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AP Exams: Who, What, When, Where, & How Much?

AP Exams: Who, What, When, Where, & How Much?



Note: This is a general diagram of commonly offered tiers of class difficulty across most high schools. Your high school may have a completely different approach or philosophy.

What are AP Exams?

Advanced Placement (AP) exams are standardized tests that that allow students the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school.

The exams are created and administered by College Board, the same educational nonprofit that also does SATs and PSATs, and cover over 30+ subjects across the maths, sciences, history and social sciences, languages and more! Here is a full list of subjects that students can test in.

Note: Based on demand and resources, your high school may not offer all these courses. Most high schools only offer the most popular APs, such as AP Biology, AP English Language, etc. If the subject you want to take is not offered at your school, you can always self-prep and ask your high school to order the test for you. It’ll require a lot of work and discipline on your end, but it’s doable.

Self-study and homeschooled students, you can self-prep/hire a tutor or take an online course (i.e. Khan Academy) but talk to your local high school’s guidance counselors to order the exam(s) and use the high school as your testing location.

Usually, students take the relevant AP subject class(es) during the school year then take the corresponding National exam(s) in May. Students testing in the Arts create portfolios throughout the year to be sent in for scoring, and those taking language exams may have a written and oral component their test.


Who are AP Exams for?

Overall, AP exams are good options for students who want to:

  1. Show academic preparation for college: AP classes are designed to be challenging, and they can help you to prepare for the intensity of college-level coursework.

Colleges and universities look favorably on students who have taken AP exams and earned high scores.

  1.  Earn college credit: AP exams can help you to save time and money on college tuition by allowing you to earn college credit while still in high school.

    While there is a cost to the AP, it’s a fraction of what you’d pay to take the same class in college, so it is to your advantage to have a few AP credits stocked up. 

  1. Getting ahead/graduating early: Walk in with enough AP credits and you could graduate a semester or even a year early.

See, in the U.S college system, students take a certain number of General Education (GenEd) classes. These are the Maths, Sciences, Histories, Languages, English, etc. Some of these classes may be required by your major, but not all will be.

Yes, even though you did these in high school, universities have their own additional criteria.

The intention is to allow students time to explore various classes before they have to declare their major. Basically, these GenEd classes serve as buffer periods and since universities have significantly more subject options than high schools, students are likely to find classes & topics they enjoy.  

Every university designs their GenEd requirements differently, but ultimately, walking in with high AP scores will help you knock some of those requirements out.

For example, if the university requires that students take 2 History/Government-based classes, and you came in with high scores in AP U.S History and AP European History, then you may not have to take any history classes in college.

If you took AP Biology and received a great score, then you may have knocked out one of your science requirements and may have another pending.

So, walking in with a few college credits will save you time and money once you’re in college. Since you won’t have as many GenEds to take, you’ll be able to advance to the higher-level, major-related classes that much faster.

It is important to note that APs are not for everyone.

Depending on the AP, the workload can be intense, with a lot of reading, memorizing, essay-writing, and testing. It’s tempting to feel obligated to take APs or even load up on APs, but keep in mind that you don’t want your grades to take a hit. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with so much work that you just end up crashing and burning. Keep in mind that you have not only your grades, but your extracurriculars to manage was well.

And, even if decide not take APs, you can always opt for the Honors classes, dual enrollment, or any other opportunities that your high school or community may have available.

If you do decide to take APs, it is important to be strategic about the APs you pursue because they could end up being the best learning opportunities or your worst nightmares.

Which AP Exam should you take?

When choosing your APs – especially in the beginning- play to your strengths. If you’re great at math, then consider taking the AP Stats, AP Calc AB, or the AP Calc BC exam.

Alternatively, choose APs that have the best support system, meaning the APs that either have the best and most helpful teachers or the greatest number of students taking them. That way, you’ll have an easier time asking for help, forming study groups, or sharing notes. 

It’s also a good idea to take an AP that teaches you skills you’d like to learn, like AP Computer Science.

In my case, we were required to take the AP English Language class as a part of the IB program. 

The teacher was one of the best for the topic and it was honestly an interesting class. 

With that said, I’ll admit, I failed the AP test.

But guess what?

That year, I leveled up as a writer.

