How to Answer 16 of the Most Popular College Scholarship Interview Questions
If you have applied to scholarship programs through colleges and universities or third parties, you may be invited to interview. As you prepare, be sure to think about what makes you excited about this particular scholarship program. You should also help the selection committee understand what makes you in particular a good candidate for the opportunity.
In this post, we’ll give you advice on how to answer 16 of the most popular scholarship interview questions that CollegeVine students are asked every year. Try printing these out and giving them to a friend or family member to quiz you.
1. Tell us about yourself.
Practice an elevator pitch that takes no more than a minute. Try to list a number of different interesting things about you so the interviewer has a lot of facts to consider. It should hint at the one thing you care about most.
Example: My name is Emma, and I’m currently a senior at Carlsbad High School. I have loved my studies there, in particular the two languages I get to take, Spanish and Mandarin. I have spent the past few summers exploring my love of literature in summer programs and by launching my own literary magazine. When I’m not reading or writing, I like to spend time with my two younger siblings and my friends from Varsity Soccer.
This is a good answer because Emma gives an overview of lots of interests while also hinting at her main interest, languages and literature.
2. Were you involved in any activities at school or in your community?
Answer with a couple of your strongest extracurricular activities, in school and out. Be sure you come prepared with at least a few out-of-school and in-school examples. Talk about why you chose these and list a couple key accomplishments.
Example: Yes, I play tuba with the marching band in school, and last year my friends and I started a tutoring program for seniors and juniors to work with sophomores and freshmen. Outside of school, I am a black belt in Taekwondo and teach classes for younger students. I’m pretty extroverted, and I love these three activities because they let me share what I know and love with others.
This answer connects three fairly different extracurricular activities by pointing out they are all group activities that require the applicant to use his teaching skills.
3. Tell us about your greatest strength.
Don’t mistake your greatest strength for your greatest interest. Be sure to list something for which you have ample examples showcasing your strength.
Example: I think I’m really good at finding a middle ground. Last year, I was on Prom Committee, and two of our leaders were in a deadlock over where to host the venue. One kept talking about the high rates of Option A, and the other was saying that Option B was not in a safe part of town. I was able to point out that they were optimizing on different values and suggested we look for safe, low-cost venues. We wound up hosting the event at a beautiful indoor garden close to the school, and the committee got along better once we realized we could compromise.
This answer is strong because the applicant supports his claim with a very concrete example where he used his strength to help others.
4. What is your greatest weakness?
This question is designed to assess whether you are introspective and learn from your mistakes. Rather than listing a stagnant or generic weakness like “I lose my temper” or “I’m messy,” try to think of an area that you have identified as a weakness and made attempts to improve.
Example: I’m always looking for ways to be more assertive. In freshman year, all of my teachers mentioned that I was not good at speaking up in class. After that, I joined the debate club so I would learn how to craft responses on my feet. Much to my surprise, I started winning tournaments and even qualified for the state competition this year. I still struggle to bring that into the classroom, but my teachers have started commenting on my progress.
This student does a good job of choosing a real weakness she has but pointing to steps she has taken to overcome it. She avoids bragging but also gives herself credit for her recent success.
5. Describe your biggest mistake.
Again, you want to think of an answer that emphasizes you know how to learn from past experience. You should also indicate that you are not stuck in the past. While you acknowledge you have messed up, also point out ways that you have gotten better. This is a good time to address any disciplinary action on your record.
Example: Two years ago, I yelled at my co-captain on the morning of a tennis tournament that our school was hosting because he had forgotten to bring the extra tennis balls we would need. He said it hurt his feelings but did not make a big deal of it at the time, so I figured it was an okay way to blow off steam. Then last year, something similar happened to me while I was helping with our high school musical. I realized how hurtful it is for someone to call you stupid, whereas before I thought it was not nice but also not something that really got under people’s skin. Now, whenever I get upset, I’ll take really deep breaths or even go on a walk if I have to. I haven’t yelled at anyone since.
This answer is great because it shows the student has really grappled with her faults and made lifestyle changes to prevent her from repeating her mistakes.
6. Tell me about your leadership experience.
Leadership can be in a formal position or simply a time you took responsibility for the wellbeing of others. How did you lead in positive ways that others might not have been able to?
Example: I didn’t think of myself as a leader until I joined the Associated Student Body in my Junior Year as Vice President. Then I saw all kinds of changes that we were able to make, and I realized I had a good eye for noticing how to isolate the problem in complex social situations. This year, I became President of the Model UN Club and get to practice solving problems on a global scale.
This student is able to point to problem-solving as her strength in two separate leadership experiences.
7. What is your favorite book/movie/song?
This is a gimme, just be prepared to explain what it is you like about the piece. You want to avoid giving an answer out of habit but being unable to back up why that book/movie/song means so much to you.
Example: My favorite book is Finding You by Lydia Albano. The main character, Isla, is sold into slavery, and at first she hopes that someone from her past will come rescue her. She doesn’t think she can because she’s small and not very strong. But in the end she actually winds up saving a bunch of other girls when she creates an escape plan for them. I like this book because I would also like to work to end human trafficking. Like Isla, sometimes I feel like I can’t do anything to help, but she gives me courage to try.
This student connects her favorite book to her own personality and career aspirations, so it is clear why she takes it so personally.
8. What subject is your favorite in school?
This question aims to determine whether you have a sincere love of learning. You do not have to give specific examples of how you have thrived in the class. However, you should be able to explain what you like about that subject.
