It’s incredibly nerve-wracking to have to go into a room and have a stranger decide your future. If you’re also a top student (like I was), it’s even more nerve-wracking to not know if you’re really going to get to go to a top-tier, super-elite school like Harvard, Princeton, MIT or Yale and have your future and career almost completely laid out for you, or if you really even have the slightest chance of getting in at all.
That’s why I’ve laid out the top questions students often hear during their Ivy League college interviews. Even if you’re not applying to the Ivy League, this will work for any other competitive top to mid-tier college, too.
So, whether you’re applying to Harvard and Princeton, or Boston University and NYU, studying these questions will help you be more prepared in terms of what to expect from your college interview, and how to be more confident during the interview itself, because nothing will take you by surprise.
As an overview though, college admissions officers want to know that you have the maturity to speak clearly, that you can be comfortable even in a nerve-wracking situation, that you can look them in the eye, smile, chat, have a solid “adult” conversation on an adult level, and are clear in terms of who you are at this point in your life and where you want to go. These questions will help you get there:
1. “So, what are you interested in studying in college?”
What college interviewers are looking for here, is an answer that reveals your academic and possible future professional plans and interests, but also shows uniqueness and a background (however slight it may be) related to your answer.
In other words, just saying you’re interested in pre-med is fine, but saying you’re interested in pre-med because you spent time interning over the summer at a make-shift hospital in India, or at an inner city hospital in Chicago, is better because it shows you have actual experience to back up your goals. .
The main thing that will get you bad marks here on this question? Being too vague – that’s what this question is trying to screen for. Your college interviewer wants to make sure that you have the focus and ambition needed to truly succeed in a top Ivy League college (and in life). They want to make sure you’re someone who has a plan and has a direction…even if that direction later changes course. Just show them that you have an initial thought-out plan.
So, if they ask you this question, pick an academic subject and back it up, even if you end up changing your major 4 times once you’re in. First, get in!
2. “What high school accomplishment are you most proud of?”
Here, your college admissions interviewer is trying to get a sense of what you value, as the accomplishment you are most proud of will not only show off your best strengths academically (or extracurricularly, as could be the case) but will show him/her what things and pursuits you actually identify with, in your own life – and that gives them great information about YOU.
The main thing that will get you bad marks on your college interviewer’s report with this question? Not showing a real passion or energy behind your answer. You can’t expect someone to be excited about what you’ve done in life, if you yourself aren’t that interested.
3. “Tell me about your family background? Where did you grow up?”
What the admission officer is looking for here, is a sense of trying to place you = what I call, trying to paint a picture of your home life in their mind. Did you grow up in a big city, a suburb, a rural farm? Were you home-schooled, or did you attend a highly competitive science magnet in your area?
They are trying to place you, but they are also trying to discern how you yourself feel about your background. There’s no wrong answer here, except a one-word answer. That will get you a bad mark on the interviewer’s report, and you don’t want that. If someone asks you a question, expand and expound!
4. “What is an example of something difficult you’ve had to go through, or an important event perhaps that took place in your life in the last few years?”
Here, as with the question above, the admissions committee (through the college interviewer’s report that they will write about you) is simply trying to get a sense of who you are, what you value, and what stands out in your mind. They are simply trying to understand who you are as a person, and how you see yourself in relation to others.
The one thing that will get you bad marks on this question? Not having a strong and solid answer. It’s really not so much what you say with any of this, but how you say it. Always speak with confidence and self-reflection = that’s what they really like. Don’t be afraid to show them who you are as a thinker and a person. The fastest thing to get you dinged on all of your questions is, again, a weak, one-word response!
5. “Why Harvard” or “Why Princeton?” or “Why Columbia?” or “Why Berkeley?”…
Most likely, you already wrote an admissions essay covering this question, so I strongly suggest you review all of your essays before going into your college interview. Your answer “Why Harvard, or University of Pennsylvania, or Columbia, Brown, Duke, UCLA, MIT, or NYU?” (just to name a few), should focus on that particular school’s program, core curriculum, professors, classes and extracurriculars that are specific to your interests.
The focus should be academic at the core, but don’t be afraid to let your personality and true interest in a school’s outside extracurricular activities also shine through. Do your homework and understand the differences between different programs and how they’re set up with their own unique flavor, especially when we’re talking about the Ivy League colleges and universities.
