University Interview Questions (16 Questions + Answers)

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Practical Psychology

Preparing for university interviews can often feel like navigating uncharted territory. This is because many students don't receive help from college counselors.

To help bridge this gap, I've put together a list of practice questions, compiled from various sources and including actual university questions from real interviews.

This guide aims to give you a starting point for formulating your responses.

While it's good to have a rough idea of what you might say, remember that overly rehearsed answers can lose the personal touch that interviewers often look for.

1) How would you describe yourself?

University interview questions

Your answer should reflect who you truly are, not who you think the interviewers want you to be. Authenticity resonates more than a manufactured response.

Focus on qualities that are both true to you and relevant to the university environment. These might include being curious, innovative, team-oriented, or resilient.

Sample answer:

"I would describe myself as intellectually curious, resilient, and community-oriented. My curiosity drives me to explore diverse subjects, leading to my interest in interdisciplinary studies. For instance, I independently pursued a project blending computer science with environmental science, reflecting my passion for using technology to address ecological challenges. Resilience has been key in my journey, especially when navigating the challenges of remote learning. I adapted quickly, finding new ways to engage and excel academically. Finally, I'm deeply committed to community service, which I believe is integral to personal and academic growth. Volunteering at local shelters has not only been fulfilling but has also taught me valuable lessons in empathy and collaboration. I see these traits as aligning well with Stanford’s ethos of innovation and social responsibility."

The answer connects personal traits with the values and ethos of the university, showing that you’re a good fit. It’s also to the point, engaging, and leaves room for further inquiry, making it effective for an interview setting.

2) What are your main interests?

When answering this question, clearly articulate your interests. Illustrate how your interests align with your intended field of study or career path.

Sample answer:

"My primary interests revolve around environmental sustainability and technology. I'm deeply engaged in learning about renewable energy sources and their integration into modern infrastructure. For example, I led a school project that developed a small-scale solar-powered irrigation system, which combined my interests in sustainable practices and engineering solutions. This project not only deepened my technical knowledge but also fostered my leadership and teamwork skills. Outside academics, I'm an avid hiker and nature photographer, which reinforces my commitment to environmental conservation. I'm excited about Stanford's interdisciplinary approach, especially the opportunity to join the Sustainable Living Undergraduate Research Project, where I can contribute to and learn from ongoing sustainability initiatives. My interests are a blend of academic pursuit, personal passion, and a commitment to making a positive impact, which I believe aligns well with the ethos of Stanford University."

This response connects the interests to specific opportunities at the university, showing the applicant's awareness and eagerness to engage with the university's resources.

3) What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Pick strengths that are relevant to the academic environment and your goals. Choose a genuine weakness, not a disguised strength. This shows your ability to self-assess and your openness to growth.

Sample answer:

"One of my key strengths is my problem-solving ability. I enjoy tackling complex problems, especially in mathematics and science. For instance, I successfully led a team project to design an efficient recycling system in our school, which required creative problem-solving and coordination. This strength has fueled my interest in engineering and innovation. As for weaknesses, I've found that public speaking has always been a challenge for me. I tend to get nervous, which affects my communication. However, I’m actively working on this. I joined the debate club last year to improve my skills, and though it's been challenging, it's also been incredibly rewarding. I've seen significant improvement in my confidence and speaking abilities. I believe this mix of analytical skills and a commitment to personal growth will be beneficial in a university setting."

The answer clearly states a strength (problem-solving) with an example that’s relevant to academic and career goals. On the other hand, public speaking is a realistic weakness, and the response shows vulnerability and honesty.

4) What achievement are you most proud of?

When responding to this question, choose an achievement that not only stands out but also reflects your values, skills, and how you might contribute to the university community.

