college interview questions
Christina | Unsplash

College Interview Questions and how to prepare for a College Interview?

In this “College Interview” guide, we offer some of our top college interview tips for how to prepare for college interview questions. We discuss what to wear to a college interview and describe college interviews at top universities, such as the Harvard interview or the Yale interview. Additionally, we share some common college interview questions and give you the best strategies to ace your college interview.

Let’s get started with the very first question: what is a college interview, and why do college interviews matter? 

What is a college interview?

A college interview is a meeting between a prospective student and a representative of their chosen school. Schools use college interviews to get to know more about you, your interests and achievements. College interviews are a great way for colleges to get to know who you are beyond your application. Also, college interviews are your chance to get to know the school better. 

The college interview questions are a chance for you to showcase aspects of your personality that didn’t come through in other parts of your application. College interviews can seem stressful, but at their core, college interviews are just a conversation. Also, if you prepare for the college interview questions well ahead of time, your college interviews will feel like a breeze!

Informational interviews

College interviews also provide a chance for you to get more information about the school. These college interview questions go both ways! This is especially true if the college interview is “non-evaluative”. That means the admissions team won’t use your university interview in their decision about your application. In this case, your university interview is more of a conversation for you to learn more about the college. So, there’s less pressure to perfect your answers to the college interview questions. 

Evaluative interviews

However, if the college interview is an “evaluative” interview, admissions teams will use your college interview to make a decision about your application. Think through your answers to those college admissions interview questions extra carefully. While both college interviews are important, the evaluative college interview will have a more direct impact on your acceptance chances. Therefore, prepare strong answers to the college admissions interview questions in advance

In this “College Interview Questions” guide, we’ll dissect top common college interview questions. Then, we’ll discuss what to wear during a college interview. We’ll also take a closer look at top schools’ interview procedures, like the Yale interview, the MIT interview, or the Harvard interview. Finally, we’ll give you college interview tips and tricks for coming up with answers to college interview questions. 

For more college interview tips, check out some of our webinars and masterclasses. Now, let’s get into more details about the university interview and common college interview questions. 

Do all schools offer college interviews?

Firstly, you may wonder: if you apply to 15 colleges, will you have to plan for 15 college interviews? The answer to that ‘probably not’ – you won’t need to prepare for 15 separate college interviews. Not every school offers college interviews. Some have done away with the college interview due to COVID. Others have shifted towards online college interviews. 

However no matter what, during your college interviews you’ll meet with a representative of the school. The college interview will be either on campus, local to you, or online. Regardless of the location, you should be prepared to answer all of the most common college interview questions. 

Check out this college interview webinar for more information on acing an online college interview. 

Next, we’ll discuss the typical length of a college interview. Then, we’ll share some top college interview tips for answering college admissions interview questions. After that, we’ll cover what to wear to a college interview. 

How long is a college interview?

Typically, a college interview is between 30 minutes and an hour. That’s a lot of college interview questions! Just to be safe, any day you have a university interview, you should block off an hour and a half to two hours. That way, if the college interview is really flowing, you don’t have to cut yourself off mid-sentence. Make sure you have time to answer all those college admissions interview questions!

Be prepared to talk for most of the college interview. The university interview is about you, and your interviewer will want to spend a lot of their time listening. That’s why it can be helpful to prepare talking points ahead of time to answer the college interview questions. You don’t want to run out of steam after just 10 minutes of conversation! 

For more college interview tips, check out this college interview webinar with a former admissions officer. Keep reading to hear about the university interview at different schools, common college admissions interview questions and what to wear to a college interview. 

College interviews: who will be interviewing you?

You may wonder, who should I expect at my college interview? Who will be the person asking me these college admissions interview questions? Usually, college interviews are done by a representative of the university. That often means a member of the admissions office will be asking your college interview questions. 

Some colleges have undergraduate students who handle the college interview process. So, you may be talking to someone only a few years older than you in your university interview. However, it’s still very important to make a good, professional impression. And, you’ll still want to prepare answers to the college admissions interview questions ahead of time. 

Additionally, some schools offer an alumni university interview. For example, the Harvard interview is conducted by a local alumnus in your area. An alumni interviewer will contact you directly to set up a Harvard interview with you, if the college is interested in interviewing you. So, you’ll be answering college interview questions from someone who attended the school anywhere from two to thirty years ago. 

Do research into each school’s university interview beforehand to figure out who will be interviewing you. It will help you to know who you’ll be sitting down with on the day of your university interview. That way, you can plan more personalized college interview questions to ask your interviewer at the end (more on this later). That’s right, the college interview questions go both ways!

