Hat tip (again) to Monica for this section!

First, let’s talk about what doesn’t work very well.

  • Avoid Flattery: “I want to go to X University because of its reputation in the business community.” Why? It’s uninspired. Don’t waste this precious opportunity telling the school things about itself it already knows. They want to hear about you.

  • Avoid cliches like “I’ve been going to University of Georgia football games every year since I was three. I want to be a Bulldog and wear red and black.

Instead, talk about specifics that showcase YOUR talents and interests.

Let’s use the pole vaulter again as an example. He might say:

I’m looking for a university that feeds my fascination with physics and I was really excited to see that Rochester offers courses that intersect with my love of music. Seeing I could take “The Physics of Music” was great, and I’d love to learn about waves, frequencies, vibrations etc. and see how they might apply to my involvement in singing and acapella. I’m also interested in astrophysics, and would hope to study cosmology to further understand stellar evolution, another subject I’ve studied a lot on my own.  

That’s an answer that shows me the student has done his homework, even to the extent of finding particular relevant classes. It also allows him to show another side of himself: music.

Important: Again, the best way to prepare is to write the “Why Us?” essay, even if the school doesn’t require it. Use this opportunity to research specific classes, teachers, programs, activities, or characteristics unique to the university.

But, as I say in the “Why us” guide, don’t focus only on the University—chances are your interviewer knows why his/her schools is amazing. Be sure to use the “so what” exercise to connect it back to you.


I love that Northwestern has so many student theater groups.
          (So what? Why? What does this say about you?)
I’ve loved creating theater with my friends in high school and since I’m interested in a future in stage management, I’m looking for the chance to get lots of experience—especially outside the classroom—creating shows with other students who are making art because they’re passionate about it (and not just doing it for a grade).

See? Pretty straightforward. Now do this 10 times for the school you’re interviewing for—go back and forth between a) what’s awesome about the school and b) what this has to do with you—and you’ll have plenty to say.

Other college interview questions you may be asked about a particular school:

What activities or programs do you hope to take advantage of at our school?
         I hope to get involved in…

(Use names of specific clubs, organizations, and other opportunities that are unique to the university)
(Then answer “So what?” Connect it back to you. Because…)

What do you think you can contribute to X University?
         I think I’ll provide…
(Look to that values and skills list and come up with a few, like curiosity or cultural awareness, for example. Be sure to explain the experiences that helped you develop these attributes, such as your experience founding and managing a school club, or experiences living in multiple countries. Use stories to illustrate them.)
         Contribution 1 and Example or Story – [You can fill this out yourself!]
         Contribution 2 and Example or Story – [Samesies.]

What do you look forward to most about college?
         I’m particularly excited about…

How well do you do with independence? Give an example of a problem or task or project you’ve dealt with that required you to demonstrate your independence.
         When I was … I learned how to…
(Use specific examples of camps, summer programs, or times in your life when you had to be independent.)