5 most popular US college admission questions & how to answer them
It's scary but being prepared will help heaps. Source: Unsplash

You’ve got the email setting a date and time for an interview with the admissions team at the college or university you applied at.

Now what?

Well, preparation is key. Prepare well and get yourself a good interview to boost your chances of getting into that school. Fail to prepare and you’ll harm your chances.

Whether you are interviewing in person or via video calls, the aim of the interview is for the school to learn more about you, your interests, and how you’ll be able to contribute to the school.

There are common general questions that multiple admission sites have referenced, though specific questions may vary from course to course.

Here are the top five most popular and suggestions on how to best answer them:

Question #1: Tell me about yourself


This seems easy until you really think about it. The difficulty lies in how general it is, so you may not know how to begin. While the schools do want to know about you, this isn’t where you spill out your life story (there may not be enough time either – most interviews last around 30 minutes).

Suggestions: Brag about yourself humbly and succinctly. It may sound like an oxymoron, but with the right choice of words, you can paint a portrait of yourself as unique and separate from the other candidates. Throw in a little about your academic achievements as well as what you like to do in your free time.

Raissa Kanku, a sophomore at Ohio Wesleyan University said she sought input from others when preparing to answer this question. She asked friends, teachers and a coach for feedback about what they viewed as her best qualities.

“They gave me clear phrases that actually described my personality or even the things that I’ve done,” Kanku told US News.

Question #2: Why are you interested in this college/major?


Admission officers ask this question to see two things: 1) whether you’re really interested in the major/school; and 2) whether you take your college application process seriously.

Suggestions: There’s no easy way around this. Extensive research will be necessary. Don’t just talk about the school’s rankings, prestige or location, according to Prep Scholar. That just shows a superficial level understanding.

Instead, dig deep. Find out about the specifics about the school’s extracurricular activities, cultural values of the school, etc. If there’s a particular internship programme the school has, and that relates to the major you are applying for, talk about it.

Talking about how a major will bring you lots of money or job security is a big no-no. Instead, talk about why the subject inspires you – admission officers want to see genuine interest. If there was a light bulb moment that made you decide to major in biology when you were just a six-year-old, talk about it.

Question #3: Can you explain the grading system at your high school?


This one’s for the international applicants. Grading systems vary greatly from one district to another within your own country, what more those from another country’s.

“US colleges might not know as much about their high school and about their environment as maybe they would like,” says Mandee Heller Adler, founder and president of Florida-based International College Counselors.

Suggestion: Try to find the clearest way to explain the grading scale that your high school uses, as well as any other achievements you may have, such as awards received.

Question #4: What are your academic strengths and weaknesses, and how have you addressed them?


Colleges want to know how you perceive your achievements as well as how well you overcome obstacles.

Suggestions: When talking about strengths, be specific. And explain how these strengths helped you throughout high school and how you plan to use it in future. For example, “Writing is my biggest strength. I capitalised on this to get an internship programme at a local publishing house, as well as winning an essay competition. I hope to do the same in college”.

When it comes to weaknesses, admit them readily, so long as you can show that you have made efforts to overcome them. Don’t say you have no weaknesses – no one’s going to buy that and you’ll only paint yourself as arrogant.

Instead, talk about strategies you’ve used to overcome procrastination, or a specific story about how you got that C grade to a B in calculus.

Question #5: Do you have any questions for me?


Take this opportunity to ask the questions for which the answers just aren’t available on the school’s website. Ask a well-thought question and you can get yourself extra marks for showing you’ve done your research.

Suggestion: Betsy Cotten, associate director of admissions at McDaniel College in Maryland suggests asking about more in-depth issues such as the culture of a college’s location and how the college’s students spend their time outside the classroom.

“More of the touchy-feely, rather than the more statistically driven stuff is a better use of their time,” says Cotten.

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