10 College Interview Questions and How to Prepare for Them

10 College Interview Questions and How to Prepare for Them

Some colleges don’t offer interviews at all (e.g., University of California), while others offer either optional ones (e.g., Johns Hopkins), recommended ones (e.g., Carnegie Mellon), or required ones (most Ivy Leagues). In any case, if you get the opportunity for a college interview, go for it! If a college is willing to go through the trouble of organizing interviews, it must consider them significant.

Meeting with a college representative, who’s often an alumni, is a great way for you to demonstrate interest in a school, gather more information, and nudge your admissions chances in the right direction. The intangible personality factors you possess, which can only be perceived in person, may give admissions confirmation that you will be a good fit for their school.

To ensure you showcase your best, true self, here are the top 10 college interview questions and how to prepare for each:

1. How would you describe yourself? (or, tell me about yourself)

This tends to be a popular opening question to break the ice and hear your version of the prominent aspects of yourself. With such a vague question, careful not to go down a path that won’t be helpful in a college interview.

DON’T describe any of your physical features, mundane details from your childhood, or anything that paints you in a negative light.

DO focus on your interests, passions, and personality traits. Give the interviewers more than just adjectives; use examples that show you in action and/or describe what has influenced your characteristics. Consider discussing how you’ve overcome weaknesses too, which tends to  reveal positive traits.

2. Why are you interested in this college?

Colleges place a fair amount of emphasis on who among their accepted students will actually attend. They want assurance that you are genuinely excited about what they have to offer.

DON’T answer with just facts from a website, such as the university is a top 10 school and you will get a great education.

DO focus on specific, unique aspects of the school that attracted you--courses, opportunities, campus culture--and demonstrate that these match your personality and interests. As always, feel free to give examples of your experiences to show how good of a fit you will be for the school.  

3. What can you contribute to this college?

Colleges naturally want a diversified, vibrant student body full of life and talent.

DON’T just say something generic like you’ll work hard and be respectful to others.

DO show the interviewers why, out of all the applicants, you’re desirable. Brainstorm what about you is unique, what you’re good at, and any goals you have about improving our world. It can help to add in specific extracurriculars you want to pursue so they can envision your impact on campus.

4. Where do you see yourself 5 (or 20) years from now?

Colleges want to see you have goals or a general direction, even if you will change your mind.

DON’T just say something general like you want to help make the world a better place or be married with kids in a nice four-bedroom house.

DO talk about specific education or career goals. Do you hope to have a Masters of Fine Arts and teach painting at a university? Or perhaps you know you want to impact the world in a certain way, such as by advocating for the environment or improving medical care. Be prepared to discuss short-term and long-term goals.

5. What do you like to do for fun?

Students who have hobbies and do other activities beyond academics are more likely to lead a balanced life and therefore thrive throughout the ups and downs of college life.

DON’T try to say what you think the interviewer wants to hear, like reading textbooks or volunteering for the homeless.

DO be honest, even if you think your hobbies seem unimpressive. Taking nature walks is just as valid as building computers. Remember, the interviewer just wants to get to know you better, get more insight into your unique personality. Also be prepared to discuss why you like the to do the things you do. What purpose do they serve or what do you get out of them?

6. Who has been the most influential person in your life?

We have all been shaped by the people we’ve encountered, and examining the most influential person in your life can give an interviewer more insight into how you operate and what kind of personality traits have formed within you.

DON’T risk rubbing the interviewers the wrong way by pontificating about a controversial figure such as a religious deity or recent president.

DO talk about a real person or even a character from a book or movie. The reasons you give are what will make your answers good. Don’t forget details!

7. What are your academic goals? Or, Why do you want to major in _____?

College is, after all, primarily about learning and taking advantage of the carefully planned and funded academic opportunities on campus.

DON’T just say you chose your major because your parents wanted you to or because you want to make a lot of money.

DO talk specifically about subjects you want to explore, research opportunities you’re interested in, or ways you want to combine different fields. Think about what led you to be interested in these areas and what makes you passionate about them. And if you know, this would be a good time to connect to what you might want to do as a future career.

8. What is your favorite (or least favorite) book (or movie, academic subject, etc.)?

This question is one more way to get to know your likes and dislikes in the context of your personality.

DON’T, once again, try to say what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Any answer is valid as long as you back it up.

DO be honest about what you like, especially because you are going to want to explain why you like it. You are not trying to persuade the interviewer to like the book, but instead genuinely saying why it is appealing to you.

9. Which experience has been the most fulfilling and gratifying personally and why?

DON’T feel like you need to exaggerate or come across like a hero in order to answer this question. Helping a friend or taking a new class can be as good as any dramatically impressive answers as long as you explain them.

DO think of accomplishments that you had to work for. Describe the difficulties you had to overcome in the process. What was the outcome? What did you get out of this experience? How have you become a better person?

10. What is your opinion on _____ (usually some current event)?

Schools know what kind of student you are, but what kind of citizen are you? Are you aware of what goes on outside of school? Do you know or care about any social issues? What do you think about what’s going on in this country and others? Schools want students who are going to engage outside of campus and participate in larger communities.

DON’T make things up or try to sound like you know what you’re talking about if you don’t. Just answer the question the best you can. If anything, you can speak more generally about an opinion you do have or what you want for the world.

DO prepare. Read a variety of topics and form an opinion on each. Read through national news websites or magazines such as Time, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, The Economist, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and The Atlantic Monthly. Watch the news or browse your favorite online sites to read about the hot issues of the day. Try to cover all different areas, from science to economics to politics to sociology.

If you do nothing else, keep the following general suggestions for a successful interview in mind:

  • Practice. Roleplay answering some of these questions out loud, perhaps in front of someone or even in front of a camera.

  • Be yourself. When in doubt, just be your real self. Don’t try to memorize anything or be someone you think you’re supposed to be.

  • Have a conversation. The interview is not just about the college getting to know you, it’s about you getting to know the college. Ask questions anytime they naturally arise.

  • Stay positive. Whatever you say, make sure to focus on positive statements and avoid complaining, blaming, or generally having a negative tone. Smile, make eye contact, and enjoy the experience!


Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance.