Questions to Ask a College Interviewer

The interview is one of the most intimidating portions of the college admissions process. You have months to polish your essays and activity list, and years to build great relationships with your recommenders. But can you capture whatever makes you awesome when face-to-face with an alumnus or admissions officer?

We think you can, so long as you focus on making a real connection with your interviewer. And one of the best ways to make this connection genuine is by asking your own smart, thoughtful questions.

In this article, we dive into the best questions to ask your interviewer, and we touch upon how to answer college interview questions yourself.

If you’re impatient you can jump to the questions, but don’t forget to scroll back up to learn the top college interview mistakes along with some other useful pointers about your admissions interview.

An Introduction to The College Interview

After you submit your college applications—and these days, sometimes before you even apply—you are likely to be invited for at least one or two interviews. Most students applying to a healthy number of elite, selective colleges in the USA will be invited for a handful. 

Nine times out of ten, this interview will be with an alumnus of the college. The reasons for this are simple: universities have limited human resources and tens of thousands of applicants to interview, and they trust that proud, nostalgic alumni volunteers will promote their institution’s image and be genuinely invested in the quality of the college’s new classes of students. Thus, alumni interviews provide both a practical and a strategic lens into how an applicant comports themselves interpersonally.

But does the interview really have that much bearing on your admissions decision? In most cases, no, it does not. The majority of colleges consider the college interview as only a very small factor of their decision-making process. But that doesn’t mean that the interview is entirely negligible. In fact, it can often be a way to suss out red flags or get a “real” sense of who the applicant behind the application package really is. 

And if you really mess it up, you can be sure that news of your disappointing performance will reach the admissions committee.

So, because the interview isn’t going to put a Hollywood facelift on an otherwise mediocre profile, it is probably not going to be the reason you are admitted. At the same time, it absolutely could be the reason you are not admitted.

That sounds scary, but it’s not really. Bear in mind that it’s most likely your interviewer will have volunteered their time to do this college interview. They have some degree of investment in the process, and like all people, they’d rather enjoy their interaction with you than resent it. 

This should be a confidence booster. Your interviewer was in your same shoes however many decades ago, and they are not an admissions professional. They’re a real person who cares about their alma mater, but also cares to get to know you. Even better, they’re someone with verifiable insights into the college’s culture, academics, and other qualities—they may be able to reveal new things about the experience on campus through anecdotes you’d never hear elsewhere.

The point here is not to be motivated by a fear of failure, but by the opportunity to get this interviewer on your team. That’s a modest and achievable goal, and it also happens to be the most you can hope for. So shake off the stress and focus on finding your interview rhythm. Take deep breaths, then let the rapport develop organically. The more you embrace your natural speaking style and stay focused on listening sincerely to what the other person says, the better an impression you will leave them with.

Don’t Ask These Questions in College Interviews

That said, it’s worth bearing in mind a couple of the most fundamental mistakes that students commonly make when asked for their own questions toward the end of an interview. 

The first of these we will call the “aren’t I cute?” question. This type of question is usually preceded by a brief gushing about how much you love this particular college, saying that it’s at the very top of the list of your dream schools, followed by a clumsy transition:

“So… how can I get in?”


“Do you think I’ll get in?”

Yikes. These questions might seem mildly ironic or kind of funny—maybe you have this far-fetched hope that they will appreciate your semi-satire so much that they will even drop secret hints about how to get in. 

But really, asking this kind of question is completely inappropriate, and college interviewers will not appreciate the implications. That is, your goal is to learn about the college experience, not to get tips on gaming the system, or even feedback on the quality of your application package at all. And in fact, this person may have a very limited or even nonexistent perspective on the rest of your profile, details on the college’s specific admissions process, and other important admissions trends. Plus, you absolutely don’t want to come across as the type of person who would want or expect an unfair advantage that has nothing to do with your actual merit. 

The second mistake that students can make is focusing on the prestige of the person across from them: asking them about their job in a way that’s more about how much money they’re making, or the car they drive, or the neighborhood they live in, or the people they know, or the parties they go to, or any number of other status symbols.

Successful people are used to such attention and have trained themselves to sniff out ulterior motives. If you start asking them about these topics, they will quickly realize that you don’t actually care about them as an individual. Even worse, they’ll know that you are motivated to attend college not to integrate into campus life but because you see it as a stepping stone to the upper class. Just like the admissions committee, your interviewer will want to find new members of the student body who are passionate about learning and developing as a person.

So when you focus on prestige, it is likely to make the interviewer shut down further questions and end the conversation as soon as possible. It may make them feel that you haven’t listened to anything they’ve mentioned that they are actually passionate about. And it certainly won’t make them feel that they actually connected with you on a basic human level.

So—avoid these silly mistakes at all costs. They will show that you are either unprepared or distasteful, neither of which is what you want.

What you do want is to instead turn the conversation toward topics that will provoke a further response and enable you to ask follow-up questions.

How will you capture whatever makes you awesome when face-to-face with an alumnus or admissions officer?

The Best Questions to Ask a College Interviewer

Before we get into the time-tested questions we recommend students like you consider using in a college admissions interview, it’s worth noting a general truth: the best questions to ask your interviewer are always going to be a natural extension or by-product of the conversation you have had up to that point. 

What do we mean by this?

Well, most interviewers are going to drop some hints about what they care about in their lives. They’re real people with real interests, after all. In all likelihood, they’re downright fascinating! And they’ve signed up to do this interview with you. They are well aware that it’s not very enjoyable for anyone if they simply spend an hour grilling you without some back-and-forth to make the interaction more comfortable. So the vast majority of the time, your interviewer will be somewhat open and receptive, not cold and dismissive.