My skills had been mediocre at best, probably a solid “B”, possibly even a “B-”. However, after all the analyzing, annotating, and essay writing, the ongoing practice and the detailed feedback I received, I broke through a personal barrier. I became a significantly better writer as I learned not only the importance of language, but the impact that a series of simple, well-placed words can have on an audience. Even though I didn’t do well on the AP, in the end, it didn’t matter. From that year onward, I never looked at language the same again. 

So, when you’re choosing your APs, think about the subjects that are in your areas of strength, of genuine interest to you, or consist of skills you’d like to acquire. 

How are AP Exams scored?

AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the perfect score.

A minimum of a 3 is required to pass. 

Keep in mind that it’s passing the AP exam that gets you college credit, not taking the AP class itself. While taking the AP class can be a great boost to your GPA (if you do well), the class is independent of the exam. 

So, students have to pass the AP exam with at least a 3 to get college credit. Ideally, you want a 4 or a 5, because not all universities will count a 3 towards college credit. 

How many APs should I take?

Okay, the two factors to consider when determining the number of APs to take: 

1. Your High School’s Rules.

Some high schools only let juniors and seniors take APs. If that’s the case, then – unless you decide to self-study and test – you would only have two years of AP opportunities. 

That’s a limited amount of time to accumulate a long list. 

Side Note: Policies created by high schools will not count against you during the college applications process. You didn’t have a choice and the university will be made aware of that. 

2. The universities you want to apply to. 

Depending on how the rest of your application fares, the most competitive universities may prefer 4+ APs. 

It trickles down from there, so the less competitive universities are okay with fewer or no APs. 

Again, keep in mind that APs are not the only way to create strong college applications. However, you do want to ensure that you have a varied course load – Honors, dual enrollment, IB program, etc. – to show that you are capable of handling what’s to come. 

Of course, coursework in only one part of your application, so even taking and passing 8-10 APs does not guarantee admission. 

Confusing, I know. 


AP exams start at $98/subject in the U.S, and can vary per exam.

If you decide to take the AP course but not the exam, then there’s no cost to you. However, you also rule out the possibility of earning college credit.

I recommend testing. If nothing else, then paying for an AP exam is significantly cheaper than paying to take that class in college. Score well and you could save hundreds, if not thousands, in college tuition. 

Also, fee waivers are available so talk to your guidance counselor to see if you qualify.

AP Exam Retakes

The AP exams are administered during the first two weeks of May every year.

Unlike the SAT or ACT, there are no immediate exam retakes offered. You’d have to wait a full school year (so until the following May) to re-take the test.

For most people, it’s not worth it to retain all the information you learned a year ago. 

information about AP exams, check out College Board’s AP exams page.

Resources to help you prep for your AP :

A couple of resources to help you in your APs journey: 

    • Khan Academy: Khan Academy has online lectures for a lot of the AP test subjects. If you want extra info to supplement what you’re already learning in class or if you’re self-prepping and want help, it’s worth checking out the free lectures to see if they’ suit your style of learning.
    • AP Central: AP Central is College Board’s AP portal. Not only will you find in-depth descriptions of each AP subject, but you can find past exams to help you quiz yourself. 
  • YouTube: Seems too obvious, but at this point, there’s not much you can’t find on YouTube. If you’re struggling with an AP subject, it may be helpful to watch the relevant videos before reading the textbook chapters. Just reading is not everyone’s preferred way of learning, and there’s no reason to limit yourself to your textbook. 
  • Prep Books: Test prep companies like The Princeton Review, Kaplan, Barron’s, etc. have prep books for the majority of AP subjects. As your teacher if they have a preference. Alternatively, check out a few from the library to see which one covers the content & has your preferred style. Buy the book that you then like. 


When it comes to varying your academic course load, APs are an option. They are the most difficult classes that most high schools have to offer, and as such, they definitely look great on a college application. 

Even if it’s not for college application purposes, APs can be great ways to dive into subjects of interest to see what they have to offer. Who knows? You might discover that you’d like to learn more about it in college.  

But with all that said, it’s important to be aware of your time and energy constraints. Most students have extracurriculars that occupy significant amounts of their time, so adding in several rigorous classes could be the perfect recipe for overwhelm. 

So, if you do decide to go the AP route, just be sure that you’ve left yourself a lot of potential study time. Talk to your AP teachers to get more accurate estimate of the time commitments per class, because it’s nothing like your other classes. 

It’ll be an interesting experience either way. 

Good luck and talk soon!



Uncovering the College Campus: The Post-Tour Tour 

Uncovering the College Campus: The Post-Tour Tour 

Usually after a college tour ends, most families hang around for a few minutes, then leave.

Don’t be that family.

Remember that attending a university is going to be a significant investment of your time and money, so you want to ensure that you’ll get the college experience you’re looking for.

While guided tours offer valuable insights, they often follow a set path and focus


on a few highlights. They’re organized to cater to the majority because there just isn’t enough time to cover everything that every student on the tour may be interested in.

That’s where you have to go in and design your own college tour experience.


Simple. Do your research in advance then hang around the campus after the official tour ends and give yourself a post-tour tour.

Figure out what makes the campus special to you. Walk around the campus, check out the facilities, and see what the students around the university are up to.

Here are a few tips to help you systemically customize your tour:



  1. Research and Plan

  • Check online: Explore the college website, social media platforms, and online resources to uncover additional information about the campus.

 You may have already done this as part of your college search process but be sure to have clear notes. Every bit of research could be         useful so figure out a way to keep track of the information.

  • Identify Your Areas of Interest: Think about what you’re interested in. It could be academics & research, sports, student organizations, study abroads/co-ops, and so on.

 Maybe you’re interested in learning more about the history of the university or certain traditions. Make note of that.


  • Use the Campus Maps: Particularly when touring large campuses, it may be useful to familiarize yourself with the campus layout.

That way, you know which buildings or sections of the campus may be of interest.

Ex. If you’re thinking of pursuing medicine and the university has a medical school attached to it, then why not check it out as well?

  • Timing and Logistics: Depending on the time of the year you go on your tour, certain facilities may not be open.

Or, on the flip side, the university may have special events happening that may be of interest to you. If so, plan your tour around it.

2. Must-Visit Locations

Academic Departments: Venture into specific academic buildings and see what’s going on.


If possible, to do so without being disruptive, sit in on a lecture and talk to professors or students in your field of interest.

And during your walk, read the flyers posted around the building to see what kinds of opportunities – research, academic programs, volunteering, etc. – are available to students. What’s the latest happening in that department?

Does it all look interesting? Or did you see something different at another university that might more appealing?

Hidden Study Spaces: See if you can find the lesser-known study areas, libraries, or research centers that have the vibe you want.

Tip: Sometimes you have to venture into the unexpected buildings to find your hidden study space. As a Biology major, I used to study at the Architecture Library because it was cozier!


Recreational Facilities: Basically, think about what you could be doing in your spare time while you’re there.

Explore the fitness centers, sports arenas, art studios, or performance spaces to get a glimpse of the possible entertainment and extracurricular opportunities on campus.

Remember, you’ll only have classes for 0-5 hours per day, so you want to know how else you can fill your time.

Unique Landmarks & Traditions: Find the iconic statues, historical sites, or architectural marvels that show the campus’s rich history and culture. Does the campus have any ghost stories?

You may have seen or heard a few during your tour but go see the rest!

Student Hangouts: Check out the places around campus where most students spend their time. Visit cafes, student lounges, food courts or gathering spots.


3. Engage with the Community

Interact with Current Students: Strike up conversations with students you come across during your post-tour tour. You never know what you might learn. Just remember to be polite and respectful of their time.

Teens should be the ones having these conversations, not parents.

Also, take note of the diversity around campus. Are different ethnicities, LGBTQ+, etc. represented? If not, would it bother you or would you be okay with it? There’s no right answer, it’s based on personal preference.

Meeting Professors or Advisors: If possible, schedule meetings in advance with faculty members or academic advisors to discuss academic programs, research opportunities, or career guidance.

No pressure to get in touch with a professor, but if you’ve come across a professor who works in a field you’d like to study, why not reach out a few weeks prior to your scheduled tour and see if they can meet with you?


Attend Campus Events: Check out bulletin boards, event calendars, or online platforms to find cultural events, guest lectures, or club meetings happening on campus during your visit.

