I’d get better teachers.” Say that you’d allocate more resources to the music department so that more students can have the opportunity to learn how to play new instruments. Discuss how learning an instrument helped you, and describe the current state of the music department. Try to make it clear that you want to improve your school to benefit the personal and academic growth of all of its students.
How to prepare: Think about the strengths and weaknesses of your high school. What are some specific problems it has? What are the consequences of those problems? What steps would you take to make improvements?
Shouldn’t other kids have the opportunity to rock out like this? (Joe Lewis/Flickr)
Question 9: Whom Do You Most Admire?
Why they’re asking this: From this question, colleges can get a sense of your values. If the person you most admire is Justin Bieber, for example, colleges might wonder about your priorities.
What they’re looking for: Don’t limit your answer just to naming the person. Why do you admire that person? For instance, many people say that the person they most admire is a parent. But what specifically has that parent done that you admire so much? In short, don’t forget the details.
How to prepare: Think deeply about your response to this question. If the person you admire is somebody you know, practice by giving your answer to that person. You’ll know you’ve answered the question well if you’re rewarded with a hug or even a few tears from your audience.
Question 10: What Is Your Favorite Book?
Why they’re asking this: This question is designed to help schools learn more about your interests. Colleges also probably want to make sure that you actually read books.
What they’re looking for: Don’t limit your answer to the name of a book; think about why you like the book so much. How did it inspire you? Did a particular character resonate with you? Did you learn something from this book that influenced your opinions or behavior? Did this book help shape your perspective or values?
How to prepare: Really think about books you’ve read that you connected with and why. I’ve also seen similar questions asking about a news article you recently read, so try to stay up to date with the news, too!
Question 11: Why Do You Want to Go to College?
Why they’re asking this: For this question, schools are trying to understand why you’re motivated to pursue higher education.
What they’re looking for: Colleges want to see you have clear goals you’re trying to accomplish by attending college. Obviously, they don’t want to hear that you want to go to college because your parents are making you or so you can attend wild parties. In your answer, emphasize how college will allow you to pursue your passions, aid in your personal development, and enable you to fulfill your future goals. Be specific. What are your passions and goals? How will college give you an opportunity to pursue these passions? What college activities will increase your awareness and facilitate your intellectual and emotional growth?
How to prepare: For ideas, check out the pros in my article about if you should go to college.
Question 12: What Do You Like to Do for Fun?
Why they’re asking this: This question is designed to get a better sense of your general interests and overall personality.
What they’re looking for: Your answer doesn’t only have to include activities that are academic. After all, you probably wouldn’t be believed if you said all you do for fun is read science textbooks and do math problems. If some of what you do for fun is intellectual, though, explain why you find these activities fun. Finally, try to avoid general answers such as “hang out with friends.”
How to prepare: You shouldn’t have to prepare much for this question since I assume you already know what you like to do for fun. However, spend some time thinking about why you enjoy these activities.
Question 13: What Is an Obstacle You’ve Faced and How Did You Get Through It?
Why they’re asking this: Colleges want to know if you’ve faced (and overcome) any significant challenges in your life. They also want to see that you’re persistent and willing to work hard in order to overcome these obstacles.
What they’re looking for: It’s fine if you haven’t had some awful, incredibly difficult obstacle in your life. Think of a time when you faced a problem that challenged you, and you put in a lot of effort to solve it. Your obstacle could be related to your home life, school, or an extracurricular activity. In your response, explain how the obstacle challenged you and emphasize what exactly you did to overcome it.
How to prepare: Think of a significant challenge you’ve had in your life and how you dealt with it. What did you learn from the problem? How did you solve it? Did it change or influence the way you address similar problems?
Question 14: What Makes You Unique?
Why they’re asking this: This question is essentially what all the other questions above are meant to determine. It’s another general question that’s often difficult to answer. We are all unique, but it can be hard to put into words exactly what separates you from other people.
What they’re looking for: Schools ask this question because they want to get to know you better. You can discuss a trait or multiple traits you possess. Give examples and stories that demonstrate these qualities. Do you have any uncommon interests or goals? Is your background very unique?
How to prepare: I recommend doing some serious brainstorming to address this question. Write out specific attributes and anecdotes you can share that demonstrate your uniqueness. When do you feel most comfortable? What makes you the proudest?
How to Prepare for College Interview Questions
For each of these questions, I recommend jotting down some notes so that you can remember key points or details. Don’t try to completely write out your answers and memorize them. The way you speak in an interview is supposed to appear conversational and not rehearsed. Also, if you try to memorize your answers and forget your script during the interview, you’ll end up looking confused and unsure of yourself.
Practice your responses by having somebody ask you these questions and then answering them as if you were actually in the interview. Remember that you want to be as specific and detailed as possible. Learn to separate yourself from all the other applicants being interviewed.
For some of these questions, it’ll be helpful to review your personal statement. Your personal statement likely has some details or stories you can incorporate into some of your answers.
How Do You Answer Questions You Didn’t Prepare For?
Undoubtedly, the questions above aren’t the only possible interview questions. Regardless of how much you prepare, you’ll almost definitely be asked a question you weren’t expecting. There’s no need to be too nervous, though. Just try to give honest, detailed answers. As long as you’re thoughtful and professional, you shouldn’t worry too much about surprise questions.
Also, you might be able to incorporate some details from the other questions you prepared for in your responses. For example, for any question related to academics, you could probably include details from your response to the question, “What are your academic strengths?”
If you want to get more comfortable with the interview process, have a friend or parent ask you questions about yourself, and respond as if you were in the interview. This is an excellent way to prepare you for the real deal and will give you more confidence.
College interviews also give you the opportunity to ask questions. Make sure you ask the right questions during your interview.
If your goal is to get into one of the most selective colleges, check out our popular post on how to get into Harvard and the Ivy League.
As you navigate the college selection process, it’s important to know how to choose a college.