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Last updated March 21, 2024

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19 Questions to Ask A College Interviewer

Key Takeaway

The college interview is a crucial opportunity to form a genuine connection with the interviewer. By asking thoughtful questions about the school, its culture, and their personal experiences, you can create an organic conversation and gain valuable insights to inform your college decision-making process.

The college interview can be one of the roughest parts of the application process. Why? For many students, it's the only time when everything is on the line in a face-to-face context. It's far easier to micromanage the quality of your applications and essays from the removed tranquility of a computer in your room than it is to “prove yourself” face-to-face with another human being.

In every interview there comes a point—a particularly dreaded moment—when an interviewer will ask, “So, what questions do you have for me?”

It may occur at the beginning or the end of the interview. But wherever it lands, you need to be ready.

In many interviews, this question is the inflection point that determines whether your 15-minute timeslot evolves into a more organic conversation where you can actually form a bond with your interviewer, or not.

Ah, the organic conversation: the gold standard of any college interview.

So, anticipating that your interviewer will likely ask you the dreaded "Question question," I made an exhaustive list of some good questions you can ask them.

Remember, you might want to add a twist to some of these to personalize them. And given the context of your interview, some of them might be weird. For example, question 19, "What was the best job you had as a kid," might come across as odd if you've just spent the last fifteen minutes talking about reality TV.

Use context, yo.

Let's get into some QUESTIONS.

1. How would you describe the culture at ______? What type of people tend to really thrive here, and what type don't do so well?"

Ok, ok. "But that's two questions," you're probably saying. Yes, it is. These questions are so juicy that sometimes you get a 2-for-1 deal.

I like this question because it shows the interviewer that you aren't completely gung-ho about the school. Well, at least, you recognize that some types of people may not be as well-suited to the school and its culture.

I think that interviewers are, by and large, frustrated by the bootlickers who can't wait to bend over backward to prove their undying devotion to a school. In general, your best bet is to strike a careful balance between excitement (because of course you want to be admitted) and critical exploration.

You want to come away seeming like your own person who's capable of critical thought and judgment. In other words, the interview is a two-way street. You're trying to get information, too, to better inform your college choice. Asking this question (and others like it) will put you on an even footing with the interviewer--as a human being who's trying to improve the information that's informing their decision.

As to the question itself, hey, maybe the interviewer will say that "The only type of people who don't thrive here are book-bound neds," and that's exactly who you are. That's important information for you to have!

2. "What's something you would have done differently during your time at _______ if you could?"

Remember that an interviewer, as long as they're an alum, is a font of knowledge about the specific college experience offered at the school and (b) regret about how they could have better taken advantage of their time in school.

I like this question because it forces the interviewer to think--to really dig deep and consider their past at the school and the resources/opportunities passed by.

If I were asked this question, I would probably say something like: "Hmmm, good question. I would like to have taken more classes in the religion department, particularly with one specific professor (Stuart Smithers). Otherwise, the school had so many amazing outdoor clubs--there were mountaineering and kayaking clubs that I always wanted to try but never found the time."

Great! Now you have three other subjects that you can build on: religion, mountaineering, and kayaking. Go crazy. This is how that coveted organic conversation starts.

3. "What's something that no student should miss at ______?"

Kind of a different spin on question #2, this one is designed to get them excited about the "greatest hits" at the school. This question will help you get a clearer sense of what made them really excited about their experience. It's also a great way to steer the interview into conversation territory.

If they talk about how, "Oh my god, the student mimes were unmissable," well, now you've got a great opportunity to talk about mimes, circuses, and... France? with them.

The thing I keep reiterating: the "Question" question can be effectively used to get a better sense of what the interviewer cares about and to prolong the conversation and build a genuine connection with them.

4. "What's a department that you recommend I take a class in? Or is there a specific class?"

All alumni interviewers will have taken a broad range of classes from across departments. Usually, they'll remember one or two fondly--classes that shaped how they saw the world. First, this is amazing information to have if you do end up attending the school. Second, you can parlay their answer into a discussion about the class. Why was it so meaningful? What did they remember about it? Were there any readings in particular that you should check out?

Ask these questions! They're smart ones that will make you seem bright and curious. Bonus points if you actually are.

5. What's your opinion about the strength of the alumni network?”

Given that you're speaking with an alumni interviewer, the chances are high that they'll have a glowing opinion about the alumni network. But it's good to ask anyway.

A school's alumni network can be one of its biggest assets. If your interviewer is a straight-shooter, they'll tell you the truth. Maybe the alumni network is the reason they got their first job, started their career, etc.

Or maybe it's pretty lackluster, inaccessible, or disorganized. Either way, it's a point to discuss and an important piece of data that should inform your school decision-making process.

6. Do you feel like you had the time/freedom to explore classes outside of your major?"

This question will give you a flavor of the academic style of the school--whether the intensity of the academic culture and the demands of majors provide opportunities for flexibility.

At my alma mater, cross-curricular exploration was practically required (well, actually, it literally was because of breadth requirements). I was able to take classes from a pretty wide range of majors until my senior year.

But at some schools, this really isn't the case, and a lot of folks I know from more elite schools bemoan this. It's a good question to ask an interviewer because it makes them think and form a view again. It's not a shallow question about some arcane program or major that they (a) probably don't know the answer to and (b) don't really care about answering.

Remember: the most interesting questions for an interviewer are the ones that tie back to their time at the school... Or, perhaps, that takes the conversation utterly out of the school discussion arena and go into a current event or some topic of interest. But I'll leave those to you.

7. "Were the professors accessible?”