Next, let’s look at specific college interview tips for each school. Later, we’ll talk about what to wear to a college interview and break down examples of college admissions interview questions. 

What to expect from a college interview?

A college interview can seem very stressful. What if the college interview questions are challenging? 

However, despite the pressure, there’s no need to worry! If you prepare ahead of time to answer top college admissions interview questions, you have no reason to be nervous. Your interviewer wants your college interview to go well; they don’t want you to fail. They’re on your side! 

So, let’s break down the college interview process for some top universities. Read these short guides to college interviews so you know what to expect going into your college interviews. 

The Harvard Interview

As we mentioned above, the Harvard interview is an alumni interview. This means an alum, usually one in your local area, will reach out to you to schedule a Harvard interview. Respond promptly and politely, and try to be flexible with your time. Because your interviewer is an alum, they likely have their own very busy schedule as well. 

The Harvard interview is evaluative, meaning it will be considered as part of your application. But, keep in mind that a Harvard interview is not a required part of the process, so don’t be discouraged if you do not get offered one. You will not be disadvantaged in the admissions process. 

Read more about what to expect in the Harvard interview here

The Yale Interview

Like the Harvard interview, the Yale interview is also not a required part of the admissions process. Also similarly, the Yale interview is evaluative. However, you may not request an interview. Either an alumnus and or a student interviewer will contact you after your admissions materials are submitted. If you are invited for a Yale interview, you are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the opportunity. 

You will not be disadvantaged if you do not complete a Yale interview. It’s more to do with availability of interviewers, and not to do with your application status. So, don’t panic if you’re not offered a Yale interview. Your application is still on track!

Finally, find out more about the Yale interview here

The Princeton Interview

The Princeton interview is an optional alumni college interview. When you are submitting your application, you are able to opt out of the Princeton interview. However, if you can, we highly recommend taking the Princeton interview. Doing the Princeton interview shows your excitement about the school, and it gives you a chance to talk with an alum and make sure Princeton is a good fit for you. 

If you do decide to opt out of the Princeton interview, you won’t be disadvantaged. Additionally, not everyone who wants a Princeton interview will be offered one. Currently, all Princeton interviews are virtual. 

The MIT Interview

According to their website, the school offers an MIT interview whenever possible. Your MIT interview will be conducted by a member of the MIT Educational Council, which is a network of over 5,000 MIT graduates. 

After you submit your application, a member of the Educational Council will reach out to schedule your MIT interview. However, if you are not offered an MIT interview, don’t worry. Your application will not be disadvantaged. Also, keep in mind that your MIT interview can range anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours long. So, clear your schedule!

For some top tips on nailing the MIT interview, read this article

The UPenn Interview

The UPenn interview is offered to more than 90% of applicants. So, if you are applying to UPenn, it’s highly likely you will be asked to complete a UPenn interview. However, due to alumni volunteer availability, you may not be offered a UPenn interview. This will not count against you in the admissions process. 

If you are invited to a UPenn interview, UPenn strongly recommends that you attend. If you cannot attend your UPenn interview, the college asks that you respond to your interviewer explaining why. 

However, we highly recommend that you take advantage of your offer for a UPenn interview and ace that university interview! For some top college interview tips on the UPenn interview check out this “Advice on College Interviews” video

The Stanford Interview

The Stanford interview is also an optional alumni college interview. However, Stanford will decide whether to offer you a Stanford interview, based on whether your high school is in a designated Stanford interview area. You can view the full list of areas here

If eligible for a Stanford interview, you will be contacted by a trained alum to set up your Stanford interview. Every Stanford interview is currently virtual, although typically your Stanford interview would be in-person. 

If you are offered a Stanford interview, we highly recommend that you accept the offer. The Stanford interview, like all college interviews, is a great opportunity for Stanford to learn more about you, and for you to learn more about Stanford.

To find out more about the Stanford interview, and general Stanford admission advice, check out this guide.  

How to prepare for a college interview?

Now that we’ve gone through the college interview process for some of the top universities in the country, let’s talk about the university interview itself. 

One of our biggest college interview tips is to prepare ahead of time. Research common college interview questions and practice answering them with a friend or family member. Think about what to wear to a college interview beforehand so you don’t stress on the day. And read up on college interview tips like the ones in this guide!

Later on in this article, we’ll break down some college admissions interview questions for you. Also, check out our college interview webinar for how to prepare your answers to top college interview questions. But now, let’s talk about what to wear to a college interview. 