Example: I love studying Biology because I get to learn about all kinds of different ways animals have adapted to their environment. My favorite thing I learned this year is that lots of fish can switch from being male to female under the right circumstances. In the wild, it happens pretty frequently.
This student answered with one subject and gave an example of the sort of lesson that she especially enjoys.
9. What is a meaningful experience or class you’ve had in school?
Try to think of an example that shows how you have learned or changed. The story should be told in your own voice. If you are funny, go ahead and try to make it humorous. If that is not how you lead, then just stick to your own voice so your answer comes across as genuine.
Example: In Freshman year, we read the Iliad for English class, and our teacher took us on a field trip to hear a live performance of parts of the Iliad. I really liked it because, even though we had been reading it all semester, it came to life when you heard someone acting it out. I also think that it made the story stick with me. I don’t remember some of the books we’ve read, but I will always know who Patroclus and Hector are.
It’s clear that this student has been actively engaging with his coursework from the answer that he gives, since he describes the memory in detail.
10. Who do you look up to? Who is your role model?
It is important to pick someone who has a very clear trait you want to emulate. No one is perfect, so don’t worry about choosing someone with faults as well. This question is designed to identify whether you can find and admire positive traits.
Example: I really look up to Sophie Blanchard, one of the first women to ride in a hot air balloon. She used to try daring journeys, first with her husband and then alone. She lost consciousness in a hailstorm and ultimately died when she tried to light fireworks from her balloon while it was in midair. I think Blanchard was reckless, but ultimately I admire her for trying something new and not being afraid. Though if I ever go in a hot air balloon, no fireworks!
Even though this student picked a controversial figure, she was able to clarify what about Sophie Blanchard that inspired her: Blanchard’s courage.
11. Where do you see yourself in 5/10/20 years?
No one is going to hold you to your answer, so it’s okay to paint a picture that you are not 100% sure is your future path. Try to focus on career and service accomplishments more than family or personal life.
Example: I know I love nature, so I’ll probably be living in the Rocky Mountains shortly after college. I also want to be a geologist, so I’ll probably live near a university town like Boulder, CO. I’m creating a periodic table collection of rocks, and I think in 10 years I will have completed my collection.
This student has a clear picture of how their passions relate to their future, and they have already started taking steps to make that dream a reality.
Questions about the Opportunity
12. Why did you chose this university or college?
This question is designed to separate trophy collectors from students who really want to attend that university or college. Be sure to come prepared with specific resources or characteristics that mean a lot to you which this university or college has to offer. Try to pick something you don’t find everywhere. For instance, “the diverse student body” is not as good of an answer as “the World Awareness citation offered through the Political Science department.”
I really love the “Peace, War, and Defense” program at UNC Chapel Hill. It’s the only one of its kind in the entire country. In my visit to Chapel Hill, I also could not help but notice that the people here are incredibly kind and friendly. The honor code means I would be able to leave my stuff around campus and not worry about people stealing it. I also want to be close to my parents, who live in Charlotte.
This student has considered the benefits of his school of choice based on a number of different criteria: culture, location, and academics.
13. Why should you be the one to receive this scholarship?
Read the scholarship’s description of an ideal candidate beforehand to double check that you know what traits they are seeking. Then focus in on one or two of those that you have in spades and build your answer around that.
Example: A Jefferson Scholar should demonstrate service, scholarship, and citizenship, all of which have been my focus in high school. Since founding the Student Service League, I have had the chance to serve across the county and practice service leadership. As a student member of the School Board, I have begun to shape my hometown with strategic policy changes. Being a Jefferson Scholar will allow me to afford attending UVA and learn what it takes to lead as a policy-maker.
The student balances his answer with past successes, knowledge of the scholarship, and a vision of how he would benefit from receiving this opportunity.
14. How will you use the scholarship money?
Address what academic or financial goals become available thanks to this money.
Example: This scholarship would allow me to visit China the summer before I matriculate. This visit back to Chengdu is something I have always wanted to do so I can understand where my family comes from and to volunteer at the orphanage where my dad grew up. It will also help me decide whether I want to pursue a career of social work.
In her answer, the student paints a very clear picture of how she will spend the money wisely to further her education in a way she would not otherwise be able to afford.
15. What questions do you have for me?
You always should have questions. This shows you were planning ahead. Prepare at least four beforehand, and feel free to add to those based on what you learn in the interview.
Yes, as a former scholarship recipient yourself, did you notice what made this experience a special one?
What do you wish people in my shoes knew about attending St. Mary’s College?
Do you have any advice for me as I prepare for college?
All of these questions indicate that the applicant is thinking about the choices ahead of her and not passively moving through the application process.
16. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Quickly review what you have talked about so far. Are there any major accomplishments you neglected to mention (i.e. the top line of your resume, not necessarily anything else)? Do you think you’ve given the wrong impression at any point? This is a great chance to counterbalance any negative impression you have given. It’s a good time to think on your feet.
I actually think we’ve covered everything. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with me!
This student felt like the interview covered all major aspects of their personality and profile. They said thank you, which is a great idea and makes your interviewer feel respected.
Good luck on interviews! If you are looking to learn more about college scholarships, check out these articles:
Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program. Our mentors drive significant personal and professional development for their high school mentees.
Combining mentorship with engaging content, insider strategies, and personalized analyses, our program provides students with the tools to succeed. As students learn from successful older peers, they develop confidence, autonomy, and critical thinking skills to help maximize their chances of success in college, business, and life.
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.