25 Major College Interview Questions to Prepare For
- How Much Do College Interviews Matter?
- 25 Common College Interview Questions
- Tips for Your College Interview
- What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?
The infamous college interview can feel like a black hole for many students, particularly if it’s your first time doing an interview of any kind. What are they going to ask? How am I supposed to answer? How do I prepare? Does it even matter?
These questions are often racing around students’ heads in the lead-up to interview season. This post will give you some initial answers by presenting you with some of the most common questions asked in interviews, and then offering strategies for how to answer them well.
How Much Do College Interviews Matter?
In a nutshell, interviews matter less than you think. Because the interview is your only chance to present your candidacy face-to-face, many students find interview prep to be far more stressful than, for example, essay revision.
But in reality, the interview has a minimal impact on your overall application. While a terrible one may eliminate you from the applicant pool, even a superb one is unlikely to guarantee acceptance. That being said, the interview is still an opportunity to add to or refine admissions officers’ understanding of your candidacy, so you want to make sure you put your best foot forward.
If you’d like to learn more about the relative importance of interviews, check out our full post on how much college interviews matter.
25 Common College Interview Questions
This is one of the most common interview questions, and is one that interviewers often start with to get an initial sense of who you are. So, while you’ll likely be nervous at the start of your interview—which is totally normal—you want to make sure that you’re prepared for this question, just to start things off strong.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that your response should clearly connect to your candidacy at that college. While you don’t want to sound like a robot, you also don’t want to ramble on about things that don’t do anything to enhance your interviewer’s understanding of what you would add to the school’s community. Therefore, pick a topic or two to focus on, and connect those things to the reason you’re applying to this particular college.
Example response: I’ve always loved the ocean, as I’ve spent most weekends of my life on the water with my parents fishing, crabbing, shrimping… the list goes on, really. For me, it’s not just about the sound of the waves or watching the sunset over the water, but more about that connection between my personal life and the ocean. That’s actually what led me to Bowdoin in the first place.
I was researching colleges near the coast, and what I immediately noticed about Bowdoin is that the college doesn’t just happen to be near the water, but actually works to make the location part of its students’ experiences through things like the summer fellowships offered through the Environmental Studies department.
2. Why do you want to attend this college?
This is another question you can be pretty certain is coming at some point since, after all, your desire to attend that particular college is the whole reason for the interview. You may have already unknowingly done some prep work for this question if you had to write a supplemental essay on the same topic. Remember, however, that alumni interviewers usually haven’t seen your application, so you don’t want to reference something from an essay offhand.
In your response, you want to make sure that you’re highlighting specific features of the school that illustrate why you’d be a good fit on campus. Anyone can talk about prestige or location, whereas referencing a particular academic program or extracurricular opportunity will show your interviewer that your interest in the school isn’t just surface-level.
Example response: I’ve always been interested in languages, as both of my parents come from multilingual families. However, I only speak English myself, and one of my college goals is to learn at least two new languages. Dartmouth is the perfect school to help me with that because of its use of the Rassias Method in intro level language courses and its range of language-focused study abroad programs.
3. What do you hope to study in college, and why?
Responding well to this question is less about showing that you’re absolutely certain what you want to major in, work as, etc., and more about showing that you’re intellectually curious and motivated in general.
Interviewers know that your academic plans will likely change during college, so what they really want to see is that you have genuine academic interests and that you’re able to explain why you’re drawn to those things.
Example response: Currently, I’m planning on either double majoring, or doing a major and a minor, in history and Spanish. I’ve always liked figuring out how threads from the past connect to things happening today. I also have an aunt in Spain, and I often wonder why Spanish culture and cuisine isn’t as celebrated in the U.S. as French or Italian culture. Hopefully the skills I learn studying history will help me work towards answering that question, and studying Spanish will allow me to read relevant texts in their original language.
4. What’s a project, paper, or lab that you’ve particularly enjoyed in high school?
This question is a slightly more targeted way of evaluating your academic achievements. Remember that every college receives thousands of applications each year from students with excellent GPAs, so they want to see that you were genuinely invested in your studies, not just ticking boxes to get a good grade.
