An interview with the admissions committee is one of the most nerve-wracking stages of entering a foreign university. It is not compulsory in all universities, but if required, it can sometimes be just a formality, and sometimes — a key selection criterion. You can't predict its importance, so don't underestimate the interview. In this article, you will find guidelines for preparing and answering frequently asked questions.

Why do foreign universities conduct interviews

The most obvious answer to this question is "to evaluate you." In general, that’s true. But universities always do it differently. And some pursue completely different goals.

All interviews can be divided into two types:

  • Evaluative ones are based on the interviewer asking questions and then telling the admissions committee whether the candidate should be admitted to the university. First of all, they evaluate personal traits, strengths and weaknesses, career plans, and motivation. The committee has no goal of embarrassing the interviewees. They want to know more about the applicant — their background, interests and hobbies, reasons for choosing the university and program, plans for the future. Often interviews are helpful for candidates, as they can show themselves from different perspectives. Note: language proficiency is not tested here — there are international tests for this purpose. An exception is when the interview is conducted as an alternative to a language exam such as IELTS. But this is a rare case.
  • In informational / non-evaluative interviews, the candidate is the one who mostly asks questions, while the role of an interviewer is filled by either a student or a graduate of the university. Such a conversation is needed so that applicants learn more about the university. The interviewer may not even report to the admissions committee. Sometimes during such a conversation, candidates are asked to explain some controversial points from their application or provide additional information.

Evaluative interviews are the most common type. They are conducted by almost all prestigious universities in the world, including the seven Ivy League universities, Oxford and Cambridge, National University of Singapore (NUS), École Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), and others. For MBA programs at universities and business schools, interviews are the key selection stage.

Universities with informational interviews are rare. Although even among them there are quite prestigious ones, for example, Cornell. You can always see why the university conducts interviews and in what format on its official website. For example: Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Dartmouth, MIT, Stanford, Cornell.

Interviews are either compulsory or optional. In the latter case, the selection committee organizes interviews selectively. This is influenced by two factors:

  • The ability of the university — the university may not have enough interviewers in general or nearby the candidate (this is important if the interview is to be done face-to-face);
  • The presence of additional questions — if in the process of considering the application the committee has doubts and wants to clarify the questions.

Usually, in such cases, the selection committee indicates that whether it will be possible to arrange an interview or not, will not affect the final decision in any way.

Types of college interviewers

Admission committee interview

Interviews with an admissions officer are the most popular type. The conversation itself is relatively formal and largely influences the final decision on admission. Admissions staff meet with hundreds, if not thousands, of students every year, so you'll have to work hard to stand out from other candidates.

Typically, the interviewer has direct access to your package of documents, or at least a part of it (for example, only the motivation letter and recommendations). Your task is to smooth out all the shortcomings, if any (i.e., low grades during previous education), and confirm all the strengths from the application.

Admission officers are more familiar with the specifics of the educational process at the college/university than other interviewers. Therefore, this is a good chance for you to ask additional questions about the academic program, faculty composition, internships, housing options, etc.

Alumni interview

University alumni conduct less formal interviews. They can also be evaluative and may include the same questions as the interviews conducted by the admission committee. However, graduates do not influence the final decision too much. Their main task is to fill out a questionnaire with impressions of the candidate and send a letter to the admissions office. It can be taken into account, but it is definitely not a decisive factor.

Graduates usually do not have any information about applicants before interviewing. So you have the opportunity to talk about your hobbies and academic achievements, and highlight your strengths without discussing grades and tests.

If you expect to learn more about the university itself, however, alumni are surprisingly not the best source of information, especially if they had graduated many years ago. Their knowledge is most likely limited only to their own experience on one of the campuses.

Current students (USA)

Some universities have ambassadors which are employed by the admission committee from among the students. This happens when the number of potential candidates exceeds the capacity of the committee to interview them. This type of interview is typical mainly of American colleges. No need to worry, these are not just random students — they are specially trained to ask the right questions. Before the interview, the ambassadors are given basic information about you, and afterward, they write a report. Usually, these reports do not play a major role in the selection of candidates, but if the ambassador really likes (or does not like) a certain candidate, their opinion can be taken into account. A big advantage of such interviews is that the ambassadors are studying at your future university at the time of the interview. They can provide very valuable information that you will not find on the university website: about student life, campus, and professors.

