Male administrator giving a college interview online to a potential student
Outlier Articles Home

College Success

How To Ace a College Interview

01.04.2023 • 12 min read

Nick Griffin

Subject Matter Expert

Learn how to ace a college interview the first time around. Review the most common questions asked and useful preparation tips.

In This Article

  1. 10 Most Common Questions and How To Answer Them

  2. 8 Useful Tips for a College Interview

  3. College Interview FAQs

After months of filtering through schools, writing essays, and filling out applications, it’s time for that college interview.

Your school of choice has chosen you out of all the other applicants to interview. That’s great news! The school is impressed by who you are on paper. Now, you get to show them who you are in person.

While not all schools require a college interview, several top schools do require an interview as part of their admissions process. Besides those top-ranking schools, many others offer prospective students an optional interview with a school admissions representative.

If you get the chance to have a college interview, take it.

By interviewing, you can:

  • Ask specific questions about the school and program you are interested in.

  • Build a relationship with the person who is evaluating your application.

  • Provide clarity and context to parts of your application.

  • Demonstrate that you deserve a spot in the school and program you chose.

  • Show that you are committed to attending college at their school.

While an interview with a college representative can be intimidating at first, it can pay off in the long run.

Having a firm grasp of the interview process, doing some research, and a little practice can go a long way. By taking the time to be prepared, you are sure to get noticed by one of the people who can admit you into your dream school.

10 Most Common Questions and How To Answer Them

Being ready for the college interview questions is an important step in making sure that you represent who you are.

Consider these common college interview questions and write out your responses to each one before the big day.

1. Tell me about yourself

This is one of the most common questions asked at the beginning of an interview. It helps the interviewer get a general sense of who you are. Think of it in those terms.

The key to answering this question is to be both personable and succinct. Think of what makes you a unique and interesting person. Perhaps your volunteer work or extracurricular activities? Touch on a few of these qualities in your response. But don’t forget, be yourself.

A great rule to remember is not to take more than 2 minutes to answer any question. Too often, students will ramble on with a question like this one. Make sure your response paints a clear picture while being brief.

2. Why did you choose to apply to our school?

In this question, you get to show that you’ve done your homework. Look over the college website and talk to people who have gone to school there. What stood out?

Discuss the part of the college that makes it unique from all the other schools out there. Try to relate what the college has to offer to your academic interests and explain why you are choosing to pursue higher education there.

3. What has been your greatest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

Schools are looking for students that have shown perseverance through adversity. College is a challenging experience, where students are tested and come out with resiliency.

The school wants to know that you can take on the rigors of your education. Have a story you can tell that shows you took a challenge head-on. Be able to articulate how you recognized the problem and worked through it.

4. What 3 adjectives best describe you?

Adjectives are words used to describe a noun—you. What 3 words describe who you are?

It can be tricky to come up with the best 3 words. But you can look over a few lists and find words that are accurate and unique.

After you have rehearsed this question, make sure it doesn’t seem that way in the interview. Take a pause after they've asked you this question. Then state the adjectives one at a time.

5. Explain what you want to do after graduating from college

Chances are you have put quite a bit of thought into this question already, but you may not be certain. That’s ok. Having an idea of what you would do for a future career means you have long-term goals. Goals can change over time, but they are important to have.

Your interviewer wants to know that your ambitions are deeper than just getting accepted into college. Make sure your future career aligns with your interests and possible major. Be prepared to talk about these as well.

6. Who has been a mentor in your life and what qualities did/do they possess?

By asking this question, the interviewer wants to know 2 things:

  1. The kind of person you desire to be

  2. You can lean on others for support

In our connected world, knowing that we cannot do everything ourselves is a desirable trait for organizations. Speak to the fact that you have sought help from a mentor and what you have learned. A story works well for this question.

7. What do you anticipate will be difficult for you in college? How will you manage?

Of course, you can’t quite know the challenges that await you. You have probably given them some thought. Be honest in this question and talk about what you think will be hard.

The interviewer wants to know that you can manage difficulties without getting overwhelmed by them. Come up with a creative solution to share. If you have done something similar in the past, share that too.

8. Explain what you can contribute to our school

Since we live in a collaborative world, we need to know how others can support us through their strengths. What are your strengths when in a group of people trying to solve problems?

By offering a specific quality to the students and faculty you will be among during your education, you become an asset. Show the school admissions officer that you will better their campus community in some way.

9. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be? Why?

Being aware of issues larger than yourself shows that you are an informed critical thinker. Demonstrate that you know something about the world that is crucial to most humans.

Be able to speak to the importance of this issue and how changing it would benefit many. You don’t have to know how to solve the problem. Only that you are aware it is a problem.

10. Do you have any questions for me?

Many students dread this question, so make sure you are prepared for it. This is an inevitable question and can be your time to really shine.

Ask a few questions. Three to five is best. Share any curiosities you have about the school. Make sure you cannot find the answers to the questions you ask on the school website.

The goal of the questions you ask should be for your interviewer to have to sell the school to you. Remember that it is not only the school interviewing you. You are interviewing the school as well.