Dining: Try out a couple of the campus dining options to get a taste of the type of food available.


Explore the Surrounding Areas: Taking a walk or short trip around the campus neighborhood to understand the local community, check for any safety concerns, and ways the local community may complement your college experience.

4. Document and Reflect

Write down Your Impressions: Carry a notebook or using a note-taking


app to jot down your thoughts, feelings, and observations during your post-tour tour.

If you’re taking notes on your phone, just be mindful of when you’re pulling your phone out. You don’t want to seem disrespectful in any way.

Take Photos & Videos: Use a camera or your phone to take photos of notable locations, beautiful scenery, or moments that resonate with you.

And while you’re capturing memories, teens, record a 2–3-minute video of yourself talking about your thoughts and feelings about the university. What kind of vibe did you get?

This video won’t get posted anywhere, but it’ll be nice to refer to back to it when time comes to pick your final college option.

Tip: Teens: Take a photo of yourself and post it on your social media. Tag the university and say “thank you!”.

You can also do multiple posts (limit to 5) about different aspects of your college tour and discoveries. Tag the university and it could count as a part of your Demonstrated Interest!



Go Over Your Notes: Set aside time after your post-tour tour to reflect on your experiences, compare different campuses, and consider how each aligns with your expectations and preferences.

Taking a post-tour tour helps you go beyond the scripted tour and figure out if you can connect to the campus and community, so don’t take it lightly.

Enjoy the experience, try the food, check out the events, and get a feel for campus’ vibe.

Happy touring and talk soon!


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College Essay: The 8 Common Mistakes Students Make

College Essay:  The 8 Common Mistakes Students Make

Writing your college essay can be frustrating.

Of the dozens of essays that you’ve written in your lifetime, this is just one more. Only this essay is unlike any of your previous ones because for a change, the topic is you. 

It’s about the aspects of your personality that you’d like to share with college admissions officers, people you’ve never met before, and may never meet in-person. 

It’s a little daunting but only in the beginning. Once you plan it out properly and get into the flow of it, it really isn’t so bad.

In another post I’ll cover exactly what you should do to approach your college essay, but in this case, we’re going to take a look at what not to do. Mistakes I’ve seen students make over and over again in my 10+ years as a college counselor.

But first, if you’d like to take a look at the essay prompts, you’ll find them right here.

Alright, let’s get into the most common mistakes students make on their college essays. 

MISTAKE #1: Making vague or general statements.

If you state that your grandmother is loving, caring, and kind, then provide an example of when you saw those qualities in action. SHOW the reader. Provide examples/scenarios of the values you’ve learned in play.

Ex. “As my nana listened attentively to my 8-year-old sister tell the same story for the tenth time, I realized that she really loved us. No matter which one of us she was talking to, she gave us her full attention, and we genuinely felt that we were important to her. In addition to listening to us, she takes the time to check in on us during the week and brings over our favorite foods when she visits. It was from her that I learned to slow down and pay attention to what the people I care for are interested in. What they enjoy doing. Now I ________.


Note: Limit your description to about 3-5 sentences max. Otherwise, you risk going off topic and making it about your grandma instead of about you. See Mistake #6 to learn why that’s a bad move.  

MISTAKE #2: Talking about serious mental or physical health concerns. 

The college essay is really meant to introduce you to the admissions team. So far, all they know are the various bits of data: SAT/ACT scores, GPA, and even your activities. While a reader can glean some information about your personality from all those aspects, it really doesn’t provide a full picture of you as an individual.

So, what you don’t want to do is start with a pity-me approach. It’s makes things a little awkward for the reader, and that is not how you want them feeling about you.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

“But, Priyanka, I had a concussion 3 years ago and that had me out of school for over a month and it impacted my GPA!”

Or “It’s my junior year and I was just diagnosed with ADHD! What about the hit that my GPA took for the last two years before anyone ever realized that I needed meds?”

All valid concerns. In fact, these pieces of information SHOULD BE MENTIONED in the ADDITIONAL INFORMATION section of the application.

You have an extra 650 words to explain any extenuating circumstances, including health concerns and relevant family problems. Anything that you feel will provide a wholesome picture of your high school years goes in the Additional Information section. You can also use this space to write another essay or expand upon your extracurricular activities.