Types of admissions interviews

Each university is free to determine the format of the interview. Normally, universities conduct them on campus or near the applicant’s place of residence. The latter is possible if the university has a large alumni community around the world, like Harvard or Cornell. In other cases, interviews are conducted via video communication (Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts), less often by phone. Due to the pandemic, all interviews were moved to the online format or replaced with something else (for example, Brown University asks applicants to send a video portfolio).

We’ll list the most common types of interviews further down in the article.

Traditional interview

Its core is general questions about you, your motivation, career choice, future plans, career goals, etc. We have already said a lot about this format, so here are some examples:

  • Why are you interested in this university? / Why did you choose this university?
  • What is your greatest weakness? / When did you fail at something?
  • What extracurricular activities are you involved in?
  • Where would you like to work? / Career goals and the countries you want to work in / How would the university help you to achieve your goals?

Case interview

You are given a problem/situation for which you need to offer a solution. The interviewer assesses your analytical skills, creativity, and logic. In case interviews, what is most important is not finding the right answers, but showing the process of finding the answers:

  • How you ask clarifying questions, determine key details, draw conclusions;
  • How you find a way out of a non-standard situation;
  • How you act within the given conditions (often insufficient to solve the problem).

Listen carefully to the question, make notes. If in doubt, clarify the details. Then talk over your decision algorithm — this is how the interviewer will follow the logic behind your thoughts.

This type of interview is more often used by business schools — for example, the French ESSEC and EDHEC (and even for undergraduate studies). But many universities are introducing it for other specialties as well.

Examples:

  • Theoretical or practical specialty-oriented tasks (What advice would you have for a business looking to create an online presence);
  • Guesstimates — sort of mathematical/logical riddles (How many babies are born in a given year in the United States?);
  • Puzzles (How do you know whether the light is on inside a refrigerator?).

Stress interview

Interviews of this type are rare. The job of the interviewer is to put you in a stressful situation in order to see if you will adequately respond and cope with pressure. These can be:

  • Sensitive questions — on acute social and personal topics;
  • Cold, harsh tone of voice;
  • Persistent disagreement with your point of view;
  • Provocation (for example, a request to convince the interviewer of something, with a predisposition of disbelief in the interviewee’s success).

In a typical interview, candidates often use premade responses and do not show their emotions. In a stress interview, the interviewer observes your behavior and seeks to see your real character traits. The most important part is to maintain good manners, not to be nervous or afraid to reason, even if the interviewer tries to deliberately anger you.

Language-oriented interview

This is an interview that primarily aims to assess your knowledge — in English and/or any other subject. Many of the conversations include specific questions that are relevant to the future specialty. For example, programmers may be asked what kind of future they see for certain technologies, what languages ​​they have already used, and what their disadvantages are.

If the questions are general, then the main goal of the interviewer is to check the level of the language. In this case, the interview is an alternative or addition to the international exam (IELTS and others). This option is offered by some business schools, for example, by GBSB Global Business School.

Discussion interview

The conversation is structured around a topic related to the direction of study. Shortly before the meeting (or at the very beginning), you are informed of the topic and/or given an article. In the latter case, the task is to read the article, identify key points and answer the questions of the committee on the topic. While reading, you can take notes, and then use them to defend your point of view. You will be asked general questions about goals and motivation, as well.

This interview format, for example, is used at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in the psychology program. There it is called an oral exam. At the same time, the discussion is combined with the assessment of the language level.

Panel interview

A panel interview is a meeting with a committee of several interviewers at once. Among them are professors and teachers of different specializations in one direction of study, sometimes another student of the university. Questions depend on the goals of the committee and may include all of the above.