This one isn't my favorite question on the list, because it lends itself to a yes/no answer, which is not great for running the clock or building that organic bridge. But all the same, it's an important piece of information to have. And if your interviewer has strong positive or negative memories about their professors, this question will bring that out.

8. "Would you advise your son/daughter/niece/nephew to go here, if they had the opportunity?”

Now this question might yield a "Yes" 100% of the time. What I like about it, though, is that it portrays the interviewee as someone who is genuinely interested in making sure that the school is right for them. When you ask this question, you look like an informed consumer--someone who wants to peer through the formal veil of the interview setting to get at the truth. And that's a good look. Also, what if they say "No"? That would be interesting.

9. "What was the biggest way you grew as a thinker on campus?”

This is a great one -- it gets at intellectual vitality in a really specific way that will, in all likelihood, require them to think deeply, perhaps even talk about their intellectual trajectory during their time on campus.

If I were answering this question, I would probably say something like this:

"I came in pretty clueless about what I wanted to study and why. I remember taking a few political science classes--particularly one in US Public Policy--that showed me how complex, messy, and fascinating the process of political development is. That class (and a couple others) taught me to look at the world around us as an intersection of individual wills, political institutions, ingrained psychological biases, and power structures. And then my political theory courses deepened that framework and helped me understand the importance of using "power" as an analytical framework for the world."

In other words, I would have a pretty interesting and specific answer. It would be a great opportunity for you to ask a follow-up question ("What the hell do you mean by 'power as an analytical framework'?) or for us to talk more about mental models, etc.

10. "How did you spend the summer after high school?”

OK, a bit of a pivot here. I think this one is good because the summer after high school is usually a pivotal (and somewhat unique) time. It may be the only summer on record where you (or the interviewer) didn't work a job, do an internship, participate in a sport, etc. So you might tap into a good well of positive memory about a carefree transition year. And psychologically, asking the interviewer to remember their own youth will help them identify with you. Which is a good thing.

11. What are the best campus traditions?”

Again, this question is designed to get your interviewer reflecting on the good times -- the fun experiences you can't afford to miss at the school. I think it will also psychologically help them "see" you at the school, participating in the traditions.

Finally, it conveys a strong vibe that you really care about the "family" cultivated at a school - that you want to join the community that the interviewer presumably sees themselves as a member of.

12. “What's a stereotype about the school you had that turned out to be false?”

Every school has their nasty stereotypes, and interviewers will probably be aware of them. But note, the question isn't just asking about any old stereotype--it's asking about one that THEY had.

This question makes the list because, again, it brings the interviewer on a trip down memory lane. This question gets them reflecting on their own first steps onto campus. It brings to mind the impressions they had and their process for learning which were valid and which were ungrounded.

It also might be a good segue for you to talk about the rumblings you've heard about the school -- for better or worse.

Although, here, you should tread carefully. It can be easy, when sharing school gossip, to go too far and accidentally come across as disparaging or critical of the school. Not what you want.

13. “Where are you from?”

Take a left turn at "College Discussion" and head right for home! Get to know the interviewer a bit. Ask them about what it was like to grow up there. Do they still have family in the area? People LOVE to answer questions about themselves, their background, their family, their origins. Come across well by being genuinely curious about your interviewer's background. Who knows, you might discover a surprising connection that you can talk about for 15 minutes.

14. “What did you want to become after you graduated from college?”

You know how lots of people have a secret dream about what cool career they want after they graduate? Well, your interviewer is no exception.

If you asked me this question I would tell you about how I wanted to be a presidential speechwriter. But I would probably also tell you the story about how my interests shifted over time.

Am I exactly where I planned I would be, today? Nope! Life is messy and non-linear. We'd talk about messiness. You'd talk about how crazy school and life is on your end. We'd bond.

The interview would be going very well.

15. “What advice would you have given yourself as a 17/18 year old?”

There's another, much more boring way of asking this question, and it goes like this: "What advice would you give me?" That's the kind of question that leads an interviewer to spit out something dry and generic: "Just remember to be balanced throughout your senior year. Have fun with your friends!"

But when the question is framed as advice they would give to THEMSELVES, suddenly the stakes increase a lot. The question turns personal. As I write, I'm trying to think of an answer for myself. It's a hard one.

But getting me/your interviewer to think is the goal. This question challenges them to consider their life history and who they were as a young person. Again, identification with you = good outcome.

16. “What was the best job you had as a kid?”

This last one is another way to reduce the distance between you (a lowly high school student, not even a legal adult) and an interviewer who is likely a seasoned professional.

It brings them back to their youth, or to their first job in college, or maybe, hey, to their current job.

But ideally, it causes them to think back on some distant experience and reflect fondly on it. If you asked me, I'd tell you about the gig I had for a couple of years working in a huge independent bookstore.

Dozens of famous authors came through during my tenure, and I got to meet Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Franzen, Elizabeth Warren, Junot Diaz, Chris Hadfield, and countless other cool people. It was great.


OK, by way of conclusion, I want to make some observations about the common characteristics of these questions.

Most or all of them do one thing: they break down the artificial barriers imposed by the formal occasion of an interview. Instead, they get an interviewer to think about their most important memories and their experiences.

In the process, they collapse the distance between interviewer and interviewee. You both become human beings navigating a shared experience--of being young, of making the college choice, and (hopefully) of attending the same storied institution.

But these questions are really only as good as you make them. A single one of them can carry a 30-minute chat if you're good at playing conversational ping pong. Hey, you can even chain together a few of them to get things rolling.

Try to memorize two or three of the ones you found most interesting here. Don't be afraid to bust them out when the time comes.

Good luck!


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