Note: When talking about injuries/mental health/personal/family circumstances, use a matter-of-fact tone. Clearly describe the before, during, and after…and if it’s a work-in-progress, state where the current situation stands.

MISTAKE #3: Using Clichés. 

Clichés come in all shapes and sizes, from cultural clichés to word usage clichés, i.e. overusing the word “passion/passionate”.

To expand a little more upon this topic:

With cultural clichés: If you happen to have certain stereotypes associated with your culture (i.e. Indian people are good at math & science), then unless you have a legitimate story to tell about your experience, AVOID mentioning it

It’s already listed in your “Activities” section, so use this space to tell the reader something about you that ISN’T already a part of your application

…because otherwise, how are you any different from the other Indian applicants? How should the admissions officer differentiate between you and someone else?

The same premise holds if you’re a recruited athlete or applying in a program that requires a portfolio of some sort. In either case, you have already presented your work or best performance (in arts or sports), so why not tell the reader something else about you?

Ex. If you’re a recruited soccer player, great, but the admissions committee already knew that. How? Because a coach has been coming to watch you play & has already asked you for your GPA/testing info which he/she could pass on the admissions committee. 

So, if that’s the case, what’s the point of telling the admissions committee that you really love your sport? They already know! Share a different side to you. Maybe you paint to relax, or cook, or love puzzles/word games. You definitely have other aspects to you, it’s inevitable. By simply existing you have various interests, so think about those.   

Bottom line: Don’t just mention stuff for the sake of filling the word count. Instead, think about what you have already listed in the “Activities” and “Honors” categories, then either expand upon one with a meaningful story, or introduce a new aspect to you. Even when you mention the new aspects to you, you can link them to your current activities, but limit that mention to 3-5 sentences.

MISTAKE #4: Listing out the activities in your résumé in paragraph form.

I’ve had students try to cram in a majority of their activities into their essay. It’s harder to make an essay flow smoothly/tell a story, plus the admissions officers have read that already, so why? Just why?


If you really want to expand upon your activities, like we’ve said before, do so in the “Additional Information” section.

As for your essay? Answer the prompt you picked. Think of all the stories and experiences you’ve had, some meaningful, some not so much, and then figure out how you want to pull one or two of them together. Your essay is a story, not a list!

MISTAKE #5: Discussing Sensitive/Divisive topics.

I think in general, when you’re trying to apply somewhere, it’s probably a good idea to just stay away from topics that could potentially anger or irritate your reader.

Crazy, I know.

If you do decide to approach a sensitive issue – i.e. LGBTQ rights because is an important part of you & your high school journey, then make sure you are completely aware of how the university you’re applying to feels about the issue.

Check out their social media to see if they have any posts on the topic. 

MISTAKE #6: Solely talking about the person you admire.

It’s natural to want to write about the traits that your idols embody, but most students don’t know when the story of the other person stops and when their own story begins. As a result, you end up with an essay that’s 50-75% about another person…. a person who is not the one applying to college….you see how that might be a problem.

I’m going to stick to the same policy I’ve mentioned before, keep it to 3-5 sentences about the other person, then transition it to you. What did you learn from this person? How do you plan to implement it?

MISTAKE #7: Being braggy.

The title says it all: be humble and give credit where it’s due. If it was a group effort, say that you collaborated with others to make XYZ happen. It shows the admissions committee that you’re a team player.

Yes, the essay is about you, but you don’t exist in a vacuum, you interact with others every day.



MISTAKE #8: Making up stuff. 

This is more of an ethical concern than anything else. I’ve had students who’ve tried to claim that a student organization they led or were a part of or co-founded did more/accomplished more than it actually did. Friends of students have even gone as far as to make up entire “life-changing” trips. 

Why? Just why?

Just by the fact that you’ve been alive for 17-18 years, you have stories to tell. It’s inevitable. So, take your time and think about it. 

Of course, after hearing me talk on and on about what NOT to do, you’re probably curious as to what you’re actually supposed to do, right?

Here, take a look at these from Johns Hopkins.

These essays come with feedback from the admissions committee, so you’ll get an idea of how each essay was interpreted. 

Good luck and talk soon,

The College Interview: What Can You Expect?