And that’s why the first step to asking the right questions in your college interview is to dedicate your full attention to any tidbits your interviewer drops about their own life throughout the interview. Get in the habit of making mental notes during conversations. Can you “bookmark” a certain topic in your brain, then bring it back up later? Doing this without losing track of the conversation is tricky, but it’s achievable with practice. 

Perhaps your interviewer has a pet, or loves a certain cuisine, or studied abroad in a fascinating country, or plays a cool sport for fun. These are all safe but potentially rich areas of inquiry. Maybe they have strong opinions on social movements, political topics, or news from the college itself. Though asking about such convictions may be trickier, doing so carefully can lead to substantive and engaging conversation.

So use hints about any of these areas, or countless others, to direct your questions.

College Interview Questions

OK, well, picking up on hints is all well and good, but what should you ask about if you weren’t able to sleuth your way to some revealing personal insight about your interviewer?

Here are some of the best and most reliable questions you can ask practically any interviewer in any context, and which will almost always enrich your conversation.

Favorite Memory Questions

Alright: nothing mind-blowing here. This one is as tried and true as it gets—but that doesn’t mean it can’t be effective!

The reason that asking about specific favorite memories is effective is because it is bound to make your college interviewer nostalgic. Whether you ask about a favorite event, professor, class, project, party, restaurant, cafe, hangout space, study space, or tradition, you are going to evoke emotions about your interviewer’s experience of campus life. Your college interviewer has clearly stayed connected to their alma mater—if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be interviewing you.

So playing it “safe” this way can help you gauge what exactly your interviewer remembers so fondly from their experience. It will help you see whether they were a bookworm, a social animal, a leader and organizer, or anything in between. This is often one of the best ways to get off on the right foot in this last phase of your conversation.

Your interviewer not only cares about their alma mater but also cares to get to know you. This should be a confidence booster.

Topical Questions

The second area that is a potential goldmine for interesting dialogue is asking for your interviewer’s opinion or perspective on something topical. This could be a current event that is in the public eye, a particular development in your interviewer’s field of interest or work, a piece of recent news from the college itself, a social or political movement, or any number of other things. The key is that it should be a topic you are reasonably confident the interviewer will be interested in, and one that you yourself also have some well-formed opinions on.

Again, making this prediction well is a matter of paying close attention to the undercurrents of the interview up until that point. But when done right, this can lead to a less emotional and more cerebral exchange—perhaps even a debate. By presenting the opportunity for the interviewer to express an opinion, you take on the risk of disagreement, but you also show that you are interested in how they think and that you, too, care about the big things that are happening in the world.

Ideally, whether you politely disagree or wholeheartedly agree, your interviewer will feel that this question is an indication of your high level of maturity. After all, not so many teenagers are comfortable matching wits with older people who they might find intimidating. Be respectful and diplomatic, but let your rhetoric rip. You may find that the discourse itself sticks in the mind of your interviewer, given that it’s something they’d so rarely find in this context.

Personal trajectory questions

Another area ripe with potentially interesting responses is asking about the interim period between when your interviewer graduated from college, and where they are at the present moment. To understand this “trajectory” you can ask about their alma mater’s network, the friendships they built while in college, the professional or soft skills they developed, how they transitioned from an academic to a work setting, their career path, and plenty more.

Basically, the idea is to show that you are thinking ahead and setting intentions for your future. It can be impressive if you show that you really want to grasp the challenges not only of school, but of professional life too. Plus, since work has most likely been one of the biggest parts of your interviewer’s life in recent memory, they should have a treasure trove of anecdotes they can pull up if your question hits the right chord.

As a bonus, this line of questioning may also prompt your interviewer to note some takeaways from their college experience that they only realize in retrospect, further enhancing your own perspective on your near future.

Advice and Insight Questions

The last major category of questions we recommend you consider asking your college interviewer concerns questions on life advice. As a young person, you should be seeking mentorship—at least, in the right places. But it can be very compelling to show that you are receptive, open-minded, and growth oriented.

Plus, you asking for your interviewer’s input can often play to their ego. Such questions show that you respect their opinions and value their life experience.

It’s best to start from your own passions, interests, and activities for this kind of question. What are you doing with your time, and how would you like to evolve this pursuit in the future? You may have hobbies, research projects, sports, intellectual interests, clubs and organizations, volunteer roles, internships, family obligations, and plenty more.

You may do these things at an exceptionally high—perhaps even a world-class—level. But you are still a teenager, and there’s a whole lot of opportunity left ahead of you. Show that you recognize this by sincerely seeking any insights on a specific topic that your college interviewer is willing to share. In particular, focus on your academic interests, and embrace idea that this person could truly be an inspiration for you.

Any of these question types can lead to fruitful, enjoyable, and memorable conversations. The way you use them is completely up to you. Try to exercise your best discretion based on what you can intuit about your college interviewer, then use your guesses as best you can.

One great thing about practicing this skill is that it will continue to have value throughout the rest of your life. In essence, what you are practicing is active listening: a refined, empathetic way of demonstrating care and consideration. Of course, this is not about feigning such qualities, but truly embodying them. And depending on what kind of person you naturally are, this may take time.

But it is certainly achievable. Everyone can become a good listener, and you’d be surprised how far such a simple skill can get you in life. So bear in mind these heavy-hitting questions to ask throughout the interview process, put a few into practice, but don’t forget that the most important quality you can show is sincerity: a sincere focus on their words, a sincere desire to grow, explore, and be challenged, and a sincere interest in learning about the world and the people within it. 

If you can convince your college interviewer of your sincerity, you can be confident that you are bolstering your college application through your college interview.