Focus on why you enjoyed the project, and on what big-picture lessons you took away from it, rather than the nitty-gritty of the assignment. The names of the exact chemicals you used during your titration aren’t going to teach your interviewer anything about who you are as a person.
Example response: This past fall, I took an English elective on modernist literature, and the final paper I wrote for that class is probably the paper I’ve been proudest of. That class was challenging for me, as a lot of the themes were quite abstract, so I was nervous when I learned that the final paper was basically entirely open-ended.
But as I started going back over my notes, I realized that I could now see how certain things in the literature we had read exemplified those abstract themes. So for me, writing that paper was an example of how it pays off to persevere, even if in the moment you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing.
5. Tell me about what you like to do outside of school.
This is another question that overlaps with a common supplemental essay prompt. In your response, you don’t want to just list every single thing you’ve done or enjoy doing. Instead, pick one or two activities that are especially illustrative of some aspect of your personality.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to mention things you do casually that may not have shown up on your activities list. Playing fetch with your dog every Saturday morning may not seem like a big deal, but these seemingly “little” things can, in some ways, actually be more informative about who you are than the more “impressive” things you do.
Example response: I’m really involved with my school’s sports teams as a volleyball player and as a manager for the football team. As manager, I take stats during games and help the coaches break down film during the week. A lot of people are surprised that, as a girl, I’d want to spend so much time around a men’s team, but everyone has always been really welcoming to me. Besides, I’ve been playing fantasy football since 4th grade, and I’ve won my family’s league twice in that time, so it’s not like I’m totally out of my element.
6. Tell me about a challenge you’ve had to overcome in high school.
Nobody gets to senior year of high school without struggling at some point, not even the strongest applicants, and colleges know that. So, even though speaking about your struggles isn’t fun, it’s important to be prepared for this kind of question. It’s unlikely you’ll go through a whole interview talking only about your strengths.
When asked about a challenge, the most important thing is that you share something that was a genuine low point—raising your grade from an A- to an A doesn’t really count. You don’t need to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets—the point of this question is to see how you respond to adversity. Therefore, tell your interviewer about something that was truly challenging for you, and about the growth you experienced while overcoming it.
Example response: When I was a sophomore, I decided to take honors physics, even though science has never been a strength of mine. At the start of that year, my family got some unexpected bad news about my mom’s health. I was having a hard time concentrating, and my first test score was way below the class average. I was seriously thinking about switching down a level, but I met with my teacher a few times to hear her thoughts and she was super supportive. I decided to stick with it, and signed up for peer tutoring. By the end of the year, I had improved so much that I was selected to be a peer tutor myself for the following year.
7. What are your biggest strengths?
Remember that the point of the interview, and your college application in general, is to show what makes you different from other applicants. You don’t want to talk about your intelligence or work ethic—not because those aren’t things to be proud of, but because most other applicants would also describe themselves as intelligent and hardworking.
Instead, pick qualities that will show your interviewer what you, as opposed to any other applicant, would contribute to their school’s community.
Example response: I consider myself to be a very empathetic person, which shapes how I approach so much of my life. At school, I try to bring in cookies on days where we have big tests or projects due—sometimes I don’t have time, but I always try! And at home, when I get up on the weekends, I always feed the cat before I make myself breakfast, as it’s my decision to sleep in later, and she shouldn’t have to be hungry because I’m lazy!
8. What are your biggest weaknesses?
If you get the “biggest strengths” question, it’s likely that this one will follow. You may even get them at the same time. As with the “overcoming challenges” question, the key to a strong response is sharing a genuine weakness. Saying things like “I’m a perfectionist” will make it sound like you’re dodging the question, or worse, like you lack the self-reflection skills to recognize your own weaknesses.
That being said, there is such a thing as being too honest. Saying that you struggle with being on time, for example, may not be the best idea. Additionally, just like with the “overcoming challenges” question, your answer should also show how working on this weakness has helped you grow, as that will show that you are both self-aware and motivated to improve yourself.