8 Useful Tips for a College Interview

1. Do your research

The more you know about the college you are interviewing with, the better. Looking through the school’s website is important. But talking to someone who goes to school there is even more beneficial.

Send a few emails and pick up the phone to talk to people at the school. You can read some alumni interviews or connect with alumni personally. The more you know, the better prepared you will be.

2. Talk to college students

Most likely you know a few people that went to college. Of course, talking to someone that went to the college you are interested in provides tons of insight, but talk to anyone that went to college.

Find out what people enjoyed about their college experience, what they struggled with, and how they use that experience in their life today. These answers will help you tremendously with your interview.

3. Think of life experiences you can draw upon

Create a list of experiences that have prepared you for your college journey. Having specific examples to demonstrate your readiness to take on the challenges of college will say a lot more than simply stating it.

If you have earned transferable college credit through a community college or an online program like Degrees+, you prove that you have what it takes to be successful.

Perhaps you have been a captain of a sports team or were able to work full-time while going to school. These are great examples to share with the admissions counselor.

4. Practice

After going through the questions above, have a friend or family member sit down with you for a mock interview.

This is your chance to answer the questions without notes and work on articulating yourself in a succinct way.

Ask for feedback on how genuine your answers felt. You are trying to practice without making it seem like you are rehearsed during your interview.

5. Show proper etiquette

Whether your interview is in-person or a virtual interview, make sure you show up well. Being a bit early is a great start. Wear business casual clothes and be polite.

Like a job interview, first impressions are very important, so remember to make good eye contact and smile.

6. Enjoy the conversation

Remember that this is a conversation you are having with another person. There is no right way to answer all the questions. They are just trying to get a sense of who you are.

The best thing you can do is be present and honest with the admissions officer. By doing this, you will get to know each other and form an authentic relationship.

7. Relax

It can be easy to get too wrapped up in being perfect for your college admissions interview. This is totally natural and is your body’s response to the excitement and anticipation around going to college.

Respect the way you feel, acknowledge it, and practice a grounding skill like some deep, slow breathing before the interview. Going in calm will foster a more productive interview than being all wound up.

8. Send a thank you message

After the interview is over, send a quick email to the college admissions officer that interviewed you. This is just a quick thank you note for taking the time to meet with you and for the information they provided. End it with, “I look forward to hearing from you,” or a similar sentiment.

This shows them you are grateful for the opportunity to interview during the application process and are still very interested in attending their school following the interview.

College Interview FAQs

How long is a college interview?

Schools that require admissions interviews typically run them on a pretty tight schedule of 30 minutes each. When interviews are optional, they may be up to 60 minutes.

This means that it is important to be concise in your responses, but also elaborate enough for the interviewer to get to know you.

Do not spend a lot of time worrying about how long the interview lasts, since admissions officers are used to maintaining their schedules.

What are some things you shouldn’t say in a college interview?

Be sure to maintain a professional presentation during your college interview. Be kind and respectful to the interviewer and keep your personal stories to the important details.

Many students choose to ask about financial aid options and internships during an interview. Don’t do this.

You do not need to completely avoid talking about money, but make sure it has an appropriate place in the conversation.

You can ask your questions about grants and scholarships, for instance, with the school’s financial aid office and not in the interview.

In contrast, if you have figured out how to manage your time between work and school, this may be a great story to share when answering an interview question about facing challenges.

Can a college interview hurt you?

When a school offers to interview you, you have impressed them on paper and they want to know more. Getting an interview is a good thing. It will tell college admissions so much more than your GPA, test scores, and college essays can.

Generally, an interview will not hurt your chances of admission. It only helps present a picture of who you are to the school admissions board. Remember to be professional and authentic in your interview.

How can I show that I’m ready for college?

A lot of what you put in your college application shows your readiness for the rigors of college. This is why they’re interviewing you.

Of course, a student right out of high school will present far differently in an interview than someone going back to school at 40. But both have their unique strengths.

Take the time to practice. Follow the college interview tips. Have questions ready. You’ll demonstrate your ability to take on any challenges college life throws at you.

What should I do after a college interview?

Right after the interview, compose an email to the person who interviewed you. Thank the admissions counselor for taking the time to meet with you and for how much you appreciated the experience.

A thank you email says to the admissions counselor that you care about getting into their college and demonstrates your professionalism.

Once the interview is done and you send a thank you note, take a deep breath of relief and congratulate yourself.

You can now focus on other key aspects of going to college—like filling out your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), applying for grants and scholarships, and making a college budget.

By far the most important thing is to take time to do something you enjoy. Applying for college can be a stressful endeavor. Make sure you take care of yourself. This way you can show up as your best self when you truly need to.

Degrees+: Discover Online College Unlike Anything You’ve Experienced

Outlier (winner of TIME Best Inventions 2020) and Golden Gate University (#1 school for working professionals) have redesigned the experience of earning a college degree to minimize cost and maximize outcomes. Explore a revolutionary way to earn your college degree: