Real Student Advice on College Interviews

February 20, 2017

Got a college interview coming up but not sure what to expect? College admits have you covered. Sourced from 60,000+ successful application files, our college students share their college interview stories in detail, from common questions asked to tone of conversation, see how the interview impacted their admissions result. 


University of Pennsylvania ‘20

My best interview by far was my phone interview. At first, I completely dreaded the idea of having an interview over the phone because I personally don’t sound that enthusiastic or excited. I had no idea how to “sell” myself without being there in person. However, I found myself to be a lot more articulate because I wasn’t sitting right in front of them, so I didn’t feel nearly as much pressure. I sounded a lot more relaxed and didn’t get as nervous because I called from my bedroom where I was comfortable. I actually had a lot more to say about myself and my interests being relaxed over the phone than sitting down with my interviewer. If your interviewer gives you the option of a phone interview, definitely do it if you get nervous meeting new people in person.

Most common questions asked in my interviews: 

1. Tell me about yourself. 

2. Why led you to apply to X school? (Uniqueness!!) 

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

4. What do you plan to study? Why? 

5. What sparked your interest in __? 

6. What clubs/organizations are you currently in? 

7. What clubs do you plan to join at X school? 

8. What are you plans after undergrad? 

9. What makes you unique? 

One last tip: Try to show that you have a passion, without actually using the word “passion”.


Stanford University ‘20

No questions really caught me off guard because I had prepared roughly what I would say to the standard questions like ‘Tell me about yourself’, ‘Describe your biggest failure and what you learned’, ‘Why this school?’, ‘What would you bring to this school?’ etc. I would suggest doing the same as a lot of these come up. There are lots of lists of common questions online. I would also recommend familiarizing yourself with current affairs issues, which didn’t come up in my interviews, but have come up in some of my friends’. Elite schools are looking for people who are intellectually curious and don’t just study to get good grades, so it would look really bad if you had no idea what was going on in the world around you.

They were also much more conversational in nature than I expected - I would often only be asked two or three questions in the whole hour because they would be interested by my answers and a natural conversation would develop.


Columbia University ‘20

Harvard, Yale, and Princeton: Amazing interviews. Each was about 40 minutes long. There were no hardball questions in any of them. They would basically ask me about myself and why I wanted to go to their school. At the end, each of them said they would give a glowing review. Advice: Research the school. Thoroughly. Come armed with names of departments, professors, classes, lab facilities, everything. Treat each school like it’s your top choice. No alumni interviewer wants to feel like applying to their school was just a burden.


University of Rochester ‘20

I interviewed with 4 schools, which I describe the experience and questions they asked below. Remember that each interview is different, and the best way to prepare is to really know what you’re talking about. Be ready to talk about your high school involvement in great detail—don’t waste your time memorizing news articles “just in case they ask you new-related questions.”

Overall, don’t fret too much over the interview. It’s not very significant. I have friends who had terrible (like absolutely terrible) interview experiences but still got into their top schools. The schools I had really good interview experiences with (Harvard specifically) I didn’t get into. The best way to ace an interview is to be prepared to talk about yourself a lot. Ask yourself what you want interviewers to know. Don’t be concerned about being funny or too boring. You’re not going to be accepted/denied because of that. Share your story and show genuine interest in the school.


University of Southern California ‘20

Keep reading books! Not just weak fictional tales with no depth (this includes Harry Potter for the most part, trust me). Try classic literature or even nonfiction, maybe follow the NY Times or some other stuff on top of it. Failing to get out of your middle school James Patterson-John Green-JK Rowling-Rick Riordan rut is bad. Practice the hard questions before the interview. “Tell me about yourself.” “Why do you want to attend ___?” etc. etc.

You can rehearse (that’s not the right word; what you say should not be the same each time. Just let if flow, don’t have an exact script, but do have talking points, like a bulleted list or flow chart) in front of a mirror or with another person. Or even a group - that would’ve helped with my Jefferson Scholars interview.

Applying to college next year?
View the application files, essays and advice of accepted students.

​Have any more questions about college interviews? Or want to share your own experience? Comment below and let us know!

About The Author

Frances Wong
Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.


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My spirit animal is Pikachu (that is, a math/science, politics-loving Pikachu!)

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