Applications to American universities tend to get far more personal than in many other countries. This is evident when you see the many personal essay questions involved, not to mention admissions interviews! It is not uncommon for students to be extremely nervous when faced with the prospect of talking about themselves with a person who can influence their future in such a profound way. However, when they are prepared, they will face less uncertainty, which will translate into confidence when it comes time to have that sit-down chat.
Here are six common questions a student may encounter in an admissions interview:
1."Tell me about yourself."
This is an "icebreaker" for the person interviewing you. That said, it is also usually the question that scares people the most! The purpose of asking an open-ended question is to ﬁnd some common ground on which to base the next question. So this is your chance to give them some options. Talk about where you grew up, your family, and a little bit about your hobbies.
2. "How will you impact this campus? What programs will you partake in here? What has drawn you to this university? What do you want to get out of your college experience?"
All of these questions are essentially asking the same thing: what about this university is different from the others that you are applying and why is that appealing to you? Start with what programs at this university are of particular interest to you. No university wants to accept people just because they are "bookworms." They want people who are going to challenge their peers, get involved, and take full advantage of all that a university has to offer.
3. "What have you accomplished that you are proud of? What is the biggest obstacle that you have had to overcome? What challenges have you faced? When were you particularly successful?"
For most, one’s greatest accomplishment is also the biggest obstacle that they have overcome. Be prepared for this question because, even if you do not get a question exactly like this, you will likely be able to use your response elsewhere. Review your application and come up with a speciﬁc example. You may be able to use it to answer a question about your leadership, resilience, or other quality. However, don’t get cocky; your example should be something that was genuinely difﬁcult for you, but that you grew from in the end.
4. "What do you want to do in the future? Why do you want to major in X? What do want to do after graduation? Where will you be ten years from now? What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Few students know exactly what they want to do at the age of 17 or 18, so don’t feel like you need to have a semester-by-semester plan mapped out. Be honest, and say that "this is what I am interested in now, and this is what I think that I would like to do in the future." It is 100% okay to be uncertain, or to want to figure out your exact plans as you learn more. Use concrete examples from high school or from summer activities.
5. "If you could talk to anyone (living or deceased), who would it be? What is your favorite book? What book would you recommend to me? If you had a time machine, what period of time would you back and why? If you were on the cover of Time, why would you be there? If you were a tour guide, where would you take people in your city?"
Rarely will an interviewer ask you a creative question like this, but it is good to be prepared. One strategy to prepare for this is to review some university interview message boards to see if there is anything that regularly seems to come up. These questions are designed to provoke some fun and creative dialogue. Don’t make these questions harder than they need to be. They all, in some form or another, are simply asking what your interests are. For example, if you like art, perhaps you would want to meet Michelangelo, go back in time to the painting of the Sistine Chapel, take someone to a special art exhibit in the city, recommend a book about art, or would be on the cover of Time for some sort of artistic accomplishment. You can ﬁll in the details, but you get the general idea.
6. "Do you have any questions for me? What would you like to know about this university?"
As we said above, if this is a university that you have a genuine interest in attending, you should have some questions prepared for the person you are interviewing with. Ask some questions about how this university has impacted your interviewer’s career or life positively. If they are an alum: what did they like about it? Why did they decide to go there?
After the interview is complete, there is one thing left to do. It is good practice to write a thank-you note following an interview. Most interviewers are unpaid volunteers, so they took time out of their day to meet with you. A hand-written note goes a long way. If that is not possible, an email may sufﬁce. This should be sent within 24 hours of your interview. It does not need to be long—three to four sentences usually does the trick.
Here is a general template for such a note:
It was a pleasure to meet you today. I enjoyed getting some insight from someone that studied major X / at X University. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule. Good luck with the rest of your interviews!
Sincerely / Warm regards / Thanks (or a combination of these),
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