Applying to College Interviewing

Preparing the Best Answers for College Interview Questions

college-reading

Not every college has an interview process for admissions. However, for those that do the college interview can play a significant role in gaining admission. You can use it to supplement poor test results, build upon an admissions essay, or simply add some personality to your application. With such high stakes on the interview process, it’s safe to say that you need to take time to prepare.

While most students will take the time to glance over common interview questions, many fail to prepare much further. It’s surprising how unprepared you can feel during your interview if you only have minimal answers or ideas put together. Interviews tend to make people nervous, which can lead to forgetting information, rushing through answers, or clamming up all together. None of these are going to help you gain admission.

Remember, the college interview is an opportunity for admissions officers to get to know you and see if you would truly be a good fit for their school. They can only gain so much insight from your written application. The interview is your chance to truly sell yourself and show how you can contribute to their school.

In order to be fully prepared for a college interview, you need to come to the best possible answer for each type of question. One of the best ways to do this is through a process of brainstorming, outlining your answers, and practicing out loud. Not sure where to start? Don’t worry! Based on these concepts, we’ve put together a few simple steps for you to work through in order to get prepped and ready to ace your college interview.

Step One: Know What to Expect

To keep everything simple, start with the very basics. The first step to preparing is having an understanding of the typical types of questions college interviewers ask. Keep in mind that the interviewer is trying to get to know you as an applicant, so they will be asking a wide variety of questions covering different aspects of your life and educational career.

The typical categories of questions include:

  • Your high school experience – what you enjoyed and or disliked about high school, what role you saw yourself in
  • Your personality traits – how you view yourself, what others would say about you
  • Your background – where do you come from, how has this influenced who you are and how you see yourself
  • Your interests
    • Recreational – what you enjoy in your free time
    • Intellectual – areas of study or particular subjects you enjoy, books you like to read
    • Social – how you fit into the greater community, your views on current world events
  • Your college expectations – what college will be like, how you see yourself fitting in
  • Your hopes, dreams,and aspirations for the future – where you see yourself going

Be sure to read about what you’ll be asked at your college interview for a more in-depth look at questions that are commonly asked in a college interview.

Step Two: Brainstorm

Now that you know what you will be asked, it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll answer different questions. Don’t be afraid to get help with this. Ask friends and parents these questions and see how they answer. Put time aside to write down thoughts and get some ideas flowing. Come back to these thoughts and see if there is anything you can add to supplement or develop them.

Consider the question How would you describe your friendships? There are a few things you can ask yourself to start getting some ideas. How many friends do you have, where do you meet your different friends, how old are your friendships, how close are you to your friends? You may choose to talk about different types of friends such as family members, school friends, or even pets.

When brainstorming, it’s important to look into the questions beyond their face value. The interviewer is trying to learn about you and if you truly are a good fit for their school. Ask yourself: what is the interviewer actually trying to discover through these questions?

As an example, the interviewer may ask: how would you describe a typical sophomore at our institution? There are a number of different things they can be trying to determine here. First of all, what is your perception of the college and its student body? How does it compare to the reality and/or how the college views itself? Secondly, how do you see yourself fitting in and what are your thoughts on the college’s atmosphere? This type of question can also be used to gauge how well you would adjust to student life and the transition between the first and second year of college.

Once you determine what the question is actually about, you can begin to brainstorm some answers. Address some of the questions’ different angles, providing a well-rounded and thorough answer. If you’re not sure where to start, do some research on student life at the college. Learn about the most common majors, what the student housing situation is like (dorms vs off-campus housing), and popular campus clubs and activities. Think back to your college visit. Was there anything that stood out to you about student life then? Any information that you can find about the particular college or institution is helpful.

It’s almost important to consider some of the more difficult questions that you could be asked, such as what is your greatest weakness? With this question the interviewer is not so much concerned with what your weakness is as they are what else you have to say about it. Is there a way that you have overcome this weakness? Have you maybe even turned it into a strength? How did you overcome or deal with this weakness? Is there a lesson that you have learned from it? There are a number of different angles you can explore with this sort of question, so be sure you address them!

Step Three: Formulate answers

You have the basic outline of your answers, but now it’s time to add some context. Take time to decide what thoughts and information you would like to include in your answer to portray yourself honestly and in the best light. Think of sincere, yet memorable answers.

As a rule of thumb, you should have at least three answers prepared for each question. These answers can vary greatly, including reasons, explanations, examples and descriptions to supplement your response. One or two sentences isn’t going to do the trick here. The more you can reveal in your answers, the better an interviewer can get to know you.

You should aim to be as specific as possible with each answer to show that you fully grasp and understand what is being asked of you. Generic responses such as I’m a good student, or I’m responsible won’t cut it here. Think about what makes you unique and share it with the interviewer!

The interviewer is looking for mature, responsible candidates. Keep this in mind when brainstorming your answer. While you might have a great story from a house party that relates to the questions, this probably isn’t the place to share it. Draw from your own personal experiences to ensure that your answer is unique and interesting. Find out what makes you different from the other candidates and tell your story!

Examples

Going back to our example questions from Step 2, let’s look at how you might put together some possible answer outlines.

Personal question: How would you describe your friendships?

  1. Lots of friends
    1. Involved in activities (social and athletic)
    2. Like a variety
    3. Join in different recreations
    4. Close to 1 or 2
  2. Amy and John friends since 4th grade
    1. Trust
    2. Talk about anything
    3. They help me, I help them
  3. My brother
    1. 2 years older
    2. Have had our fights
    3. Same traits, can problem solve together.

College expectations: How would you describe the typical sophomore student at your institution?

