How to Handle Common College Interview Questions

Barry Lenson

How to Handle Common College Interview Questions

On-campus college interviews are as scarce as dinosaurs in argyle sweaters these days. They’ve almost disappeared for a very simple reason: colleges are screening so many applications that they just don’t have the time to call you in for a traditional across-the-desk conversation. It’s more likely that any interviews you get will be with alumni of schools where you’ve applied.

What’s the best way to handle an interview on a campus or with an alumni interviewer? Here are some common interview questions, with advice on how to answer them . . .

1. Did you enjoy your four years in high school?  The interviewer is really trying to figure out whether you are a positive or negative kind of character, so always say that you enjoyed high school and offer a few specific examples of things that you learned. Examples: You learned the value of hard work, you benefitted from getting to know people who are different from you, stuff like that. Never even slightly gripe about high school – just raising an eyebrow or smirking before you answer can knock your application out of the running.

2.  Which high school subjects were the most difficult?  Your strategy here is to point to one course and say that you overcame a particular difficulty in it. Even though you got a C+ in geometry, for example, you went to see your teacher after school three days a week for special help. The strategy here is to try to show that you learned an important lesson in a difficult class.

3.  Why do you think you might like to attend our school? You can hit a home run on this question pretty easily. Just learn something specific about the school and be ready to explain why you want to take advantage of it if you get admitted. Example: You want to participate in the school’s African Development Project or study with phenomenal Professor Jones or join the legendary Glee Club.

4. Tell me about yourself. This one gives you the sweats, right? But it’s not what it seems. The interviewer wants to know about you, sure, but is actually more interested in how you answer the question. Stay calm and don’t brag about accomplishments. You can hit a grand slam by talking about traits that you are trying to develop, like more kindness, empathy, curiosity, or even wisdom. (Watch as the interviewer wipes away a tear.)

5. Tell me about a problem you have had, and how you handled it. You can win big points on this one if you first tell about a problem, then describe how you handled it, then describe what you learned. (Remember that 1-2-3 structure.) Example: You had a friend who was thinking about committing suicide and you promised not to tell anyone, but you talked to the school psychologist who intervened and now you know that there are times when you have to break promises.

6. What books did you read last summer? Of course, the best way to handle this question is to READ SOME BOOKS! Otherwise, it is tough to fake it.  Another problem is that if you try to fool the interviewer by talking about books that you were required to read in high school classes, your interviewer is going to know. (Who reads The Red Badge of Courage for laughs over summer break?) But if you didn’t read anything last summer, your best strategy is to jump on it and read a few current books as soon as you find out that an interview is coming up. Good choice: A recent biography of a U.S. president or founding father does a good job of making you look like a promising young person.

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