Panel interviews are used in all fields, but in medicine, their effectiveness is often questioned[1]. Therefore, new formats are now being developed for future physicians, such as MPI and MMI.

The MMI format involves a series of short structured interviews, or "interview stations." They assess qualities such as cultural sensitivity, mindfulness, teamwork, empathy, responsibility, and communication skills. Before each mini-interview, you are asked a question/situation and given a couple of minutes to prepare an answer. You are going to talk to an interviewer who knows nothing about you, usually for about eight minutes. Sometimes you will talk with a specially trained person, while the interviewer is just watching. Each interview is assessed separately. MMI lasts from 30 minutes to two hours. Situational questions should show how you think when making decisions, how critical your mindset is, whether you have well-developed communication skills, how you navigate current problems of health and society as a whole. The questions touch on medicine, but they don't look at your academic knowledge. First of all, your thought process is important. There are no right or wrong answers. The more aspects of one question you consider, the better. Examples:
  • A close friend in one of your university classes tells you that their mother has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The friend feels overwhelmed by the studies and is considering dropping them to spend more time with their mother. How do you counsel your friend?
  • Discuss one of your pastimes outside of school and how the skills you acquired from this activity will help you in your career.
  • You are on the committee for selecting a new Dean of Science. What characteristics and/or qualities would you look for when selecting an effective dean?
  • You are a family physician seeing Jane, a 67-year-old woman with a recent history of multiple fragility fractures. You diagnose her with … How would you handle the situation and what would you recommend Jane do? Discuss any ethical considerations that are present.
More examples here.
This format was invented at the University of Toronto. MPI consists of four independent interviews (about 12 minutes each) with short breaks, about an hour in total. Your conversation partner can be a doctor, a healthcare professional, or a medical student. Each interview has its own goal:
  • To get to know you and your achievements;
  • To assess your perspective on an ethical dilemma;
  • To nudge you into self-analysis through past situations involving leadership or teamwork.
Each interviewer has a list of leading questions on the topic, but in general, communication is quite free, like in a traditional interview. The interviewers assess your awareness, communication, and interpersonal skills. You will be viewed not only as a future university student but also as a professional. MPI is very similar to MMI, but there are differences:
  • MPI is not one question, but many;
  • You will not know the questions before meeting with the interviewer;
  • The interviewer might know the details of your application and ask specific questions about it.

Keeping everything aforementioned in mind, there is no strict classification of university interviews. We just gave examples from our own experience. The format can be mixed. For example, a traditional interview is sometimes supplemented with stress questions and ends with solving a case.

University interview questions

Listed below are general and specific questions, and tips on how to answer them.