What to wear to a college interview?

So, it’s the day of your college interview, and you’re getting ready to meet your interviewer. But, now you’re wondering, “What to wear to a college interview?” 

Let’s back up. Firstly, one of our top college interview tips about what to wear to a college interview is: don’t wait until the hour before to pick out your outfit. Planning ahead of time – ideally the day before – can reduce your stress as you prepare for your college interview. Knowing what to wear to a college interview in advance can help you focus on the college interview itself. For example, it lets you think about your answers to  the common college interview questions, and prepare college interview questions to ask your interviewer. 

The next of our college interview tips when you’re deciding what to wear to a college interview is: don’t wear anything too casual to your college interview. You don’t want to show up to the college interview in ripped jeans or a hooded sweatshirt. You’ll want to dress like you would for a job interview or a presentation at school. Aim to look clean and professional when you’re picking out what to wear for a college interview.

Conversely, you don’t have to put on anything too lavish. College interviews don’t require a whole new wardrobe, or a very expensive suit or dress. You should be able to find something suitable in your closet for your university interview. For example, a dress, a button up shirt, a nice sweater or a blazer, are all good options for your university interview. 

Make sure you feel comfortable and confident

The most important of our college interview tips when it comes to what to wear to a college interview is: wear something you feel comfortable in to your college interviews. You don’t want to fidget with an itchy collar or worry about your pants feeling too tight when you sit down. When picking out what to wear for a college interview, make sure it fits well. Then, the only thing on your mind during the college interview is answering those college interview questions. 

Finally, a note about online college interviews – because you will be in the comfort of your own home, and only visible from the shoulders up, you may be tempted to keep your slippers and pajama pants on. However, we suggest you get fully dressed for a virtual college interview, to put you in a more professional mindset. Additionally, if something happens and you need to stand up during your university interview, your interviewer won’t see your polka dot PJ pants! 

Still wondering what to wear for a college interview? Let’s break down some common college interview questions that you may encounter during your college interviews and your outfit may fall right into place. 

Top Ten common college interview questions

So, you’ve decided what to wear for a college interview, scheduled the college interview, and you’re wondering what else you should do to prepare for the university interview. 

We suggest you look at some of the most common college interview questions. They’ll give you a sense of what you may be asked during your university interview. That way, you’ll have some answers ready for your college admissions interview questions. 

Even if your interviewer doesn’t ask you the exact college admissions interview questions you prepare, they’ll likely ask similar college interview questions. Therefore, you’ll often be able to use your parts of your prepared answers in a wide range of college interview questions. 

Below, we’ll discuss the top common college interview questions and how you can prepare to answer them ahead of your college interview. 

1. Tell me about yourself.

This is the most common question in a college interview. An interviewer wants to learn who you are and how you would be a good fit for the school. Your interviewer probably won’t know about your classes, extracurriculars, or hobbies. In fact assume they know nothing but your name. What kind of first impression do you want to make?

Get comfortable with a 2-4 sentence statement that succinctly sums you up in the strongest possible light. However, it should not be memorized and quoted word for word. You want to sound natural! 

Are you a leader, athlete, activist, artist, mentor? What are your passions, hobbies, interests, dreams, and background? What makes you unique? In answering this college interview question, you want to make sure you’re highlighting your favorite parts about yourself, and the parts that are most important. 

college interview questions
Yingchou Han | Unsplash

2. Why do you want to go to our school?

Other versions of this university interview question include: 

  • What kind of school would you like to go to? 
  • What are you looking for in a college? 
  • Why are you a good fit for our university?

Of all the college admissions interview questions, this is one you should do the most research for. 

When you answer this college interview question, don’t just think about what you like about the school, but how your skills and interests will make you a good fit on their campus. This is where your college research comes into play! Talk about specific programs, professors, clubs, communities, etc. that stood out to you and that you’d be interested in joining. Why would you be a good fit for these?

You could also bring up the aspects of the school’s learning environment – location, class sizes, mentorship and tutoring programs, and campus resources – that made you want to apply in the first place. You want to show that you know about the school. The worst way to answer college admissions interview questions like this is with a generic answer that could apply to any college. 

3. Why do you want to major in ____?

The interviewer may follow up by asking what classes and programs you took in high school that relate to your major. They may also ask about areas of study you’re weaker in, and what you’ve done to improve those areas.

If you know what you want to major in, look into the college’s classes, programs, research opportunities, and professors for that department. Keep a mental note of what stands out and what makes that program a good fit.