Example response: I often have a hard time asking for help, as my instinct when I hit a wall is to try to climb over it myself. That’s not a bad first response, but sometimes I get stubborn and keep trying on my own even once it’s clear that I’m not getting anywhere. That just isn’t a good use of my time. Something that’s helped me with this is working to build relationships with my teachers and coaches early on, so that when I do need help, it feels almost like turning to a friend, rather than admitting defeat, which is what it’s felt like in the past.
9. What’s your favorite book/movie that you’ve read/watched recently?
Be honest! If you’ve never read Pride and Prejudice—or you have but you hated it—don’t say it just to name-drop a famous title. You generally also want to steer clear of series like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, as those books are so widely loved that your appreciation of them won’t do much to set you apart from other applicants.
Instead, pick a book/movie that you genuinely enjoyed, and make sure that you describe why you liked it so much. Your love for this story should say something about who you are, as the book or movie itself isn’t the one admissions officers are thinking about accepting.
Example response: I recently read The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens for the first time, and my favorite thing about it was how deeply it made me think about character construction. Dickens actually died halfway through writing the book, and left no notes saying how the mystery is solved, which I didn’t know before starting the book. So, as I was flipping back through the pages, all I could think about was which suspects were actually suspicious, and which ones were only suspicious because Dickens wanted them to seem that way.
10. Who is your role model?
Who you look up to can say a lot about who you are, whether that’s a family member, mentor, or celebrity. The key to a strong answer is making sure your focus is on how this person has helped you grow, not just on this person as an individual. You don’t want your interviewer to listen to your response and just think “Wow, their role model sounds great!” Remember that you’re the one applying to college, not your role model!
Example response: My role model is a girl named Sarah. We were on the same soccer team when she was a senior and I was a freshman. She won basically every award for best player in the state that year, but the main reason I admire her is how she carried herself while having all that success. She was always positive at practice, would pass the ball to anyone, even me, and never talked about her achievements.
We weren’t that close, but at the end of the season I thanked her for always being so kind and inspirational simultaneously, because I figured that if someone makes that big of an impact on you, the least you can do is take the time to let them know how much you appreciate them.
11. If you could have dinner with any three people, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?
This is an example of what’s known as a “curveball question.” Colleges know that certain questions pop up a lot, during interviews at all levels, so applicants are likely prepared for them. While your interviewer isn’t trying to trick you by asking a question you probably weren’t expecting, seeing how well you think on your feet is valuable information for admissions officers.
For curveball questions in general, the most important things are to not get too tangled up in the question itself and to make sure that you’re still treating it as an opportunity to share something about yourself. Also, be careful not to potentially mess up the interview because you’re flustered—for this question, for example, you’ll want to avoid mentioning politicians, as you have no idea what your interviewer’s political leanings are. Interviewers are meant to be impartial, but they are only human and their opinions can be influenced by things like that.
Example response: I’d love to talk to Taylor Swift about songwriting, because I love to write, but music has always been totally beyond me, so I want to know how she combines the two things. I’d also like to have dinner with the Latin poet Ovid, as I’ve studied Latin for all of high school, and the way he takes advantage of Latin not having a fixed word order is something that’s always fascinated me. Finally, I’d want to have Viola Davis at the table, as she’s one of the only people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, and I’d love to pick the brain of someone so talented and so versatile.
12. If you were a candy bar, which one would you be, and why?
This is another example of a curveball question, and an even stranger one than the first example. Just remember, the nitty-gritty of what you say in your response to a curveball is less important than what your interviewer learns about you from that response.
Example response: I’d like to be a Reese’s peanut butter cup, because there’s two of them in every packet, so hopefully whoever is eating me is at least sharing that happy moment with someone else.
13. What song best sums up the last year of your life?
Hopefully, having three examples of curveball questions, and of strong responses to them, will put your mind at ease. While you never know exactly what an interviewer will ask you, thinking through how you would approach this general kind of question will help you not panic when you come across one “in the wild.” Who knows, you might even have some fun—curveballs are often a lot more interesting than the more typical interview questions!