Most likely you will be asked this question first. The obvious answers are the location of the institution, a strong academic program, a cool university community, etc. Everything is correct, but here it is important to give as much specifics as possible. Highlight a few characteristics that appeal to you the most. The more unique they are for this institution, the better. Explore the university/college website for additional information. Get acquainted with the mission and goals of the university, its regulations and the charter. On the websites of some universities, there are "What are we looking for" articles — here the university specifies what sort of applicants they want. For example, here you can see who Harvard is looking for. The main goal is to prove to the interviewer that you made a deliberate choice. Find what this university can give you that others cannot. For example, professors with similar scientific interests. Or there is a strong team in a sport that you do and you want to qualify. The main point is not just to list the multiple advantages of the university, but to highlight those most attractive to you.
The interviewer will want to see in you a sincere and persistent desire to begin the studies in this specialty and to definitely see it through. Your task is to show that you are in love with the chosen program, but not just "because it is good." State a specific reason that is meaningful to you. Which study courses will be especially useful for reaching your goals? What courses / program elements do you like? For example, you were attracted by the extensive experience of the teaching professor or by a practical / theoretical module in the curriculum.
This question is no longer about what attracts you to the program or to the university, but about how you can improve them. Sometimes the admissions committee asks you to name specific areas that you want to develop. First of all, they pay attention to science. It is best if you have your own idea for a research project or experiment. But you can name absolutely everything that interests you, including extracurricular activities. Volunteering, creative activities, work with foreign students, campus improvement, etc.
Answering this question, there is a risk to look narcissistic. So think carefully about what makes you stand out from other candidates. The main difficulty is to highlight your talents, but not to over-praise yourself. Just an adjective is not enough. To say "I am more determined / ambitious / energized than others" is to say nothing. Instead, you need to find how your combination of qualities, interests, and talents can fit into the student community. This question has much in common with the previous one. Only here, the contribution to the university must be tied to your unique abilities / skills. For example, you are programming and you have an idea to create a mobile application to keep your campus / city clean and green. Your goal is to join efforts with the university's eco-activists and invite them to implement such an initiative. You can also share the unique experiences that have helped you develop some valuable qualities or skills. For example, at school you combined studies, volunteer activities, and part-time work, so now with the developed time management skill, you can also be active and do additional research without harming your academic performance.
You are not expected to list all the negative qualities, bad habits, and unfortunate events. Everyone has weaknesses and failures. It is important to be able to deal with them. This is what the selection committee wants to hear. The most important thing in your answer is how you will describe your failure / bad experience, from which angle you will show it. Be sure to say what you learned from it, how you dealt with the consequences, what steps you took so that this does not happen again in the future. Here are a couple of examples:
  • You are afraid of public speaking. Because of this, you are not good at making presentations in front of a group of people. To overcome your fear, you signed up for rhetorical courses and regularly practice in front of your friends. You recently tried to step out of your comfort zone and gave a lecture at a 30-person class. Not everything went smoothly, but now you forget fewer words and are already speaking a little more confidently.
  • You were the organizer of a forum at the university, but amidst the many tasks, you did not send invitation letters to half of the participants. At the very last moment, you saved the situation, and this experience taught you not to postpone important organizational issues until later. You are now actively learning and testing time management techniques in your studies and work.
The question of strengths is very broad. Everything can be mentioned here, from soft and hard skills to personal qualities and unique abilities. Teamwork, organization, resistance to stress, analytical mindset, quick learning, etc. In this case:
  • Do not list everything. Highlight 2-3 main strengths, preferably relevant to your specialty. For example, in a business program, leadership qualities and the ability to act in stressful situations are important. At the faculty of biology, attention to detail, analytical mind, and researcher’s inclinations are valuable. And if you are applying to a program in psychology, the committee will certainly pay attention to your ability to listen and get along with people;
  • Avoid the obvious things. Everyone knows how to write emails and use text editors today;
  • And do not forget that everything needs to be proved with specific examples from life. For example, you discovered the ability to persuade while working in sales. Or you presented a project at a job fair and 9/10 present employers offered you a job.
The essence is the same as in the previous two questions, only here you are asked to focus only on the academic strengths and weaknesses. In other words, what is easy for you at school / university, and what is only achievable with great effort. This is more often said about subjects or related skills. The short answer "I am well versed in exact sciences / literature / …" is not enough. You need to explain how you understood your strengths, what benefits you have already been able to gain from them, and what you will be able to gain in the future. For example, you are a good writer and because of this, you have excellent grades in all subjects related to text and languages. Or you are constantly winning mathematics contests — in-depth study of the subject allowed you to go beyond the curriculum and outline the directions of future research at the university. As for weaknesses, we do not recommend saying that you do not have them. It is hard to believe and sounds arrogant. Don't be afraid to sound inept. The important part is perseverance and hard work. The fact that you are not very good at some subject or skill is not bad in itself. It’s bad if you don’t make an effort to fix the situation. For example, you are great at analyzing historical events and their consequences, but you have a terrible memory for numbers. To memorize the dates you want, you regularly try different techniques. It took you several months, but in the end, you made significant progress.
Leadership skills are also a strength. And you don't have to hold a high position, give motivational speeches for a thousand people, or organize large city events. You may have:
  • Assisted team members with scheduling large tasks.
  • Motivated ten people from your immediate circle to join a volunteer organization;
  • Organized family vacations in another country, delegating some of the tasks to the relatives, etc.
Leadership is often manifested in little things. Any story where you took responsibility in a difficult situation or became a role model for other people will do.
Tell the committee about subjects and courses that you were particularly interested in at school or that you are looking forward to at the university. They need to be linked to your specialty / study program. But it shouldn't be a phrase like "I want to study literature because I have loved reading since childhood." Pick one or two topics within the subject (in the case of literature, these could be writers / genres / periods of literary history) and tell why exactly they kindled this spark in you. At the same time, it is advisable not only to indicate interest but also to suggest specific aspects that you want to explore during your studies. For example, the writers of the Renaissance and their influence on modern literature.