In your college interview, mention how your planned path of study intersects with your passions and academic strengths. Maybe there were certain classes or programs in high school that you loved. Or maybe you’ve already had the chance to intern or work in a field that interests you.

If you are undecided, this will not count against you—you’re one of many applicants who feel this way. Speak honestly about why you don’t know in your college interview. Then, share a few departments that you intend to explore once you get to campus. If you have a few career paths you’re interested in, share them. 

If you don’t, share the subjects you enjoyed in high school or any personal passions you plan to pursue. The most important thing for undecided applicants is to show that you have concrete intentions and goals to pursue academically, even if you don’t have it all planned out.

college interview questions
Rojan Maharjan | Unsplash

4. How will you make a difference on campus?

Other versions of this university interview question include: 

  • How are you going to show up in our community? 
  • What will you pursue on campus? 
  • What will you contribute to our campus and community?

All of these college admissions interview questions ask the same thing: who will you be on their campus?

These college admissions interview questions are another great time to share the research you have done on the school! What clubs, organizations, programs, societies, etc. are you interested in joining? If you do join, how would you like to make an impact on the campus and the community? If there are certain causes you care deeply about or, even better, have already been involved in, share those.

You could also discuss an anecdote of a time you made a difference in your high school. Use your college interview to talk about how you might carry this work or momentum forward with you onto the college’s campus. You want to respond confidently to college interview questions like these, to prove that you would be a strong asset to the school’s community. 

college interview questions

5. What is one thing you would change about your current community and/or your high school? What is something that makes it great?

Interviewers ask this question because they want to see your critical thinking skills and how you see the world around you. This is also a chance to share an obstacle that hindered you at school, and how you would change this so that other students do not face the same barrier in the future.

While it is important to be honest, this is not a place to talk badly about your high school or about a teacher whom you didn’t get along with. Present what you would change in an analytical and constructive way. Additionally, use this college interview question to show what will be important to you when you go on to college. This will help the interviewer decide if you are indeed a good fit for campus. 

college interview questions
Ryan Jacobson | Unsplash

6. Who is your role model?

Other versions of this university interview question include: 

  • If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? 
  • Whom do you most admire? 
  • If we had a speaker on campus, who would you invite?

These common college interview questions are used to gauge who you look up to and why. They help the interviewer understand your motivations on a personal level. Your answer can be a family member, a mentor, a friend, a teacher, an author, an artist, an athlete, a politician… it can be anyone, really, as long as you speak sincerely. 

It doesn’t need to be someone that the interviewer definitely knows, and it doesn’t need to be someone famous. No matter which figure you choose as your answer to this college interview question, make sure you have specific reasons and examples for why you admire them or their work.

7. What is your favorite book?

Other versions of this university interview question include: 

  • Who is your favorite author? 
  • Is there anything you have read that changed the way you think? 
  • What have you read recently?

This college interview question is another way for the interviewer to understand what you are interested in. Your answer to this college interview question can be a book you read for fun and loved. It can be the first book you ever liked reading or a book that made you think about the world differently. Perhaps it’s a book that someone important gave to you or read with you. 

Don’t feel pressured if your favorite book does not seem academic enough for a college interview. There is no right answer here; the interviewer’s goal is to learn more about you as a person.

If you are not an avid reader, think about the books you have had to read for your classes. Your answer to this college interview question doesn’t have to be a book you read on your own. Did any stories from your English class stand out? Did any of them make you understand a certain situation differently or start an important discussion in class? Were there any books you enjoyed?

The key here is not to pick a book title you think that your interviewer will want to hear. Also, you should choose a book you feel passionate about, and one that you have actually read. You should be able to describe the plot accurately. Finally, don’t choose a book you’ve only read the Sparknotes for! 

college interview questions
Eliabe Costa | Unsplash

8. What do you like to do in your free time?

Other versions of this university interview question include: 

  • What do you like to do for fun? 
  • Do you have any hobbies?

Don’t think too hard about these college interview questions! Your college interview is a conversation to get to know you. Colleges are taking a holistic approach and want to know what you like to do outside of academics. So, for this college interview question, share what you like to do in your free time honestly. 

If you do love to code or write books, that’s great, but your answer doesn’t have to be an academic hobby. This is simply a way for you to demonstrate your other activities and interests that make you a well-rounded applicant. Maybe you started a knitting club at your school. Perhaps you love rock collecting. Or maybe you’ve been an avid horse rider since a young age. You really have a lot of flexibility with this university interview question!