Sample answer:

"The achievement I'm most proud of is initiating and leading a community project that developed a digital literacy program for seniors. Recognizing that many older adults in my community were struggling with the digital divide, especially during the pandemic, I gathered a team of volunteers and collaborated with local senior centers. We designed a curriculum tailored to their needs, teaching basic computer skills, internet safety, and how to use social media. Over six months, we helped over 100 seniors become more confident and connected in the digital world. This project was not only fulfilling in bridging the digital gap but also taught me valuable lessons in leadership, empathy, and innovation. It reflects my commitment to using technology for social good, a principle I hope to further explore and expand upon at Stanford, especially with its focus on technology and human-centered design."

The response showcases the applicant’s leadership skills and initiative in addressing a community issue. It also highlights the direct impact of the project and reflects the applicant’s empathy and understanding of broader societal issues.

5) Why have you chosen this course/program?

Show a deep and genuine interest in the subject matter of the course or program, then explain how the course or program aligns with your future academic or career objectives.

Sample answer:

"I’ve chosen Stanford’s Computer Science program because of its unique combination of theoretical foundation and practical application, particularly in artificial intelligence and machine learning. My interest in computer science began in high school, where I excelled in programming and mathematics and developed a keen interest in AI through personal projects, like creating a basic chatbot. Stanford’s program stands out for its cutting-edge research and collaboration opportunities with leading tech companies. I'm especially drawn to courses like 'Artificial Intelligence: Principles and Techniques' and the interdisciplinary approach involving ethics in AI, aligning with my goal to work on ethical AI development. The program’s emphasis on innovation and real-world impact resonates with my aspiration to contribute to responsible AI advancements. My background, coupled with Stanford’s resources, will enable me to deeply explore AI, preparing me for a career in developing technology that positively impacts society."

This answer shows a well-researched and specific interest in the university’s Computer Science program. It also connects the program choice to past experiences and personal projects in AI.

6) How do you envision contributing to our academic community?

This question seeks to gauge your understanding of what you can offer and how you plan to engage actively with the campus community. Focus on how your unique skills, experiences, and perspectives can add value to the university community. 

Sample answer:

"I envision contributing to Stanford's academic community through a blend of collaborative innovation and community engagement. My background in environmental science and passion for sustainability initiatives will add a unique perspective to discussions and projects, particularly in interdisciplinary courses. I'm eager to engage with Stanford's Sustainable Living Undergraduate Research Project, where I can contribute my experience from organizing local environmental campaigns. I also plan to join and eventually lead initiatives within the Environmental Club, aiming to promote campus-wide sustainability practices. I also look forward to bringing a global perspective, having lived in three different countries, which has instilled in me a deep appreciation for cultural diversity and collaboration. My goal is to not only grow personally but also to enrich the Stanford community by sharing my insights and learning from the diverse experiences of my peers."

This response is effective because it shows an understanding of the importance of collaboration in an academic setting. It also mentions specific ways you plan to engage, like participating in research projects and clubs.

7) Describe a challenging academic situation you faced and how you overcame it

Choose a challenge that was genuinely difficult and relevant to your academic journey. Describe the steps you took to understand and overcome the challenge.

Don’t forget to tell the interviewer what you learned from the experience and how it contributed to your personal and academic development.

Sample answer:

"In my junior year of high school, I faced a significant challenge when I enrolled in Advanced Placement Calculus. Initially, I struggled to grasp complex concepts, which was disheartening as I had always excelled in math. Recognizing I needed a different approach, I began to actively seek help, attending extra tutoring sessions and forming a study group with classmates. This collaborative learning environment not only helped me understand the material but also improved my communication and teamwork skills. I also devoted extra time to practice and self-study, focusing on areas where I had difficulty. Gradually, my efforts paid off, and not only did I start excelling in the class, but I also scored a 5 on the AP exam. This experience taught me the value of seeking help, the importance of perseverance, and that challenges can be transformative learning opportunities. It’s a mindset I plan to bring to my academic endeavors at Stanford."

This response shows your ability to identify a problem, seek solutions, and adapt your learning strategy. It also maintains a positive tone, focusing on how the challenge led to improvement and learning.

8) Discuss a topic or issue in your field of study that you find particularly intriguing

When responding to this question, it's important to choose a topic that genuinely interests you and reflects your engagement with your chosen field.

