Why it’s Important to Ask Questions in an Alumni Interview
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Robert Crystal in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
During a college interview, there are several common types of questions that you might encounter. In this article, we focus on a question commonly asked at the end of interviews that is often a missed opportunity. The question is, “What questions do you have for us?” It often catches students off-guard who have not prepared questions ahead of time. Read on for strategies to respond to this question and for examples of great responses from Robert Crystal, who has conducted more than 200 admissions interviews for Yale University.
Always Ask a Question
The final interview question, “What questions do you have for us,” is quite important because it offers the student a voice in the conversation. During a college interview, you are fully entitled and indeed expected to have your own questions about the institution you’re applying to. The most important piece of advice for this part of the interview is to always ask a question.
In most cases, even if you think you don’t need to know anything else about the school, that is not true. Additionally, not asking a question here can imply that you didn’t take as much time to prepare or consider the benefit of being able to speak to someone with inside experience at the school. So, no matter what, you should ask at least one question because this ultimately demonstrates interest on your part.
Types of Questions to Ask
Ask for the Insider Perspective
During a college interview, you will be speaking with someone who works at the school, attends the school, or is an alum of the college that you’re applying to. This is a fantastic opportunity for you to gain insight from an insider perspective.
Try to leverage the fact that you’re talking to someone who went to the school by asking questions only someone who went there would be able to answer. For example, you could ask what day-to-day life looks like at the college or university.
Asking this type of question or ones that align with the school in terms of fit can help paint a portrait of you as being the right person for the school.
Connect to Something the Interviewer Said
Another type of question that demonstrates emotional maturity and good listening skills is asking something that ties into a response given or a question asked by the interviewer. Asking a question related to something the interviewer mentioned can signal you listened to what they had to say rather than only being preoccupied with responding and talking about yourself. Questions like these can also create a dialogue between you and the interviewer, which can make the experience more interesting and memorable.
Ask Thought-Provoking Questions
As you prepare questions, try to come up with something more than a basic question like, “What was your favorite part of the school?” While that’s not a bad question at all, it is surface-level.
Robert shared some memorable, thought-provoking questions that he has been asked during interviews. For example, he was once asked, “Looking back on your time at the school, what was one way that Yale let you down?” Robert remarked that this question made him think, and questions like this are great because they signal you want to know really specific and relevant information.
Another example of a strong question is, “What was the part of campus that made you happiest?” This question asks about daily student life but does so in a nuanced, thoughtful way.
If you’re applying to a special program or something like a research position, you can ask about the individual initiative through a question like, “Will I have the opportunity to propose project ideas to pursue in addition to helping out with existing research?”
Strong questions will have the added benefit of helping the interviewer picture and place you in the setting that you’re applying to.
When asking questions in a college interview, it is important to be very specific. One way to get specific is by prioritizing asking things that you want to know. For example, if you are curious about the mental health resources on campus, ask about that.
Robert recalled when a prospective student who was Black asked him about the types of campus resources available for Black students. This question was highly specific and demonstrated that the student was thinking about how they would fit in the Yale community and the resources they would need to succeed.
Some other specific questions that Robert has been asked are, “How does Yale make its campus safe for students?” “What were some of the best memories that you had from your time in college?” or “If you could do things over again, what is one thing that you’d change about your experience?”
These questions are all slightly more nuanced than a basic question like, “What’s your favorite thing about Yale?” or “What was your favorite class?” By going a bit deeper, they show the interviewer your thought process and give you the opportunity to hear a great response.