If you are an active person, you will not have any difficulties with this question. But never stop at simply listing your hobbies. You can name several areas of activity to give a bigger picture. But it is better to devote 80% of your answer to one area or even a specific event — what your role was, what it meant to you, what this experience taught you. For example, at university, you were an athlete, a volunteer, a student council member, and an eco-activist. But it was sports that fascinated you most of all. You represented the university at the city and national events and won five competitions. Thanks to this, you have developed willpower, acquired good habits, and became more resilient — not only in sports but also in school and in life.
This is probably obvious, but just in case we will warn you. "Making a lot of money" is definitely not the best answer. Describe how you see your success personally: who you want to become, what you want to do and what you want to achieve, so that you can consider yourself successful. Moreover, this can be not only a career, but also a contribution to society. Also, avoid clichés and vague phrases, such as “create a better future for all.”
Be clear about your career plans. The goal of "becoming an expert in your field" is good, but not measurable. Add details: “become an expert in molecular engineering, publish at least five papers on the topic and write a monograph” or “launch an IT startup in Germany and develop it into an international company.” You can also break your goal down into smaller ones, such as five years from now, ten years from now, and in the long term. Be sure to link your answer with the university — what it will give you that will bring you closer to this goal. For example, there are several professors who are engaged in research in the narrow field you need. Or you are attracted to a career center that can help you find an internship and develop the necessary connections.

Interview for admission to Bachelor's degree

Most of the questions for future bachelors we have already listed above. The most important thing when applying for a Bachelor's degree is to understand the benefits of:

  • Higher education;
  • Higher education in the particular specialty;
  • Higher education in this specialty at this particular university / college.

Other questions are about school, favorite subjects, extracurricular activities, hobbies, and interests.

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you interested in this college?
  • Why do you want to major in _____?
  • What are your academic strengths?
  • What are your academic weaknesses? How have you addressed them?
  • What extracurricular activities are you involved in?
  • What do you plan to contribute to this school?
  • What do you expect to be doing 10 years from now?
  • What is an obstacle you've faced and how did you get through it?
  • What makes you unique?

Additional questions may be asked depending on the institution and the type of interview.