  1. Music major
    1. Great music program and related activities, which is why I’m drawn to this school
    2. Member of jazz band
  2. Getting involved while learning
    1. Involved in small class discussions
    2. Like the class sizes at this college
    3. I learn best when talking to others
    4. Visited a class and saw warmth and openness in the classroom
  3. Living on campus
    1. You have dorm suites, and I’m drawn to having several roommates
    2. I really want a family-like atmosphere
    3. Want to be close to classes, activities and study help

Challenging question: What is your greatest weakness?

  1. Struggled with public speaking
    1. Was a shy quiet kid
    2. Didn’t like to talk a lot in class
    3. Have come a long way in trying to
  2. Joined jazz band & student council
    1. Performing music in front of people
    2. Put me on stage, front and center
    3. Gave me confidence
  3. Helped me to connect better with the audience
    1. Focus on the individuals rather than the group
    2. Thinking of it as a conversation, not a presentation
    3. Laugh at mistakes and power through

Step Four: Practice out loud

You may know what you’re going to say now, but the preparation doesn’t stop there. One of the most important and least practiced aspects of the interview process is practicing your answers out loud. Cohesive thoughts may not sound as great out loud as they do in your own head.You should take time to recite your answers out loud. Give yourself some time to actually feel how the words flow and work through any awkward pauses. This can be the key to turning a good interview into a great interview.

Start by paying attention to how you speak. Remember that you want your answers to sound natural, like a conversation, as opposed to like a rehearsed script. This is your chance to show the interviewer who you really are, so show off your personality! Use your tone to convey interest and enthusiasm. Even the best answer or story will be won’t sounds as good if you use a monotone voice.

You will also want to pay attention to the pacing of your answers. When people are nervous it is completely normal for their speech to speed up. Account for this while you practice by practicing at a slightly slower pace and by adding in natural pauses. You will also want to avoid speaking too slowly. Much like speaking in monotone, this can take away personality an authenticity.

Something else to keep in mind while you practice out loud is your body language. Non-verbal cues play a huge role in communication, especially in terms of confidence. Avoid slouching, crossing your arms, and being overly fidgety. Your interviewer will understand that you’re probably nervous, so take a few deep breaths and relax. You want to convey confidence through body language and the rest will follow.

Body language and tone of voice can be hard to pick up on by yourself, which is why it is beneficial to practice with a friend. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help or advise either. It may sound silly, but having a “practice interview” with a family member or friend can go a long way in helping you prepare.

Examples

If we come back to our previous examples once more, your completed answers may sound something like this:

How would you describe your friendships?

I have a lot of different friends from my basketball team, the Student Council, and from Key Club. I really enjoy spending time with all of them, as they are all from different areas of school and from my town. I do many different things with all of them because there is a lot of variety of interests. Some enjoy movies, some are partiers, some like hiking and camping, and I get to do all of these different things with them. I wouldn’t consider them to be close friends though, maybe first-tier friends or acquaintances because I don’t tell these friends my secrets. My brother on the other hand…

How would you describe the typical sophomore at our institution?

I noticed that about 40% of the majors at [college] are in music. It’s something that really drew me to this school because I have a strong interest in music. Even though I will need to wait a few years before declaring my major, I hope to be learning about music from day one by being part of the jazz band, which I currently belong to at my high school…

What is your greatest weakness?

When I was younger I really struggled with public speaking. I was a quiet kid who was shy and really didn’t like to put myself out there. I definitely did not want to be the center of attention. Jazz band was a huge first step in helping me to deal with this. Music is something that I’ve always been comfortable with, but jazz band put me in the uncomfortable position of performing for other people. My next step was to force myself to speak in that type of situation, so I took a huge leap and ran for student council in my senior year…

Bonus tip: Try to schedule interviews with schools you are less interested in attending first. This will take some of the stress and pressure off of the first interviews as well as give you some practice in a real interview setting. This isn’t always possible and depends a lot on when certain schools conduct their interviews, but it’s worth a shot!

Step Five: Prepare your own questions

Are you looking to go the extra mile and leave a lasting impression? Most interviewers will conclude the interview by asking if you have any questions. Take some time to put together two or three questions to ask your interviewer about the specific college and programs you are interested in. This shows that you are genuinely interested in attending the school and that you have put some time and thought into preparing for the interview. As an added bonus, this is a great habit to get into as many job interviews conclude in a similar fashion.

Your questions should be well thought out. Don’t ask your interviewer questions that can easily be answered on the college website or with a quick Google search. These make interviewers doubt your preparedness. Other questions to avoid include anything that makes you come off in a bad light. Sure, you may want to know what the social life is like at the college, but asking if it’s a “party school” is a big no.

Here are a few examples of other types of questions to avoid:

  • What is your student-instructor ratio?
  • What is your most popular program?
  • What are some easy classes I can take?

So what can you ask the interviewer then? Personal experience questions are a great place to start. Asking about their time and experience at that particular college is a great way to get started. Try to keep your questions opened ended so that the interviewer has a chance to provide an insightful answer (ie. what was your college experience like as opposed to did you like college). Finally, if there are specific programs or areas of study that you are interested in, use this as an opportunity to gain insight.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • What advice do you have for incoming freshmen?
  • What makes [college] stand out from other similar schools nearby?
  • I am interested in pursuing [program]. Can you tell me about internships/field schools/study abroad programs students in this area have pursued in the past?

A good tip is to remember that you’re having a conversation, not an interrogation. No one likes being asked rapid-fire questions. Listen to the answers the interviewer gives, process what they’ve said, and respond accordingly.

The college interview is a crucial step in the admissions process, so take time to prepare! By using our simple process, you should be able to walk into any interview with the confidence to breeze through.

Looking for some tips for the day of the interview? Check out these tips for how to put your best foot forward during the interview.