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    5 Key Principles for Mastering College Admissions Interviews

    5 Minutes Read

    Interview Question: "So Why are you interested in attending our college/university?"


    Sample Answer: “I'm interested in attending ___________ University because when I visited, the campus was beautiful, the people I met were very nice and the food was really good. A positive and welcoming environment is important to me, and I believe these aspects would enhance my college experience."


    I’ve listened to many students give non-specific responses to this question as well as to various other interview questions.

    As an interviewer, I want to learn about who this person is, how he or she will contribute to our campus community, and why this student believes this school will provide an ideal educational environment.  Unfortunately, the above response doesn’t communicate these ideas; and so it is not a particularly useful response to the question.  You could insert many different college and university names into this response and the response would still be true.  One way to think of this is that if three different students were going to apply to the same college and into the same major, the reasons that the school would be ideal for each one of these students would be completely different.        

    Before going into more interview specifics, it is useful to understand that at an increasing number of colleges, admissions interviews are an important evaluative part of the application process. Interviews provide an opportunity for applicants to authentically showcase their various character strengths, passions, and potential contributions to the college community. I believe it is likely that, over time, interviews will begin to play a larger and more central role in the college admissions decision-making process.  Why do I believe this?

    Given the reality that artificial intelligence will continue to evolve, using AI to write application-worthy essays will begin to undermine the weight that admissions committees will place on essays and so interviews will begin to play a more primary role.  

    Having said that, for some students, approaching these interviews can be nerve-wracking. In this article, I will explore five key principles to help you excel in college admissions interviews and leave a lasting impression on admissions officers. Here are some additional considerations to think about as well.

    Afterall, interviews are about human connection. Let your authenticity and passion shine through, and the right doors will open.

    So let’s get into it!

    Organizing the interview in your mind:

    During college admissions interviews, interviewers typically aim to gather information across three broad categories of questions:

    • What is this person like?
    • What does this person like?
    • What would this person be like on my campus?

    Let's explore each of these categories and what they mean:

    What is this person like?

    Interviewers seek to understand your personality, character, and values. They want to assess your character strengths, such as resilience, leadership, adaptability,  integrity, and more. 

    Example question: "Describe a situation where you faced a significant challenge and how you handled it."

    What does this person like?

    Here, interviewers will explore your passions, interests, and extracurricular involvements. Interviewers want to see how you engage with your hobbies and how your activities have shaped your character. 

    Example question: "What do you enjoy most about your involvement in community service?"

    What would this person be like on my campus?

    Interviewers are interested in how well you would fit into the campus culture and add to their college community. One of the goals of any admissions committee is to construct an incoming class of freshmen that will contribute to creating a diverse and vibrant community of attitudes and interests. As such, they want to know about your potential involvement in clubs, organizations, and campus life. It's crucial to demonstrate your genuine interest in engaging with various aspects of college life.

    Example question: "Why are you interested in our college?"

    To understand how to approach answering questions like these and others, there are some key ideas to think about:


    1. Authenticity: Be Yourself.

    Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." While I doubt he made this comment in the context of a college admissions interview, he was definitely on to something! 

    Despite what many people may believe, it is not your job to sell yourself in an interview. It is, however, your job to be yourself and let that do the selling for you. That can be a tricky concept. The subtle point to be made here is that when you go into an interview with a mindset that you need to impress the interviewer—without even thinking about it—very often, that can turn into bragging; that’s not what interviewers are looking for.  Remember, they can easily read about your achievements on your resume.    

    Authenticity is the first and most crucial principle to remember during college admissions interviews. Your goal should be to present your true self to the interviewer genuinely. Embrace your unique qualities, experiences, and interests, and avoid trying to portray an image that is not genuine. Admissions officers seek students who will contribute genuinely and authentically to the college community, so being true to yourself is the best way to stand out.

    2. Connect the What and the Why

    When sharing your accomplishments, experiences, challenges, etc., during an interview, it is essential to connect the "what" with the "why."  It is the “what” that provides the foundation and context and the “why” provides the framework that gives structure and purpose to your responses. While the 'what' may impress interviewers, the “why” inspires them. So, for instance, if you are asked the name of a favorite book, explain why it was meaningful to you instead of simply stating the name of the book.  It is the “why” that gives the interviewer a window into who you are, your character, and how you think.  

    3. Embrace Vulnerability and Learning Experiences:

    College admissions interviews are not just about highlighting your successes; they are also an opportunity to demonstrate your resilience and growth. Embrace Vulnerability by sharing experiences that may not have gone as planned or moments when you faced challenges. Be open about what you learned from these experiences and how they have shaped your character and decision-making. Demonstrating your ability to learn from setbacks and apply those lessons in your life showcases a maturity and a growth mindset.

    4. Understand and Communicate Your Motivations

    To effectively convey the "why" behind your experiences, you need to be in touch with your motivations. Understand what drives you, what excites you, and what inspires you. Knowing and articulating your motivations will add depth and substance to your responses, whether it's a love for a particular subject, a desire to make a positive impact, or personal experiences that have shaped your perspective.

    5. Tell Stories: The Power of Narrative

    “Stories have to be told, or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here." - Sue Monk Kidd.


    You will notice from the sample answer above that the student told a story of her experience creating a community outreach program. People connect deeply with stories, and you can effectively convey complex emotions, experiences, and values through stories. Instead of providing generic answers, use storytelling to illustrate your accomplishments, motivations, and growth. Craft compelling narratives that showcase your journey and the impact of your experiences on your personal and academic development.

    Consider the following example:

    Interview Question: Can you tell us about a project or activity you were involved in that you feel particularly passionate about?

    Sample Answer: “During my sophomore year, I volunteered at a nearby elementary school in an underserved community and witnessed the lack of resources and educational opportunities faced by the children. This experience inspired me to create and organize a community outreach program focused on promoting literacy. As a book lover, I believed in the power of reading to open doors for these young minds. Our team collaborated with local libraries and businesses to create interactive reading workshops and book donation drives. Seeing the joy on the children's faces during our workshops reaffirmed my commitment, and this project taught me the power of community engagement in creating meaningful change, and for that, I am grateful.”

    This answer demonstrates that the interviewee is an empathetic, proactive, and compassionate person who is also demonstrating strong leadership, collaboration, and dedication. Additionally, it is clear that the student is passionate about education, has a deep sense of gratitude for the experience she had, and has a clear sense of purpose that indicates a genuine commitment to making a positive impact on the lives of others. 

    Would you want this student on your college campus?



    Approaching college admissions interviews with authenticity, connecting the "what" with the "why," embracing vulnerability, understanding and communicating your motivations, and telling compelling stories are the keys to a successful interview. By following these principles, you will stand out in the eyes of interviewers and leave a memorable impression.

    Remember, college admissions interviews are about evaluating who you are and how you would fit in on a given college campus. Be genuine, stay confident, and approach the interview as a chance to share your passions and aspirations. A good interview should feel more like a conversation versus a simple Q&A. By following these concepts; you can master any of the different college admissions interview questions you may be asked and increase your chances of securing a spot at the college of your dreams