Acing your College Interview

A College Interview is not really a beast that one needs to be scared of.  Colleges use interviews to get to know more about you as a person and to determine whether there is a good match between you and the college – both in terms of you fitting in there and them fitting with your career aspirations.  In effect, you are both trying to sell yourself to each other since the college too wants good candidates who would add value to their community.

Let’s go over some common questions that you may expect during a typical college interview:

Tell me about yourself

Probably one of the most common opening questions in any interview! Use this wisely as this gives you an open-ended license to talk about what you wish to show-case and highlight.  It does not make much sense to go over the details that have already been enumerated in your application unless there is something in it that you wish to speak more about.  Most candidates might be talking about their family background, academic background, etc, in factual terms.  Instead, talk about what makes you special and unique, your passions, even things that might be quirky but show the depth of the person you are and your true personality.  Don’t start bragging about things you have not done or do not believe in … the follow up questions might expose you!

Why do you want to go to college in the US? 

Why would you like to attend our College? Why are you interested in our college? 

What makes you prefer our college over others that you might have considered?

Make sure you have thought of some concrete reasons for these.  Please be sincere in your answers and don’t say what you think the interviewer might like to hear.  If there are any particular reasons that have made you apply, it is best to share those.  A good answer would talk about things that make an American education or the particular college unique and different from the others.  Research the college well so you know what makes it a place that you would like to spend your formative years in.

Who’s your hero? Who most helped you get to where you are today?

It’s always a better idea to use someone you know personally as it would be difficult to talk much about a historical character who may have influenced you.  The interviewer may take you up on the reasons for saying common answers like ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ since you would obviously have never met him personally to have been influenced directly.  Think about a person you know well and how that person might have made a difference in what you are.  Teachers, Parents, Relatives, Friends, are all fair answers as long as you can substantiate your choice with good reasons.

Which historical or fictional character would you most like to be?

I would suggest you get creative on this one if fictional character is an option.  Don’t be predictable or give standard answers.  In case of historical character, make sure you know enough about the person you mention since there might be follow-up questions.  Your personality should also reflect a bit of who you wish to be like so think along these lines.  More than the choice of the character, it is important that you explain the reasons for your choice well.

What do you want to major in? Why?

It’s not necessarily a bad idea to be undecided about your major.  One of the benefits of an American education is the fact that you need not choose majors before you get in.  In case you know what you want, do mention it and ensure you have a good explanation for your choice.  However, many of you will not have decided so be honest and tell the interviewer that you would like to sample some subject areas and courses before making the decision.  You should share a short list of areas that you are interested in.

What will you contribute to our college community?  How will the college benefit in having you with us?

This is an important question and you should have already given some thought to how you are going to answer it.  Consider your interests and passions and talk about how you would contribute to the college community with your involvement in various activities, student associations, societies, clubs, et al.  The college would love to have individuals who would enhance the college life experience and if you have talents that you can utilize for this, talk about them and how you would use them to help students around you.

Tell me about a challenge that you were faced with.  How did you overcome it and what did you learn from the experience.

The college is interested in finding out about how you perform under stress, solve problems, or handle adverse situations.  Make sure you have thought of at least one challenge that you can talk about and don’t leave it to the interview to think of what to say.  The challenge might be academic, work related, family tragedy, goal oriented, relationships, or anything that you have had to face that made you struggle.  Think about what you learnt from the experience and how it has made you better.  Make sure you talk in specific terms about a couple of learnings that you derived and not something generic like it has made you a stronger person.

What are your hobbies?  Your interests?

Colleges do not necessarily prefer students who keep their heads in their books.  They would love to know about what you do in your spare time so that they can see you as a person who would enrich their campus.  Talk about interests you have outside of studies and these could be in sports, working with an orphanage, going mountain biking, photography, playing in a band, shooting darts, etc.  Show yourself to be a person who is well rounded with varied interests that enrich you.

What are your short term, medium term, long term plans? Your career aspirations?

If you don’t know where you are headed, you won’t really know when you get there.  And you won’t know which road you need to take.  However, most of us are not very sure when we enter college about what we might be doing ten years hence.  That said, we still need to have an idea about where we want to be.  Vague answers would not please the interviewers and they would prefer to see that you have thought about how their college fits into your career aspirations.  Instead of saying ‘I don’t know’, give an idea about what you might be interested in and explain how your college and courses you take there would help you to reach.  It is also ok be honest in saying you are not sure, but qualify this with some ideas about what you would like to be doing.  It would show you have given this matter some thought and are now wishing to explore the options to decide on a concrete career path.

Do you read?  Which books have you read recently?  Which is your favourite book?

Again an important choice to make.  It’s not appropriate to say you do not read – much of college depends upon your ability to read varied texts and books.  I am sure there are a couple of appropriate books you can read and talk about.  The books you choose should be age appropriate and reflect a certain level of mature choice for a college ready student, should have enough substance for you to talk about, and should reflect you as a person.  Don’t go selecting books that you do not like but feel would be right to talk about – the interviewer might see through the insincere answers you would probably be giving.

If you could change something in your life, what would it be? Why?

Don’t get too harsh on yourself and try to put some amount of positive spin on this answer.  You might actually have regretted some decisions or choices.  There might have been some additional courses you wanted to take, or a different sport you wanted to pick up.  Whatever it might be, have valid reasons to explain your answer.

What are your strengths?

An opportunity for you to highlight some aspects of your personality and character that you think will help you win points.  Try to avoid common generic answers like ‘I am hard-working’ and use specific strengths that define you and have had some impact on your achievements.  Remember that your answers should be substantiated with your overall application and achievements.

What is your biggest weakness?

A difficult question to answer but unavoidable nonetheless.  Here also, try to put a positive spin on a weakness.  It is also important to show that you understand what your weakness is and that you are making an effort to overcome it.

What makes you special or different?

The college shall indeed wish to hear about your special qualities that you would bring to the college community.  Remember that the college is not looking for answers like ‘I am a good student’ or ‘I am a good singer’ since there shall be many other candidates who might have similar answers.  Think about what differentiates you from others and makes you truly special.

Describe yourself using only a couple of adjectives or a couple of sentences.

Think in advance about this answer and do not leave it to the interview to come up with something clever.  The adjectives or sentences should showcase the things you want to project about yourself.

Questions on your awareness of current affairs, something in the news – international, domestic, American.

There is no substitute for being well read and aware.  However, if you have not been reading your newspapers and are not aware of what is happening in the world currently, it is a good idea to spend the days leading up to the interview in doing research and reading about issues and events.  You may also be asked to express an opinion about something and not just state facts.

What is your favourite Subject and why?  Which subject do you like the least and how do you cope up with it.

Have concrete reasons ready for these questions.  It’s ok to not like a subject.  The interviewer would be more interested in finding out why you don’t like it, why you are still studying it, and how are you managing to cope with it despite the lack of interest.

You will almost always be given an opportunity to ask questions about the college.  It is important to do your research about the college and ask relevant and specific questions that show your knowledge and the thought that you have put behind selecting this college to apply in.  Remember that the college is equally keen on making a good impression on you and will welcome good informed questions.  For example, if there is a particular program of study that you like at the college or a unique student society that interests you, ask for more details that show your interest and exhibit your informed choice.

Apart from the suggested questions above, there are many points that you need to be aware of.  Drop us an email if you need further help or some mock interviews and we shall try to arrange these.

Have a fantastic interview and do email us if you have found this article interesting and informative.  We hope it helps you in getting into your dream college!

Nirmal Agarwal

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