They say that “The first impression is the last impression.” However, something more interesting is that, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Every cloud has a silver lining – this is especially true in the case of college interviews! The college interview may be a hassle and an obstacle to admission, but it’s also a great chance for you to present yourself and make up for any deficiencies in your application and past record (poor grades, low ECs, etc.).
Below, I have provided you with questions that are most frequently asked as part of the college interview. I have also tried to address certain “difficult” questions or those that have the potential of getting a student in trouble.
What are the interviewers looking for?
The primary purpose of the interview is to get an idea of who you are. The interviewers wont spend too much time on questions related to your high school course-work – your application form gives them plenty of information about that. By the time they meet with you, they will have extensively reviewed your application and picked out a few items to speak with you at length about. This is a two pronged approach: on one hand they cross question you on the topic and determine whether you’re telling the truth or not. On the other hand, they are assessing you as a person: your strengths, your weaknesses, your priorities and your passions.
Since you will probably have to discuss at length something from your application, don’t put anything on your application that you cannot discuss extensively. Also, before you attend the interview, think through responses to general questions like, “How would you describe yourself?” and “what is your favorite activity?” However, make sure that any answers you think up are ones that project the real “you”. Pretending to be someone you’re not is the last thing you want to do!
What should I wear to a college admission interview?
Dress well! Very well! What you wear and how you are groomed will make the first (and last!) impression. Drop any ideas you may have about being “different” or projecting a “uniqe identity”. Lose all tattoos, coloured hair, pierced body parts (other than ears for girls), and other such non-conventional items.
It’s best to wear a suit. Otherwise, you can wear some really nice slacks (or skirt) and a proper shirt. Some people prefer khakis as a better option. Whatever you wear, remember that it’s better to be overdressed rather than dress too casually.
How do I answer a trick question like “What is your greatest failure?”
Try not to think about such a question as a “trick” question. As far as failures are concerned, we are all the same: nobody is perfect and no one has spent a life without failures. What we are different in is the way in which we deal with those failures and how we let those failures affect our future. The best thing to do is narrate when and why you fell short of achieving a goal. However, make sure to quickly follow that up with how you used the experience to learn and the steps you took to ensure that a similar failure does not occur again. Overall, the impression should be that you can take failures in a stride, but always use a failure as a learning opportunity and become a better, more qualified person as a result of failures.
How can I explain a poor grade on my transcript?
Not all of us graduate in the top 2% of our class and therefore don’t boast straight As in our high school report card. However, poor grades may be acceptable under certain circumstances:
1. If poor grades are concentrated in a particular subject (I’m a great student but Math never agreed with me)
2. If low grades are concentrated in a particular period of time. (I was having problems at home and couldn’t concentrate, or, I was doing 3 jobs a day and was damn busy!).
Generally, you should try to draw attention to your strengths – your stronger grades, or on the fact how your grades have improved over time if you were adversely affected by a negative experience.
What made you choose our university?
Unless the university in question is top-ranked, don’t tell them that you think it’s the best university in the world. Try to be honest and tell them about the factors which made you decide on this university, e.g., location, costs, teachers, facilities, alumni, etc. No matter what you do, don’t bad-mouth the university or give them the impression that you’re here as a last resort since every other place has rejected you.
What courses have you enjoyed/hated most?
NEVER admit to hating a course which is of significant importance in the college you are trying to get into – no college wants to accept a student who’ll get sick of the curriculum and quit in a few months time. Ideally, the courses in which you’ve performed well should be the ones you enjoyed the most, and they should be the most important courses as far as the college/degree in question is concerned. However, don’t lie and admit to enjoying a course which you really hated – the people interviewing you have decades of experience in education and can easily spot a lie, especially a lie concerned with academia.
What is your greatest achievement in life?
Try to be very well prepared for this question, because it’s bound to be asked. Of all the achievements you’ve made, think of the one which will have the greatest impact on the interviewer and mention that. Make sure the achievement you mention is one which portrays some positive personal qualities: hard work, preserverence, intelligence, diligence, honesty, courage, etc. Make sure the achievement you mention demonstrates your personal ability and not some fluke of nature (in other words, “I won the state lottery” won’t cut it even though it may be your greatest achievement ever!).
What is your opinion on (any current event)?
This question is unique in the sense that your opinion does not matter, the way you express it does. The purpose of this question is not to gauge your political or social philosophy – it is used to test your knowledge, your ability to assimilate and analyze information, and how you are able to present that information. For example, whether you support or oppose the US plan to attack on Iraq is irrelevant – what counts is how you defend your stand in the light of facts and convincing arguments.
If you could change one thing about the time your spent at high school, what would it be?
This is what some students would refer to as a “trick” question, making you divulge something negative about your high school tenure. The best way to deal with this question is to have an answer prepared well in advance – something about your time at high school which could have been improved, but which is not something serious or dangerous enough to give the interviewers second thoughts about offering you admission. Tell them about how you spent too much time on soccer and got a B in math, but don’t tell them about that drug problem of yours!
By Shah J. Chaudhry