In the end, your college admissions interview should be conversational, interesting, educational and engaging! In other words, just try to have a very real and connected conversation. Most interviews last 20-40 minutes, and if you’ve gotten this far, it’s a very good sign that you are already on your way!
Are you a high school student applying to college this year? Is it your dream to go to an Ivy League school and one day graduate from Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia ,Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, or UPenn? Or maybe you’re interested in one of the many other extremely competitive and excellent “Top Ten” schools in the country, such as MIT, Stanford, Duke, etc., etc.
The below are the top 5 college admission essay books I personally recommend. They give you a great overview of the types of essays that actually work, and get you in to the Ivy League!
Need more help and advice? Contact me today for a free initial consultation. I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and Harvard graduate, and currently run the Ivy League college admissions firm, www.IvyCollegeEssay.com. get into your dream school today!
If you have always dreamed of having your son or daughter graduate from an Ivy League college — which, to define the term, are the eight schools that make up the Ivy League and including: Harvard, Princeton, Yale (the “Big Three”), as well as Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania — there are many thing you can do that will help your teen succeed in the Ivy League college admissions and college application process.
#1. Make sure they take as many AP courses as possible: College admissions officers, especially Ivy League college admissions officers want to see that your student is not only challenging themselves by taking the most challenging courses possible at their particular school, but they want to see that they are ALREADY fully immersed in college-level classes, before they even get to college. So, if your student’s high school DOESN’T offer any AP course work, make sure they get it somewhere else (like enrolling in a community college at night).
This shows that they will be able to handle the work-load once they get in to a highly competitive school. It shows they have the intellect and can take the pressure, and that kind of proof is what makes admissions officers happy, and lets your high school student actually pass the test and get in!
#2: Make sure they have extracurricular activities that are interesting and different: By different, this means something more unique than piano, violin, or swimming. Oh no! What if you’re saying, “but my kid is taking piano, violin and swimming!”
These activities are fine if they’re either a musical prodigy, or an Olympic medalist, but in case they’re not, try…just try…to branch out and have the, expand into other activities that will make them stand out more than their friends and become even more unique to college admissions officers – again, especially Ivy League college admissions officers.
Schools like to diversify their class, and they like students who have done, or are doing, incredibly interesting things. So, branch out. Do something different – on top of the regular “smart kid” activities like classical music or Model UN. You don’t want to just do what every other smart kid does: ESPECIALLY for the Ivy League!
#3: Let them choose their own, real interests: Don’t push your kid to go into Engineering or Finance as a potential major in college if they’re sincerely telling you they want to study Greek, or eventually get a Ph.D in Microbiology. The college admissions officers want to know what REALLY interests your student, again, especially for the Ivy League, and what they don’t want to see is someone who’s been programmed by their parents to say something that simply sounds like the hot thing to study right now, or with the only purpose of setting your student up for a (perceived) well-paying job.
The Ivy League schools in particular like to admit students who want to study something DIFFERENT. Remember, they employ a lot of professors, and they need to fill the Greek classes, too. The Ivy League colleges often admit students who have a WIDE VARIETY OF INTERESTS, especially in the humanities.
These are also the students who might later go on to law school, or medical school, enter a policy program in foreign relations, and/or get their Ph.D.
The Ivy League colleges in particular like students who appreciate the value of a broad education — one that will leave them post-graduation with a full and solid understanding of today’s world. In other worlds, the Ivy League colleges are more interested in graduating people who will always be “well-educated” by anyone’s standards, and that means being able to speak on a wide variety of interests and topics at some depth.
What they are NOT interested in, are people who are simply looking at college as a way to get a job. They try to weed those “non-intellectuals” the “non-scholars” out. Those students honestly are better served by going to a state school or one of the more highly competitive science or engineering schools like MIT.
In summary, Ivy League colleges are for students who appreciate learning…about everything! They are students who have a passion for new things and intellectual topics, and understand and are well-versed in a wide-variety of literary, artistic, political, and academic possibilities.
If you can encourage THAT mindset, your child has a chance to get in. Strong essays, high grades, good SAT scores, glowing teacher recommendations, and a nice interview all help complete the admissions package, but instilling in your student a desire to learn, about everything and anything as they go forth…that’s what Ivy League admissions officers look for the most, and THAT will help them get in!
[I’m a former Harvard admissions interviewer and a Harvard graduate, and currently run the Ivy League college admissions consulting firm: IVY COLLEGE ESSAY.com Contact me for a free consultation today, and get into the Ivy League! IvyLeagueEssayInfo@gmail.com ]