The College Interview: What Can You Expect?

So far, you’ve poured your heart and soul into your essays, meticulously calculated your GPA, and explained your extracurricular activities. Yet, there’s one crucial element that often gets overlooked in the process: the college interview.

It’s the part that petrifies most students. 

Except what students don’t realize is that while it may seem like a nerve-wracking ordeal, the college interview is your opportunity to put a face and personality to your otherwise paper application. It’s a great way for those who aren’t natural writers to clarify parts of their application. 

Before we dive into this process, it’s important that you remember two major points: 

  1. The purpose of the interview is to not only get a feel for your personality, but also to determine whether or not you’d be happy in that particular college atmosphere.
  2. You are interviewing the university just as much as the university is interviewing you. 

In this blog post, we’ll talk about the various approaches universities take when to the interview, common interview questions you may come across, and tips to help you portray your best self in an interview. 

So, let’s get started!


Does every university require an interview? 


Universities approach interviews in 1 of 4 ways:

  1. No Interview: Unless you’re applying to a special program, there is no interview option or requirement. Your application will only include the application itself, transcripts, test scores (if required/provided) and any recommendations that you’ve sent in. That’s it. 
  2. The Optional Interview: Some universities give students the option to interview. 

Unsurprisingly, most students opt out. 

I highly recommend that you do the interview. 


Simply put, it adds another dimension to your application. What if you didn’t do a great job of expressing yourself and your ideas in your essay? What if the “activities” section was lacking or just not well written? 

Also, why would a university add an “optional” component to the application “just for fun”? 

It’s a filter to separate those genuinely interested in the university from those who aren’t. So, remove the word “optional” and sign yourself up for the interview.  

  1. The “Everyone is Required to Interview” Interview: Certain universities require all applicants to interview, no exceptions. 

In this case, once you’ve submitted your college application, you’ll receive a follow up email to schedule it. Even if you don’t receive the follow-up, if you know that there’s supposed to be an interview, then you should follow up with the admissions committee. 

  1. The “Seriously Considering You” Interview: If you’re moving the application ladder, a university may want to interview you to get a feel for your expectations and personality. 

If that’s the case, the university will contact you directly to schedule an interview. 

No matter the approach that the university may have, remember that it is your job to ensure to not only confirm that your application has been submitted, but that interview follow-ups are happening. 

So, make sure you’re aware of the university’s policies and reach out as appropriate. 



Now with that said, what should you expect in an interview? 

Let’s talk about the mode of interview: in-person at the university, in person with an alumni member residing in your area, or via Skype/Facetime. 

As for the interview itself?

Well, there are three ways it could go:

  1. The “conversational” style interview: Experienced interviewers are going to do their best to put you at ease. They know and understand that you’re just 17 or 18 years old and that this whole experience may be a little uncomfortable for you. As such, the interview ends up being more of a conversation than a formal, structured setup. 

You may end up talking about what you did last summer or what you’ve been up to in your extracurriculars. It’ll feel like a normal conversation with zero intimidation. 

The interviewer is simply trying to gage your personality and see if you’re someone who’d be happy on that particular college campus. If your vibe matches the university’s. 

No one wants you having a miserable college experience.

  1. The “formal” interview: The traditional approach that we picture when we think of interviews. Someone sits across from you spitting out a series of questions while you aim to answer each of them to the best of your ability. 

I’ve included a list of possible questions below along with a few guidelines on best practices for several of them. 

  1. The “it’s not really an interview, we’re just getting to know you” interview: A common approach amongst sports recruiters and athletes, these types of interviews are a way for the recruiters/coaches and even athletic teams to meet with you and see if you’d fit in with the vibe of the team. 

These can just be a series of formal/informal phone/text conversations, and even actual meetups with teams. 

While they may not officially be classified as interviews, think of it this way: any conversations or interactions you have with university-affiliated individuals should be thought of as interviews. 

Therefore, be aware of what you say and how you say it. Information can and will be passed on. 


If you are responsible for signing yourself up for an interview – as is the case with “optional” interviews- then check the university’s website for guidelines. 

Google “*name of university* interview” and Google will lead you to the university’s interview-info page. 

Be sure to register in advance (Sept-Nov of senior year) to secure a spot. 

