How to give a great College Interview
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How to give a great College Interview

Admission Counselling :
  • Written by UnivAdmitHelp
  • Category: Insights & Information
  • Published on 22 Mar 2020

Interviews for college admissions can be stressful. It’s the last lap, you feel you’re running out of steam, but hold on. There’s hope yet. The mantra for a great interview is simple: Be yourself…. But be your best self. 


All interviews are not equal. We will explore two kinds here: interviews for UG admissions for US colleges vs. Oxbridge and Imperial interviews.


UG interviews in the US are personal interviews.

They are usually not skill or subject based. Often no specific weightage is given to the interview. It is simply a way to validate your claims in your application. It is a conversation and is all about connection. Your goal in the interview is to connect with the interviewer, and for this you have three points of possible connection:

  • You: The aim of the interviewer is to ascertain if you are who you say you are. On paper, an application could shine with accolades of Excellence in Grades, Sports, Critical Thinking, Leadership. But if you talk to the interviewer in monosyllables, it creates a reason to re-think the application. Be confident and self aware. The rest will follow.  
  • The school: Know (thoroughly) the details of the school you are applying to. The program, the unique aspects, and the community are interesting talk points. You need to be clear on why you want to go to that school in particular (and no, prestige is never the right answer). You could also prepare some of your own questions about the school experience
  • The interviewer: It’s important to establish a connect with the interviewer. If you know who it is beforehand, look them up. Maybe there’s a common interest and you can strike a conversation around that. If they have a career you’re interested in, feel free to ask about it.

Remember to just be yourself. Dress smart, but comfortable. Business casual works best in most cases. Be yourself. Most of the time, you might feel that an interview is 95% you talking, and 5% questions. But it’s a conversation. You can ask questions. Chat. Joke!


What can you prepare:

  • Look up your essays and application. 
  • Know your self. Some self-awareness, 

What should you not prepare:

  • Stock answers to set questions like: 
    • Tell me more about yourself
    • What are your biggest strengths/weaknesses?
    • Where do you see yourself in the next 5-10 years?

These are all “you” questions. You already know yourself, talk about yourself in the context of the application / college. The moment you prepare, you anchor yourself to certain answers. If you are asked something else, you feel off script and off-centred. 


The right way to answer a question

  1. Why do you want to get into this school?
    If you know the answer, then answer it. Short and sweet. “I want to join this school because the math department is really exciting and I hope to be able to connect with the legendary professor so-and-so.” After this, you could elaborate on your back story, why and how, what you interest in Math is, etc.  This is the induction method of answering the question.
    Deductive responses move from more general to more specific, while inductive responses move from more specific to more general. It’s better to follow the induction method of answering…. Not everyone has the time or inclination to listen to a back story. If the interviewer is interested, that can always be shared in your subsequent statements.
  2. Tell me about yourself.
    For the you segment, be prepared to answer questions like: Tell me about X (X being some extracurricular activity), What’s been your favorite learning experience and why?
    The fact is that any one of these questions may lead to an in-depth conversation, and that is the way it should. Remember that it’s a conversation, you cannot prepare for it. It’s also possible that you’ll be given one of those “creative “ questions that force you to think on your feet (If you were a breakfast food, which one would you be and why?) There’s no real answer for that. But just for fun, I’d answer: Poha (because it has so many things in it, and I have so many interests.)

There’s really no way to prepare for those kinds of questions, so in the moment, you just have to decide whether to go with it or deflect to something more meaningful to you.

Oxbridge and Imperial interviews 

While the typical interviews for colleges in the US are more ‘personal interviews’ and require no special preparation except for general awareness of oneself, Oxbridge or Imperial typically take ‘skill-assessment’ interviews and may require more academic rigor than their corresponding US counterparts. 

There might be some biographical, strength-based or motivation questions. The bulk of the interview is focused on competency questions which are asked to assess your skills in a particular subject area. For this, you need to develop a problem solving approach. More generally, interviewers would 

  • First ask a specific subject matter question and 
  • Then follow it up by asking you to share your thought process as you go ahead to answer it. 

Many people refer to this as a problem-solving process, wherein the interviewee is expected to share her thinking as she answers the questions. The thrust, more often than not, is on the process that you have followed rather than on the correct answer. Here is a great sample from the Cambridge interview. Please note the interviewer’s repeated exhortations to the interviewee to think out aloud or draw out her thinking process. Even in the debrief, he said that he was keen to know how the interviewee was thinking.

In terms of preparation, you must go through your application material in detail. Often, you would have submitted multiple admission applications and it is easy to get confused amongst the many applications that are there in the pipeline. You may not want to get caught talking about interest in Imperial in the interview with Cambridge! 

Also, you may want to brush up key concepts in your subjects. This might be an onerous exercise, but it would be well worth it. Do note though that it is not expected, nor required, to remember all the material but rather focus on understanding and its applications. If you can apply a certain concept well, then you are ready!


General preparation rules hold. Sleep well, don’t agonize yourself too much about content, and focus on being present in the moment. Finally, if you’re feeling bold, you can ask, politely, why you should choose school X. This puts the interviewer in the position of actually selling the school to you instead of the other way around. If you can do all of this, you shall be able to establish a good connect and ace your interview!


Further Reading:

A Good Mentor

So, you want to study abroad?

The honest answer to your university essay questions