9. Give me an example of a time you showed leadership skills.

Another version of this university interview question includes:

Give me an example of a time when you had to go against the grain.

With these college interview questions, the interviewer is giving you a chance to share how you lead. Share the experience concisely, because the point is not about what happened but how you handled it and why. This is a good college interview question to spend some time with before your college interview. Consider how you chose to lead or intervene, what any outcomes from your leadership were, and what you learned from the experience.

Your example can come directly from a leadership position you have held as team captain or club president. However, you don’t have to be in an official position to show your leadership. The answer to these college interview questions can be a time where you stepped up beyond what was expected of you. 

college interview
Jeffrey F Lin | Unsplash

10. Can you share a time that you overcame an obstacle and how you overcame it?

This is one of the common college interview questions that gives you a chance to show your maturity, perseverance, and strength. 

The interviewer is interested to see how you react to unexpected difficulties. This is another college interview question you should consider before your college interview. Make a mental list of your personal qualities or skills that help you grow and move forward when things are hard. If you are comfortable sharing some personal information, you can briefly explain any serious barriers you faced to get to where you are now.

When answering this college interview question, don’t focus too much on the obstacle. Instead, briefly address the challenge and how it made you feel, then move on to describing your problem-solving skills. 

college interview
Charles Deluvio | Unsplash

Questions to ask your college interviewer

So, now you’ve made it to the end of your college interview. You answered all of your college admissions interview questions, and you’re feeling pretty confident. Then, your interviewer hits you with a final question: “Do you have any questions for me?” The answer should be a resounding “Yes!”

That’s why one of our biggest college interview tips is to prepare a few questions ahead of time for your interviewer. These should not be basic questions like, “How big is the campus?” or “When will I hear back about my application?” Instead, ask thoughtful and curious questions that show you’re unique and seriously considering the school. 

Here, your research is key. When you look at a school’s campus environment, greek life, or academic programs, be sure to note a few genuine questions you have about life at that school. Remember, you’re making a four-year commitment to go here – in a way, you’re also interviewing the school!

If you’re in an alumni college interview and you know who will interview you beforehand, look them up on LinkedIn and Google to see if you have any common interests. You may be genuinely curious about the things they took part in. You could also ask about their time at the college, or how they feel their degree set them down the path they’re on today. 

If your college interview is with a member of the admissions office, there are still so many great questions you can ask. 

Two college interview questions that work well are:

  • What is your best advice for an incoming student?
  • What did you love most about your experience as a undergrad at your school?

College interview questions like these show that you are excited to learn more about the school environment, because you could really see yourself attending. In order to stand out in your college interview, having strong college interview questions prepared to ask at the end. That is one of our top college interview tips. 

college interview
Stephanie Hau | Unsplash

College interview webinar: CollegeAdvisor resources to help you prepare

Now, we’ve talked about common college interview questions, what to wear to a college interview, and other college interview tips and tricks. Still have questions about your college interviews? We’ve probably got a college interview webinar that could answer them.

For example, this college interview webinar gives you a masterclass on the college interview process from a former admissions officer. This college interview webinar discusses preparing for college interviews and answering college interview questions. 

Our top college interview webinar is how to ace college interviews from another former admissions officer. And finally, this college interview webinar gives important college interview tips for online college interviews. 

These are just a few of our many college interview webinars. These webinars explain some of our top college interview tips and how to approach some of the common college interview questions. 

Find more webinars on college interviews and many more parts of admissions here

College interview questions and tips: Final Thoughts

This “College Interview Questions” guide has shown you what college interviews are and how to prepare for college admissions interview questions. We discussed example college admissions interview questions, what to wear to a college interview, and some of our favorite college interview tips and advice. In addition, we explored the college interview at some top schools: the Princeton interview, the Yale interview, the UPenn interview, the Harvard interview, the Stanford interview, and the MIT interview. 

We hope our “College Interview” guide has given you some helpful college interview tips. Hopefully you have more confidence to answer all the college admissions interview questions that come your way! 

Finally, remember that your college interviews should be exciting! Answering the college interview questions is a great way to tell admissions more about who you are. Prepare well ahead of time, be confident, and most importantly, be yourself. Good luck!

college interview questions

This informational essay was written by Kaitlin Liston, UC Berkeley ‘18, and Laura Frustaci, Harvard ’21. If you want to get help preparing for your college interviews CollegeAdvisor experts like Kaitlin or Laura, register with today.