What is the purpose of the admissions interview? The interview gives the college you’re applying to another opportunity to get to know you better, and should hence be embraced rather than feared. The interviewer will likely ask you questions about your academic and personal interests, your intended major, and how you can contribute to the school. Here, you also have the chance to ask about the school and/or the local community to further show that you have done your research. After your interview, the interviewer will write notes on your conversation, providing the school with another means of evaluating you.

What are the forms of the interview? Not all colleges offer interviews to prospective applicants, and those who do can either offer the interviews on-campus, near where you live, or online through Skype or Google Hangout. As the college applicant pool is increasingly globalized, online interviews are becoming more common. Interviews are usually 15-25 minutes long, though they may be shorter or longer.

Does the interview help international students, or does it lower their admission chances? Whether an international or American applicant, whether or not the interview increases or decreases your chances of admission fully depends on how you perform. It is thus important to fully know yourself and your interests so that you feel confident speaking about them. It is also important to possess basic conversational skills (remembering that a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue; being polite and poised; speaking fluidly; sounding enthusiastic rather than indifferent or listless).

If the school offers the option for an interview, you should definitely take it because it shows that you are truly interested in attending. If your non-native English skills are making you hesitate in signing up for the interview, immediately vanquish such thoughts! Don’t worry about making small grammatical mistakes or that your pronunciation isn’t up to par—the interviewer wants to evaluate you as a person, not as an English speaker! Interviewers and admissions officers alike are well aware that once you spend a few months studying and living in America, your English will skyrocket anyway.

Sample Interview Questions (and what they’re really asking)

Tell me about yourself.

This deceptively simple command speaks volumes about its respondent. How do you define yourself? Do you define yourself by your ethnicity, your (religious) beliefs, your personal characteristics, your interests, your strengths, your goals, or your dreams? Your response will probably incorporate many of these elements. How you choose to convey yourself to others indirectly shows your priorities or character traits that you value the most. Don’t use hackneyed adjectives such as “persistent” or “empathetic” or a “global citizen.” In fact, don’t even describe yourself with adjectives-ever! Your actions should speak for themselves.

Why do you want to apply XX University?

Schools want to know that yes, you have done your research and that you aren’t simply applying for the school’s location, reputation, or prestige. Is the major or academic program unique from how it’s typically offered at other colleges? Is there a specific course or curricula requirement you’re itching to take? Does the department boast prominent researchers, some of whose work interests you enough to consider joining their team? Check out the website for your major’s department to get clues. Are there any special academic opportunities such as academic fraternities or dual Bachelor-Master’s programs? Also browse the college’s clubs listing and see if anything interests you. Is there an intramural sport you would like to join? Or an international club? Do any of the school’s mottos, values, or traditions speak to you? By mentioning specific aspects of the university, you show that you have put ample thought into where to spend your prime youth years.

What do you like to do for fun?

Rather than repeating interests already evident in your essays or activity’s sheet, what else do you enjoy? Are you a bookworm? An avid gardener? A promising baker who likes to create meticulous desserts? A hardcore gamer? No matter what you choose, be sure to mention what you enjoy about each activity. And as always, be specific. Don’t tell me you like to read. Tell me you’re obsessed with 19th century Russian literature. Don’t tell me you like to watch movies on the couch with your sister. Tell me your favorite moments are watching chick flicks with her while bingeing on ice cream—and then list some movies you guys adore and/or some of your favorite ice cream toppings! If you are so passionate about an interest already mentioned in the rest of your application package, you can mention it again but simply gloss over it and expand on something else. Remember, in your overall application package you want to showcase different facets of yourself to prove that you’re a multidimensional human rather than a one-trick pony.

Why do you want to major in XX?

I’m sure that you’ve already spent significant time already thinking about your intended major. Now’s the time to share what spurs your interest in this field with others. Don’t choose shallow reasons such as job security or a high salary. Rather, think about what fascinates you about this field. What about it makes it worth devoting four full years and perhaps even a lifetime to? Will the major be a stepping-stone to graduate studies or toward achieving certain career goals?

What are your academic strengths?