Example response: “Material Girl” by Madonna, because so many people I’m close to have moved recently. My brother left for college, my neighbors retired and moved to a smaller house, and my cousin just graduated from college and moved near us. I don’t mind helping people pack their stuff, but it does make me dread going to college myself, and think that maybe I should get rid of everything I own before then.
14. Describe yourself with three adjectives.
As noted at the start of this post, the first question you’re going to be asked is probably “Tell me about yourself.” But you’re also likely going to be asked other, slightly more specific questions in that same vein. After all, the point of an interview is for you to share information about yourself.
With regard to this question in particular, make sure that the adjectives you choose are both different enough from each other and specific enough to really teach your reader something about you. For example, avoid “smart” or “funny,” as those are words any old applicant could use. That being said, you also don’t want to sound like you’ve swallowed a thesaurus—describing yourself as “iconoclastic” will just feel stilted.
Example response: Patient, dedicated, cheesy. I wouldn’t have survived growing up in my family without being patient. I’m the oldest of seven, and as much as I love my siblings, sometimes I felt more like a third parent growing up, which wasn’t always easy. I’m dedicated because when I find a new passion, it usually becomes the most important thing in my life, at least at first. During quarantine, for example, I was definitely on the bread-making wave, and I made so many loaves we had to start asking our neighbors if they felt comfortable taking one, as we couldn’t finish them all. And finally, I’d say I’m a little bit cheesy because I’m a sucker for romcoms, Disney movies, all that kind of stuff. Real life has enough going on, why not enjoy a happy ending when you can?
15. How would your friends describe you?
As noted above, the prep you do for “Tell me about yourself” will also help you with this kind of question. Just make sure that your responses are all specific enough to teach your interviewer something new, and that you aren’t rambling or speaking in generalities.
Example response: I think my friends would describe me as a very generous person. If someone ever needs a cat or dog sitter, I’m always the first one to reply in the group chat. Or if someone needs a dress for a school dance, my closet is basically always open for business.
16. What qualities do you look for in friends?
As with the role model question, here you’re talking about other people in order to share something about yourself. So, just be sure that your answer includes some level of self-reflection and doesn’t just focus on how great your friends are.
Example response: I get nervous about trying new things, so I like having adventurous friends to give me the push I need. Once, I went to a restaurant with a girl who was a pretty new friend at the time, and honestly I was pretty repulsed when she ordered oysters. Her response was to pester me the entire meal to try one, so I finally did, mostly to get her to leave me alone. To this day I can’t believe it, but she was right—oysters are one of my favorite foods now, all thanks to her!
17. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Your honest answer may well be “I don’t know,” which, in any other context, is completely fine! But in an interview, you never want to drop the ball like that, as you’re missing out on an opportunity to share something about yourself that could add to an admissions officer’s evaluation of you.
That being said, you don’t need to make something up. While colleges obviously want to accept students who have big dreams for the future, those dreams don’t necessarily have to involve a specific career. What’s important is focusing on a goal you are sure about, clearly communicating why that’s a goal of yours, and saying something about how you see yourself getting there—and ideally how the school will help you along the way.
Example response: I’d like to be doing something that lets me combine my love for animals with my love of travel. Both of my parents are vets, and my dad specializes in large animals, so even though I don’t think I could deal with the sad side of being a vet, it’s always been impossible for me to think of having a job that doesn’t involve animals. I think I might enjoy studying animals in the wild more, as I get to see them when they’re happy and healthy, and the experience I’d get through University of Hawaii’s marine biology program would definitely put me in position to travel around studying different aquatic animals.
18. What are your goals for college?
This is essentially a more focused version of the “ten years” question above, and a more general version of the “Why do you want to attend this college?” question from earlier in the post. Rather than focusing your entire response on the school you’re interviewing for, start off by talking about what you’re hoping to get out of college overall, and then explain how you see this particular school helping you realize those dreams.