Universities generally try and round out interviews by Dec-Jan, and registration can close in November.


Great, now with all that said, how do you prepare for an interview? 

First, familiarize yourself with the types of questions you may get. Keep in mind that the ones listed below are just some of the common ones, however, you may get some others thrown at you. 

For a more thorough list, just Google “college interview questions” and go from there. 

Here’s what we have:


  1. Tell me about yourself. 
  2. What is a major challenge/obstacle you’ve faced and what did you do to overcome it? 
  3. Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with it? 
  4. What do you want to major in/what are you interested in? 
  5. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? 
  6. Why do you want to attend our university? 
  7. Why should we accept you?
  8. What do you hope to contribute to the university’s community?/How will you contribute? 
  9. What do you do for fun?
  10. What is your favorite book/last book you read? What did you like about it?
  11. Who do you admire/has influenced you & why/how so? 
  12. What are your biggest strengths & weaknesses?
  13. What three words would you say best describe you? 
  14. What high school experience was most important to you?
  15. What do you think about the current event *insert event here*?
  16. How have you served your community? What did you learn from the experience? 
  17. If you’ve played a sport, instrument, etc., then why did you do it? What did you just enjoy about it?
  18. What was your favorite subject in high school? Why?
  19. Do you have any questions for me? 
  20. Tell us about an extracurricular that’s meaningful to you. Why does it appeal to you?



  1. Create a Story Bank: Make a list of all the relevant stories that have shown periods of growth, challenges you’ve faced, moments of realization, etc. Now, that seems vague, so let’s get a little more specific. 

Look back at your “Activities” list. For each of these activities, list out at least 3-4 memories of moments when you’ve said, “oh shit”, or “damn, I can’t believe I did that”, or “oh, that’s how that was supposed to work? Wow, who knew?” 

Once you have a few stories listed out, add in moments from your school and personal life. Are there certain traditions your family follows? Any quirks in the family? Any challenging group projects when one person didn’t do anything? How did you approach it?

Feel free to add humor into it. 

Note: I know it’s hard, so, I’ll tell you the same thing that I tell my students: simply by the fact that you’ve existed for so long, you have stories to tell. Ask your parents and friends to help jog your memory. Once you get started, it’ll all just roll out. 

Aim for at least 5-10 different stories that lay out different scenarios and practice telling these stories in a limited time frame. 

  1. Time your responses: You have approximately 1-1.5 min to answer the “tell me about yourself” question. Other than that, all questions should be answered within 30-45 seconds. Go any longer than that and you’re probably rambling. 

If the interviewer wants to hear more about your point, he/she will ask you to expand on your point. 

So, practice with a timer (the one on your phone is fine), and if you’re practicing by yourself, then record a video of yourself as you respond. You may notice some wording issues or body language moves (ex. constantly touching your hair) that you don’t want happening at the actual interview. 

  1. Research the university: Most of us have the internet at our fingertips, so do your research! Figure out the specific programs – academics, research/study abroad opportunities, career development/advising, etc. – that you like, and study the info. You don’t have to memorize it, but you should be able to show the interviewer that you know what you’re talking about.

Note: Researching the university’s “features” should’ve been a part of your college search process, so this info should already be handy. 

You should be ready to answer questions like “what is it that you like about our university?” or “what made you apply here?” or other variations. 

  1. Tips on specific questions
  • “Tell me about yourself”

You have about 1-1.5 min to answer this question. Be careful as to how you craft this response because this question is practically designed for rambling. Don’t tell the interviewer where you were born – that’s old news. 

If you’re applying for a specific program, then talk about when you became interested in that specific field then show how your current coursework/extracurricular activities support your claim. After that, feel free to add a twist with humor or an additional unexpected activity that a “student like you” may not be expected to pursue. 

I’ll give you an example. 

I had a student a couple years ago who was interested in medicine and potentially interested in attending med school. Sure, he was taking quite a few science classes and an EMT certification course offered at his high school, but there was another aspect to him as well: he liked to sketch and he was phenomenal at it! Now, instead of simply having him mention that he sketched, we went a step ahead and had him take pictures of his work on his iPad and used that as a “show & tell” during his interview. 

How did he introduce it? Something like this: 

Interviewer: So, Kevin, tell me about yourself. 