Sample answer:

"One topic in computer science that I find particularly intriguing is the ethical implications of artificial intelligence (AI). As AI systems become more integrated into our daily lives, from personalized medicine to autonomous vehicles, ethical considerations become increasingly critical. I'm fascinated by the questions of how AI can be developed responsibly to avoid biases, respect privacy, and ensure safety. During a recent project, I explored how AI algorithms can unintentionally perpetuate social biases, leading to unfair outcomes. This experience highlighted the importance of interdisciplinary approaches, combining computer science with ethics and social sciences, to address these challenges. I believe understanding and solving these ethical dilemmas is crucial for the sustainable and beneficial development of AI technologies. I'm eager to delve deeper into this topic at Stanford, particularly given the university's focus on human-centered AI and the opportunity to engage with leading experts in this field."

The answer shows a good understanding of the topic and its significance. It also explains why the topic is intriguing to the candidate and aligns with their academic interests.

9) How do you plan to balance your academic and personal commitments?

Make it clear that your academics are a priority, but you also understand the importance of personal time. Include how you plan to maintain your physical and mental well-being.

Sample answer:

"Balancing academic and personal commitments is crucial for success and well-being. My strategy involves proactive planning and prioritization. I use a digital planner to organize my schedule, allocating specific time blocks for studying, attending classes, and extracurricular activities. This helps me stay focused and efficient. Academics are my priority, but I also understand the importance of downtime for mental health. I plan to continue my routine of daily morning runs, as they help me clear my mind and stay physically active. I also intend to join the coding club at Stanford, which aligns with my Computer Science major, allowing me to combine personal interests with academic growth. Weekends are reserved for relaxation and social activities, ensuring I have time to recharge. This balanced approach has worked well for me in the past, helping maintain high academic performance while enjoying personal hobbies and maintaining social connections."

This answer demonstrates a clear strategy for managing time effectively. It also shows an understanding of the importance of both academic success and personal well-being.

10) How do you plan to contribute to the broader community outside of your academic pursuits?

When answering this question, choose a specific area or issue where you can realistically contribute. Focus on how your actions can positively impact the community.

Sample answer:

"I plan to contribute to the broader community at Stanford by focusing on environmental sustainability, an issue I’m deeply passionate about. In high school, I initiated a recycling program and worked on a community garden project, which taught me the importance of sustainable practices and community involvement. At Stanford, I intend to join the Stanford Environmental Club and participate in local sustainability initiatives. My goal is to collaborate with club members to organize campus-wide environmental awareness events and community clean-up drives. I’d also like to apply my interest in technology to develop a mobile app that promotes and tracks sustainable practices among students, encouraging a greener lifestyle on campus. Through these activities, I aim to not only contribute to the immediate Stanford community but also instigate change that has a wider, lasting impact on environmental awareness and action."

This answer focuses on environmental sustainability, showing a clear direction of contribution. It also emphasizes the potential positive impact on the community and the environment.

11) Describe a situation where you had to work collaboratively as part of a team

Choose an experience that required significant collaboration and ideally relates to your academic or extracurricular interests. Articulate your contributions and role within the team.

Discuss the outcome of the project or task and what you learned from the experience.

Sample answer:

"Last year, I was part of a team in my school’s annual science fair where we worked on developing a solar-powered water purification system. My role was to research and design the filtration mechanism, while other team members focused on the solar power component and overall system integration. We faced challenges in coordinating our parts to work seamlessly together. To address this, we held weekly meetings to update each other on progress and brainstorm solutions to integration issues. Open communication and mutual respect for each other’s ideas were key to our collaboration. Eventually, our project was not only successful in purifying water efficiently but also won the 'Best Innovation' award at the fair. This experience taught me the importance of clear communication, respecting diverse perspectives, and the power of collaborative problem-solving. These lessons in teamwork are skills I plan to bring to my academic and extracurricular activities at Stanford."

This is a great response because it highlights effective communication and collaboration within the team. It also concludes with a successful outcome and lessons learned from the experience.