When discussing your academic strengths, explain how you’ve capitalized on them. If you’re an excellent organizer, how have you applied this to scheduling your activities and coursework? If you’re an excellent leader, how have you demonstrated these abilities through group projects? If you’re an excellent chemist, what particularly challenging experiments have you completed? How do you plan on continuing to use your strengths?

What are your academic weaknesses?

Colleges are aware that all humans are flawed, and they want to see that you have the drive and intelligence to succeed despite challenges. Try revealing strategies or specific approaches you’ve taken to improve your academic weaknesses. Maybe your pronunciation or grammar was skewed and you started watching more American television series to get a more natural feel for the language. Maybe learned how to make use of fragmented time to cram in more activities. Most applicants choose procrastination, which is not something you want to admit to a college who’s hoping that at least some of its students will make achievements in their field. A lot of students also choose perfectionism as a flaw, which is an obvious humble brag. Don’t be that person.

What will you contribute to this school?

Colleges want to admit students who will not only take in terms of academic resources, but who will also give to the school. How can you improve the campus community? Play upon your strengths. Are you a talented violinist who wants to join the school orchestra? Do you want to serve as a peer tutor in any subject? Do you bring a fresh cultural perspective to the table? What would the school gain in accepting you? Be specific.

Where do you see yourself five/ten years from now?

Of course, no one expects you to have your whole future figured out, and colleges understand that plans are likely to change. What they do want is students with direction, students who set goals and are motivated to achieve them. Don’t speak in general, idealistic terms such as: “I hope to positively contribute to my community and improve this world through a fulfilling career.” What’s your dream job? What are some specific activities you’d like to do? Do you want to have your own family? Do you want to travel to certain countries? Do you want to regularly see your college or high school friends? Don’t limit your plans to professional goals.

What would you change about your current school?

Think about the strengths and weaknesses of your high school. What are some of its specific problems? What are the consequences of those problems? What steps would you take to make improvements? With this question, colleges are looking for your ability to identify problems and get a better understanding of what you’re looking for in a school. By learning what you’d change, they get a chance to learn more about what matters to you. Be specific and respectful, and never talk badly about your own teachers, school, or country’s educational system.

Whom do you most admire?

From this question, colleges can get a sense of your values. Many students choose a historical figure, teacher, or parent for this response. You can be a bit bold and choose a character from a novel, a celebrity, or even a superhero if your reasons for admiring that individual are solid. What has that person done that is so worthy of your respect? What admirable traits do they possess?

What’s your favorite book?

Your entertainment interests (e.g., favorite books, movies, television shows) reveal a lot about you. When you’re answering this question, think about why you enjoyed this particular book so much. Was the plot stimulating, full of twists and turns? Was the protagonist a positive role model? Was the writing style humorous? Was the dialogue hilarious? Did you particularly enjoy the writer’s tone? Did one of the characters resonate with you? Has this book exposed you to a new genre, literary movement, author, or writing style? Has it shaped your perspectives or beliefs?

Tell me about a challenge or failure you’ve faced. Did you overcome it? How did it affect you?

Throughout your life, it is unavoidable that you will experience challenges, setbacks, and failures. As the educator Dewey used to say, “failure is just a learning opportunity.” Admissions officers want to see that you can mess up here and there but that more importantly, you can assess and grow from your mistakes. The ability to objectively consider the consequences of one’s actions and in turn learn from them is a sign of a mature individual, the type of student any college would desire in its student body.

When responding to this question, quickly and clearly describe the challenge/failure and then focus on how responded to and what you learned from that experience. Be honest in describing your reaction to the failure. Were you angry at yourself? Surprised? Did the failure motivate you to act? The lessons learned from the failure are the most important part of this essay. Include a thorough self-analysis and introspection that demonstrate your self-awareness. The point of this question is to show that you can evaluate, learn from, and move on failures.

Do you have any questions for me?

Remember that the interview is a two-way street, and don’t be afraid to show up to your interview with a small list of questions. Some things you could ask: What was most memorable about your time at the college? If you could do it all over again, would you change anything about your college experience? What was your favorite course or professor? Is there any event or activity I should definitely not miss out on? If you can’t find the answers on the school website, you could also ask questions about academic programs, specific courses, the “vibe” on campus, tidbits about the school’s customs and history, or highlights in the local community.

By: Andrea Schiralli

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