With this question, the admission committee checks:
  • Whether you can think critically — see problems and ways to solve them;
  • What is important to you in the learning process and whether you are ready to improve it.
"We have bad teachers, I would find new ones" — that answer is incorrect. Be polite and offer more specific actions. Think about the strengths and weaknesses of your school. What problems are there? What do students often complain about? What are the consequences? What can be done to remedy the situation? For example, you have a school with a musical emphasis, but the classrooms are underequipped. You propose to reallocate the budget and spend more money on classroom renovation and musical equipment. This way, more students will be able to rehearse and learn to play the instruments. It is important that you take care not only of your own comfort but also of the personal and academic development of all students and the school itself. This way, you will show your willingness to participate in the life of your future university. You may find that music helps you develop skills that are useful in life. In addition, the school must correspond to its status, and with better classrooms, this will become possible.
This question is meant to show your values ​​and priorities. Anyone can be the subject of admiration: a famous person, a relative, or just an acquaintance; one person, a group of people, or a collective image. In any case, whoever it is, the name alone is not enough. It is necessary to explain the reasons. What exactly do you find impressive? What qualities / actions / achievements do you respect? Do not forget about the details — specific stories where your "idol" has shown themself from the best side.
Talking about your favorite book is a way to learn more about your interests and to make sure that you have a habit of reading to broaden your horizons. In addition to the author and the title, the committee wants to hear why you like this book so much. Did it inspire you? Did a hero resonate with you? Did the book teach you something that was reflected in your opinions and/or actions? Or maybe the book is entirely responsible for shaping your values and outlook in life. Sometimes the book is replaced by a movie or a news item that has interested you lately. So, just in case, keep several alternatives in mind and try to follow the current information feed.
Universities want applicants to come to them with clear goals. Unfortunately, yesterday's schoolchildren often do not understand why they need higher education. Of course, it's not worth saying that your parents forced you or that you can't wait to get to student parties. Your job is to explain how education can help you achieve your professional and personal development goals. What are these goals? How does studying convert a hobby into a profession and a way of earning money? How does college life contribute to your intellectual and emotional growth?
The commission asks such lighthearted questions in order to have a complete picture of you as a person. Your leisure time does not have to be related to your studies. Any pastime will do, as long as you tell what attracts you to it. Try to come up with a non-trivial answer: many people like to go out with friends, but few people like to assemble functioning robots from construction sets or compose music. Keep in mind that you are unlikely to be trusted if you say that you read textbooks and solve problems for fun. But if you still love intellectual activities, try to explain why it is entertaining for you.

Interview for Master's degree programs

Interview for a Master's degree is more serious than for a Bachelor's degree. It is a lot like a job interview. There are the same general questions, as well as those related to previous education, research, professional experience, and career plans.

Another difference is more formats. We have already discussed the most popular types (traditional interviews, case interviews, and others) above. However, depending on the university and specialty, instead of an interview, there may be a specialized practical test, not to be confused with international exams. Another format is presentation. It is more typical for research programs (MPhil, MRes). Here, applicants submit a research proposal with a focus on methods. This oral defense is sometimes found in programs that develop or already require leadership qualities from applicants, such as MBA.

  • Why did you choose your undergraduate major?
  • What are your career goals? / Describe your dream job in the future
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your research interests?
  • How will you contribute to our program?
  • Discuss a failure. / Describe a situation where you brought an idea forward and it failed.
  • Have you worked in a team environment? What were your contributions to the effort?
  • What have you been reading?
  • What are your hobbies and interests?
  • What would you do if not accepted?

Within the university, there may be local peculiarities of faculties and schools. Therefore, check the interview requirements on the official website.

This question gives you a chance to explain the low grades in a previous degree. If you are sure that the C in History in the fifth semester does not reflect your knowledge and ability, then tell what circumstances did not allow you to succeed at the time. It could be a personal event or a research project that took up all of your time. Keep in mind not to overdo it with excuses and not reduce your response to complaints, blaming other people. This will make you look bad.
Make a list of achievements and choose the one that shows your best qualities in action and resulted in something noteworthy. For example, during your undergraduate studies, you were a member of a volunteer organization. At that time, the team was growing slowly and consisted of only 10 people. You established contacts with representatives of universities in your city, began to actively develop social networks, agreed to participate in several city events. As a result, another 25 students came to the team and helped to realize five international projects. It will be a big advantage if you link your achievement with the university and the field of study. Perhaps this event once influenced your desire to enroll in a Master's program or the choice of the specialty. For example, thanks to the experience you gained, you became actively involved in marketing. And a Master's degree in this area will help you to reach a new level — to make projects that draw public attention to social problems.
This is a more specific question about career goals. It is more common in Master's programs since they last only one or two years and after 5 years you should definitely achieve something. Your answer should be related to the program. Program websites often have a special section (career list / future career / after the graduation), which lists the specialties in which a student can work after graduation. Tell exactly how a Master's degree will help you in realizing your plans. This can be a research activity as a PhD or work in a company. The more specific the better. It will be a big plus if your goal will benefit the community. But avoid the two extremes:
  • Coming up with an immense goal to amaze the commission, such as “end poverty around the world.” Of course, your interviewer isn't going to hunt you down five years from now and check to see if you kept your promise. But with such an answer there is a risk of appearing insincere or naive;
  • Naming a vague and rather underwhelming goal like “find a job by profession and get a decent salary” — this approach will not make you a forward-looking and purposeful candidate.
In general, stay realistic, but don't be afraid to set ambitious goals.
It is impossible to give universal recommendations for this question. Depending on the mood of the interviewer, they may be more pleased with your commitment to one single university, or, conversely, resourcefulness and accounting for a possible failure. A key element of any answer is commitment and the ability to learn from your mistakes. For example:
  • After being refused, you will analyze the reasons and try getting into this university again next year. The reason is that you see the advantages of the university/program (name specific ones) over others and are ready to go all the way to get them. You will not waste this year, but you plan to improve your profile: retake the exam, gain experience in your specialty, or publish articles on the topic.
  • Alternatively, you will analyze your mistakes and take them into account for the future. But the most important thing for you is your profession. Therefore, you have carefully studied the different options and you have a selection of universities/programs that can give you a quality education. You see the possibility to develop in each of them, but at the same time you hope to enroll exactly at the university you are currently being interviewed by (again, for specific reasons).