Example response: I’ve always known that I want to work in medicine, but I’m not sure if being a doctor would be right for me or if maybe doing research or working on new technologies would be a better fit. During college, I’d like to figure out which career I’m best suited for, and I think the University of Washington would be a great place to do that. UW’s med school and the hospital affiliated with the University would allow me to get a sneak peek at life as a doctor, and in Seattle I’d be right down the street from tons of biotech startups, so I’d also get to see what that world looks like.
19. What makes you unique?
This is another question along the lines of “Tell me about yourself.” You probably won’t get asked every variant in the same interview, as interviews are only so long and colleges also have more specific things they want to learn about you. Nevertheless, make sure you take some time to think about each one listed in this post, as you’re probably going to come across all of them at some point across all the interviews you’ll do.
Example response: I can’t ride a bike, but I can ride a unicycle. When my parents took me to get my first bike, I just wouldn’t let go of the unicycle, and had no interest in the bikes. Everyone always tells me that I’d be able to learn super easily, since I have good balance, but I’ve never seen the point. I’m perfectly happy with just one wheel!
20. Tell me about a time you acted as a leader. Would you do anything differently in hindsight?
If you get asked this question, make sure you answer both parts. Even if you feel like you did everything perfectly, remember that colleges want to see that you’re self-aware enough to recognize your own areas for growth. So, while you probably don’t want to talk about a leadership experience that was a total disaster, be sure to mention some things that you feel you could have done better.
Example response: Once, I was on a hiking trip with some friends when it started pouring rain, and nobody had a jacket besides me. We hid under the trees for a bit, but it wasn’t getting better. So, we had to turn back, but nobody was that thrilled about getting wet. I took the plunge first, and pointed out that we were supposed to be going to a lake anyways, so if we weren’t going to make it, the rain was the closest we were going to get to swimming.
I think joking around helped everyone make the most of an unfortunate situation, although I have to say the whole thing was sort of my fault to begin with. I was the most experienced hiker in the group and I didn’t think beforehand to ask my friends if they had jackets.
21. In group settings, what role do you play? Does leadership come naturally to you, or do you prefer to listen and observe?
Your first instinct with this question may be to say you’re a natural leader, since colleges want to accept students who are going to make a difference in the world. But admissions officers know that there’s more than one way to do that, and besides, you never want to be dishonest in your interview. So, if you’re more of a “listen and observe” type, that’s totally fine! Whether you’re a leader or an observer, just make sure it’s clear how your approach in group settings helps advance the overall goal.
Example response: My approach to group settings has definitely been shaped by the main groups I’ve been a part of. One of these groups is my dance team. The team historically almost always makes at least the regional competition, so when I joined I definitely felt the pressure to succeed right away.
Since I knew other girls had been a part of the team for longer and were more used to that pressure, I didn’t try to give big hype speeches or anything. But I did have experience with some styles of dance that the other girls didn’t, so when I had tips or suggestions, I always made sure to go out of my way to share them. To me, the most important thing on a team is everyone helping out in whatever way they can.
22. Do you consider yourself to be more of an introvert or an extrovert?
Like with the previous question, whether you say you’re an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that you’re able to reflect on how you engage with others since, after all, a big thing colleges are trying to figure out is how well you’ll fit into a community of hundreds or thousands of other students.
Example response: I’ve always been more of an introvert and, maybe counterintuitively, I think that’s because I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of kids around my age. I love those people like family, and some of my best memories are of water fights or playing kickball in the park. But pretty early on I definitely realized that I needed time to myself too. Sometimes everyone else would be going to someone’s house for a sleepover, and I would say my parents wanted me home for dinner, just because at a certain point all I wanted to do was pet my cat and not talk to anyone.
23. What’s something you’re particularly proud of?
There are a couple of ways you can go about answering this question. Your first instinct might be to talk about a notable academic or extracurricular achievement—which you can absolutely do—but you can also talk about something from your personal life that may not show up anywhere else on your application. As noted earlier, sometimes these somewhat private anecdotes can go a long way toward rounding out the more “objective” elements of your application, like grades and awards.