Kevin: Well, I would say that I am definitely a science-lover, and hope to one day attend medical school. I’ve been taking AP Biology and the EMT course at my high school to see if I really would like medicine, and so far, I love the EMT course. When I’m not doing school work, I’m usually playing an intense game of ping pong with my brother, or dedicating 6+ hours to completing a sketch. I actually have pictures of a couple of my sketches on my iPad if you’d like to see them.

At this point, the interviewer can say “sure, I’d love to!” or “no, maybe a little bit later, we’re a little short on time and have a lot of ground to cover.”

Give them an option. Never shove your work in someone’s face. Simply make the offer and leave it at that. 

  • “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?”

Remember that story bank I asked you to create earlier? Well, this is where it comes in handy. 

State your strength: “I think I’m good at taking lessons from what I’ve read and implementing them”, then share an example of when you did that.

“For example, I once read that combining baking soda and vinegar can cause anywhere from a fizzling to an explosive reaction…and I just had to see if that was true, so I ….” 

Add humor in if you can, but if you’re not naturally a funny person, now is not the time to start.

Of course, I’d be reckless if I didn’t say that you should read the situation before you start trying to insert humor. It’s a delicate balance, but for the most part, it’ll be appreciated. Just don’t try and turn the entire interview into a joke. 

  • “Do you have any questions for me?”

YES! You always have questions for the interviewer, no exceptions!

Chances are you’ll be able to ask questions as you go along, however, that may not always be the case. Either way, make sure that you have at least 2-3 questions to ask, it shows that you’ve done your research and are genuinely interested in what the university has to offer. 

Keep in mind what I mentioned earlier, you are interviewing the university as well. You want to know if that particular university has all that you desire/prioritize. 

For example, if you’re shy or just concerned with whether or not you’ll make friends, then the question to ask is: what does the university do to help new students meet each other?

Or, “what part of your college experience at XYZ university did you really enjoy?”

“I found out about ABC tradition at the university and was curious, what is it like?”

  1. Be genuine. 

Oddly enough, this is the one section that I always had trouble with, even when I was in job interviews after I’d finished my Masters. 

What did I do wrong?

Simple. I sounded too polished, as if I was reciting memorized answers like a robot. 

My tip: loosen up a little. Don’t simply memorize your responses, instead create bullet points to remind yourself of certain points you need to bring up or the flow of your response. 

In the “Kevin” example, he didn’t recite that paragraph as I typed it. We simply created a loose flow to his response and highlighted a couple of points that he had to mention

He would start by identifying his interest in medicine mention the AP Bio /EMT class any hobbies that he wanted, but at the end, mention his sketches make the offer to view his art on his iPad. 

We had practiced the response to that question at least a hundred times (timed for 1-1.5 min) before we found a flow that worked for him. He didn’t sit there and memorize a paragraph to recite. That would’ve been too polished. Instead, by simply creating an “outline”, his personality came through as he naturally added his own wording variations, body language & facial expressions to his response. 

6. Create your “flow” to responses and practice it a couple dozen times

As I mentioned with Kevin’s example, create a rough outline for your responses to some of the most common questions. The hardest one will be the “Tell me about yourself” since that’s such a broad question, the others will be much shorter and easier. 

With that said, practice telling your stories (from your Story Bank) over and over again until you’ve figured out just how to incite the reaction you want. Comedians practice telling their jokes a couple hundred times before we actually see them perform. Why? Because they need to figure out just how to tell the joke or story to have it land. You will be doing the same thing. 


Dress business casual or business professional. 

Someone once told me that you can’t go wrong with dressing business professional, because you can always take off your blazer and dress down. 

Read the vibe of the university before deciding how you should dress. 


That sums up about 95% of everything you need to know about college interviews. The other 5% just depends on the university. 

Bottom line: It’s important to practice and remember that you are interviewing the university as much as the university is interviewing you, so be prepared!

Do your research and come up with questions you’d like to ask the interviewer. 

And don’t worry, the first interview is the hardest, but it gets much easier after that. 🙂 

If you end up with any crazy, strange or interesting interview experiences, please share! I’d love to know what’s happening out there and your experience could help others better prep for theirs.


Talk soon,