MBA interview

Passing the admission competition for MBA programs is often much more difficult than for a regular Master's degree. The admission committee wants to see not just motivated students, but young professionals, future managers. Admission often requires several years of professional experience. Therefore, almost all questions are aimed at analyzing previous work experience and identifying managerial skills (leadership, delegation, teamwork, etc.) in candidates.

MBA interview sample questions

  • Why this MBA program?
  • Where will you be five to seven years post-MBA?
  • How did you choose your job after college?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals in regard to business function, industry, and location?
  • Can you share some of the experiences you have had at work?
  • What contributions would you make to a group?
  • When have you delegated successfully?
  • Give examples of how you have demonstrated leadership inside and outside the work environment.
  • Name 3 words or phrases to describe yourself to others.
  • It's 2 years after graduation, what 3 words would your team members use to describe you?
  • Discuss any experience you have had abroad.
  • How do you define success?
  • What would you do if a team member wasn't pulling their own weight?
  • Describe an ethical dilemma you faced at work.
  • Describe a typical workday.

Sample questions for Harvard Business School can be found here.

The point is not to list all jobs and responsibilities. Your task is to briefly (ideally in 2-3 minutes) outline the main achievements and turning points. Start with your first steps in the professional field. How did your previous education help you start your career? Why did you change (or did not change) your place of work? If you are working now, what are your responsibilities? Additionally, the commission evaluates how you structure the response and select key information. In the end, you should smoothly approach the decision to enroll in an MBA. But you'd better wait for the next question — "Why do you need an MBA?" We talked about how to explain the choice of the program in the section of general questions.
A career in business administration is impossible without leadership skills. But, no matter how strange it may sound, it is not enough to simply apply them. Read about different leadership styles. Choose the one that is closest to you, but don't get hung up. Show that you know the advantages and disadvantages of each style and can apply them as appropriate.
With this question, the panel tests your ability to think critically and solve problems. Of course, it is desirable that the answer be related to work. But you can also mention other areas, from academics to family. It is not so much the decision itself that matters as the manner of your reasoning. How you think, how you use data, how you deal with contingencies. The best candidates look at all sides of the issue. Feel free to tell that it didn't go smoothly the first time. Healthy self-criticism is only an advantage.

Self-presentation — Elevator pitch

At interviews with the admissions committee, students may often be asked to introduce themselves. "Tell me about yourself" is a request that can catch anyone, even the most confident person, by surprise. Usually, a short 30-60 second self-presentation is required, known as the Elevator Pitch. Therefore, it makes sense to think over the answer in advance.

The idea of ​​an elevator pitch boils down to one goal — to "sell" yourself and demonstrate your uniqueness in the shortest possible time, literally over the same amount it would take to ride an elevator. It is important not to go into lengthy reasoning. You may be stopped when the time runs out. Eliminate obvious or overly-detailed information and speak on point right away. If your speech is too long, you risk not getting there.