12) How do you stay updated with developments and advancements in your chosen field?

When responding to this question, it's important to demonstrate your active engagement and genuine interest in staying informed about your field.

Sample answer:

"In the rapidly evolving field of computer science, staying updated is crucial. I regularly read articles from major tech news platforms like Wired and TechCrunch, which provide insights into the latest industry trends and technological advancements. I also subscribe to journals such as 'Communications of the ACM' to keep abreast of academic research and breakthroughs. To deepen my understanding, I frequently enroll in online courses on platforms like Coursera, especially those focusing on emerging areas like artificial intelligence and blockchain. I also participate in online forums and local meetups, which offer valuable opportunities to discuss and gain perspectives from others in the field. Recently, I've been exploring the ethical implications of AI, applying what I've learned by contributing to a blog that discusses responsible AI practices. This habit of continuous learning and engagement not only keeps me informed but also sharpens my skills and broadens my understanding of computer science."

This response showcases a range of sources for staying informed, from news platforms to academic journals. It also highlights specific, regular habits that demonstrate a structured approach to learning.

13) Why did you choose this university?

Mention specific programs, resources, or opportunities at the university you’re applying for that attracted you and are unique to the university.

Explain how these features align with your academic and career aspirations.

Sample answer:

"I chose Stanford University for its outstanding reputation in innovation and interdisciplinary study, particularly in the field of computer science. Stanford’s cutting-edge research, especially in artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction, aligns perfectly with my academic interests and career goals. I'm particularly drawn to the opportunities for hands-on research and collaboration with leading experts in the field. Also, Stanford's culture of entrepreneurship and its close connections to Silicon Valley resonate with my aspirations to contribute to meaningful technological advancements. I'm also impressed by the university's commitment to diversity and inclusion, fostering a vibrant and supportive community. I believe that Stanford’s dynamic environment will not only challenge me academically but also provide unparalleled opportunities for personal growth and professional development, preparing me to make a significant impact in the tech industry."

The answer specifically mentions the university’s reputation in computer science and innovation, making it tailored to the university. It also aligns the university’s strengths with your academic interests and career aspirations.

14) What did you enjoy about your A-levels?

When answering this question, it's important to reflect on specific aspects of your A-level studies that you found engaging or rewarding.

Sample answer:

"I thoroughly enjoyed my A-level studies, particularly in Mathematics and Physics. These subjects challenged me to think critically and solve complex problems, which I found incredibly rewarding. In Mathematics, I was fascinated by the elegance and logic of calculus, which provided a new perspective on problem-solving. Physics captivated me with its insights into the fundamental laws of the universe, especially during a project where we analyzed particle motion. This project allowed me to apply theoretical knowledge to practical scenarios, enhancing my analytical and research skills. These experiences not only deepened my love for science and mathematics but also played a crucial role in shaping my decision to pursue a degree in Engineering. I believe the analytical skills and rigorous academic training from my A-levels will be invaluable in my further studies and future career."

This answer is reflective, demonstrating genuine interest and insight into how A-level studies have influenced academic and career choices.

15) What are your long-term goals and aspirations related to your chosen field?

Outline specific goals that are ambitious but realistic within your field of study.

Ensure your goals are directly related to your chosen field and demonstrate an understanding of the field's landscape. Explain how attending the university will help you achieve these goals.

Sample answer:

"My long-term goal is to contribute to innovative solutions in renewable energy, specifically in solar power technology. I aspire to be involved in research and development that enhances the efficiency and accessibility of solar energy, working towards a future where clean energy is the norm. My ultimate aim is to lead a research team that develops groundbreaking solar technologies, potentially reducing our global reliance on fossil fuels. I believe Stanford's cutting-edge research facilities and its emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration will be instrumental in this journey. The university's connection to Silicon Valley and its entrepreneurial spirit also align perfectly with my aspirations to not only innovate in the lab but also bring these innovations to market. My goal extends beyond professional achievements; I am deeply committed to environmental sustainability and hope to make a significant contribution to addressing climate change through my work in renewable energy."