Whatever you choose to talk about, make sure you don’t come across as boastful. While college interviews, and college applications in general, are inherently somewhat braggy, hyping yourself up too much may make you seem self-centered, which will likely rub your reader—or interviewer—the wrong way.
Example response: I’m proud of the relationship I’ve built with my family’s two macaws. I was only seven when we got them, so they were almost as big as I was, and I knew how hard they could bite from watching them rip apart their wooden perches. But I was fascinated by them and spent many hours holding and petting them to get them to trust me.
I did get bitten more than a few times, and sometimes I had to listen to them scream for hours for no apparent reason, but now they trust me more than anyone else in the family. Bonding with them has taught me so much about understanding intelligence and emotions, in both humans and animals. I’ll definitely miss them a lot when I leave for college.
24. How do you handle stress?
This question requires a strategy similar to those from earlier on in the post that focused on the challenges you’ve faced during high school and your own personal weaknesses. Your interviewer wants to see how well you can self-reflect, so you want to be thoughtful in describing what causes you stress, how you react to those things, and potentially what strategies you’re working on to become better at stress management.
Example response: Usually, I’m pretty outgoing and like being around people, but when I get stressed I sort of go into my shell. Like when I have a big paper due, I spend most of my time in my room, even though I normally do my homework in the living room to be around my family. Unfortunately, that’s actually pretty counterproductive, because then not being around people makes me feel down on top of my stress. To help with that, I bought myself a pair of noise-canceling headphones so I can concentrate while still enjoying my family’s company.
25. Do you have any questions for me?
Don’t leave this question unanswered! While the interview is primarily an opportunity for the school to get to know you better, it’s also an opportunity for you to learn more about the school. The questions you ask will also show your interviewer how genuine your interest in their school is, as generic questions about, for example, whether classes were hard will make it seem like your reasons for applying are superficial.
Example response for a Columbia interviewer: Did you feel like you had enough flexibility to explore your interests even with quite a few classes being taken up by core requirements? Was there a strong sense of community even though Columbia is in such a large city?
Tips for Your College Interview
Practice Makes Perfect
While you don’t want to sound like you’re reading from a script, you also want to avoid feeling like a deer in headlights. So, think about how you’d respond to these questions, and practice your answers with a friend or family member, or even alone in the mirror!
Research the College
Remember, you’re almost definitely going to be directly asked why you want to attend the school. Even beyond that specific question, your interviewer will notice if you don’t know much about the school, as you may have a blank stare while they share anecdotes from their time on campus. Plus, if you already know something about the school going into the interview, it’ll be a more useful experience for you if you are eventually accepted and are deciding whether or not to attend.
If your interview is in person, plan to arrive at least 15 minutes early, after factoring in potential delays from traffic or public transit issues. If your interview is online, make sure you have the link ready, your computer is charged, and your dog isn’t going to barge into the room and start barking halfway through. Your interviewer is taking time out of their schedule to speak to you, and showing up late or having interruptions partway through comes across as disrespectful.
Follow Up with a Thank-You Note or Email
Again, your interviewer probably has plenty of things they could be doing other than interviewing you, and most alumni interviewers are not paid for their time. So, it’s good etiquette to show that you recognize the value of their time.
After interviews, many of us have a tendency to fixate on things we could have said more eloquently, or topics we should have spoken about but didn’t. But in an hourlong conversation, your overall personality and character will stick in your interviewer’s mind much more than a subpar answer or two. Besides, they aren’t expecting perfection, so you shouldn’t either!
What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?
Interviews won’t change your admissions chances much, if at all. Therefore, it’s important to know what your baseline odds of acceptance are at a particular school so that you can be sure you’re creating a balanced school list. Our free chancing engine will factor in your grades, course rigor, extracurriculars, and so on, to determine how likely you are to be accepted at a given college from a list of hundreds! This will help you better understand your own school list. We recommend applying to at least 2 safeties, 4 targets, and 2 reaches.