This response clearly outlines a specific area within renewable energy, demonstrating focused ambitions. It also explains how the university's resources and environment will support achieving these goals.

16) Why should we offer you a place?

When answering this question, articulate what makes you a unique and valuable candidate. It's a chance to show your fit for the university and your potential to contribute meaningfully to its community.

Sample answer:

"I believe I should be offered a place at Stanford due to my passion for innovation, demonstrated academic excellence, and commitment to community service. My academic journey has been marked by consistent top performance in challenging STEM subjects and active engagement in research projects, particularly in renewable energy. I've not only excelled in academic pursuits but have also led various environmental initiatives in my community, showcasing my leadership skills and dedication to sustainability. At Stanford, I aim to further explore renewable energy technologies, contributing to both academic research and practical applications. I’m particularly excited about participating in Stanford’s interdisciplinary programs, where I can merge my passion for technology with environmental stewardship. Also, my collaborative spirit and experience in diverse teams will enhance the rich cultural and intellectual diversity of the Stanford community. I'm eager to bring my enthusiasm, innovative mindset, and collaborative approach to Stanford, making a positive impact both on and off-campus."

This response highlights a mix of academic excellence, leadership, and dedication to sustainability, setting the candidate apart. The tone is confident and reflects a clear purpose and enthusiasm for joining the university.

What to expect from a university interview

The structure and duration of university interviews can vary across different universities and departments, but they generally involve a discussion with the course tutor.

According to my friend who got accepted to Stanford, the university interview consisted mostly of follow-up questions, which she found quite enjoyable.

The interview didn't feel like an interrogation, but more like a collaborative brainstorming session with a project partner. This part of the interview lasted about 30 minutes.

Afterward, she had the opportunity to ask the interviewer about three questions, which eventually expanded to five because two of my questions were related to her responses. This question-and-answer segment took about 18 minutes.

At the beginning of the interview, the interviewer mentioned that they had a 45-minute time slot, and indeed, the interview concluded around that time, lasting approximately 48 minutes in total.

At the end of the interview, the interviewer expressed her hope that my friend would find a university that was a perfect fit for her, which left me feeling really positive.

I hope her experience will be helpful to future interview candidates.

For some courses, you may need to bring along a portfolio showing examples of your best work. For example, if you're applying to study English, you might talk about a poem or essay you wrote. If you're applying for math, you might have to solve a math problem.

If you're applying for an art course, you might need to bring a collection of your best work.

The person interviewing you usually likes to keep some surprises for the interview. But they should tell you beforehand if you need to do a specific task during the interview.

What to wear to the university interview

Your appearance or clothes aren't the main focus during a university interview, so it's important to dress comfortably. While a suit isn't necessary, you should still aim for a professional look.

Wearing smart trousers or a skirt, paired with a shirt or blouse, can help you make a positive first impression. This shows the interviewer that you are serious about your studies.

This same advice applies to online interviews. Even though it's virtual, you still want to demonstrate to admissions tutors that you've put effort into your appearance.

If your interview is an audition for a drama or dance course, choose attire that is still suitable but allows you to move comfortably.

Understand the interviewer’s point of view

University interviews and auditions are part of the last steps when you apply to a university. They help the university decide which applicants are most likely to get a place in their courses.

Here are some insights the interviewer is hoping to uncover from you:

Personal Values and Traits: Interviewers are keen to understand who you are and what you value in life. They want to know if you'll actively contribute to classroom discussions, showing enthusiasm and intellectual engagement.

Community Involvement: They assess whether you'll be a good roommate and an active participant in campus organizations.

Collaborative Nature: Your ability to be teachable, thoughtful, and more collaborative than competitive is often evaluated.

University-Specific Interest: How interested you are in that particular university, your knowledge about its offerings, and how you see its curriculum aligning with your educational goals are crucial factors.

Understanding these aspects can help applicants better prepare for university interviews, showcasing their suitability and alignment with the university's values and expectations.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2023, December). University Interview Questions (16 Questions + Answers). Retrieved from

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