There are many options for what you can or should say. But almost all of them boil down to answering a few basic questions:

  • Who am I? Where do I study/work? What is my specialty?
  • What do I want to achieve with this speech? What program do I want to enroll in and why?
  • What are my strengths? What is my unique experience/skills? What makes me different from other candidates?
  • What is my long-term goal? What attracts / inspires / motivates / interests me?

At the end, it is important to give the interviewer a chance to answer your speech, and it is ideal to link it with the university. For example, you might say that you would like to know more about the scientific activities of the faculty. Or perhaps you are interested in internships that the Career Center offers and that are just in line with your career plans.

Useful links with examples:

Be sure to practice your speech in front of others to sound natural. It's good to have templates, but memorizing everything without the ability to adapt to the listener is not a good idea. The commission needs a person who can present himself in any situation, be it a job interview, presenting a research / product / startup / project to investors, or meeting new people in a friendly company.

Even if you don't have to talk about yourself in this format in an interview, the chance to make useful connections may appear unexpectedly — at a job fair, at a party, or even while walking the dog. You won't be able to prepare for everything at once. So we recommend for the future to work out a few basic statements that you can adapt depending on the situation.

What is asked in the Ivy League and Oxbridge

Ivy League Interviews

There are programs in the League where interviews are obligatory for every applicant, such as Architecture at Cornell University. In other cases, they are either optional or "recommended." But universities are still trying to talk to the majority of applicants who have passed the initial selection.

If the number of interviewers is limited, not everyone gets interviewed. The admissions committee selects students who have not presented themselves with enough details in the application documents package. Is this good or bad? The Ivy League enrolls students with and without interviews. But if you are invited, do not panic and do not refuse — this is another opportunity to confirm your interest and learn more about the university.

Interviews are conducted by university graduates around the world: face-to-face, by phone, or via Skype. You decide the time and place together with your interviewer. If the interview is face-to-face, it usually takes place in a public place such as a local cafè. Remember that the interview starts from the moment of the first contact with your interviewer. Your communication before and after the conversation itself will also become part of the final report.

There is a starter list of recommended questions, but each interviewer brings something different. The format itself is more like a dialogue than a formal QA. Typically, interviewers do not know anything about you before the meeting, other than your name and previous place of study. Sometimes they ask to send a resume in advance — this way they find similarities with their own experience, from which they can start a conversation.

Most of all, the interviewer is concerned with your experience, stories from your life, extracurricular activities. But it is not enough to list them, the real task is to show how all this influenced you, your academic interests, your perception of the world, goals in life, etc. In this case, the interviewer can express an opinion that contrasts with yours. For example, you named your favorite book and you may well hear "I didn’t like it at all" or “I don’t understand why this topic is important at all”, etc. The goal is to see your reaction. Agreeing unconditionally or, conversely, starting a fierce argument is not the best solution. Always give reasons for your position and take into account the reasonss of others.

After the talk, the interviewer writes a report with their observations: how curious you are, what character traits, values, ​​and interests you have, how you participate in the life of society, how well you fit the university and whether there are reasons for doubts about your candidacy. In some universities, the interviewer gives a final grade, from "strongly agree" to “strongly disagree.”

It is difficult to say how much such an interview affects the final decision. The most important part is to understand that the report itself is a document, along with your personal statement or SAT certificate. But, as a rule, it is the last to be assessed in order to complete the image of ​​you and to resolve doubts.

Sample questions:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • “Why Harvard”, “Why Princeton?”, “Why Columbia?” ...
  • What is appealing to you about this university in particular?
  • What are you interested in studying in college?
  • What do you plan to contribute to this school?
  • Strengths / areas of development?
  • What high school accomplishment are you most proud of?
  • What would you change about your high school?
  • Tell me about your family background? Where did you grow up?
  • 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?
  • What are your interests besides your schoolwork?
  • How do you like to spend your time outside the classroom?
  • To which of your non-academic activities are you most committed? How has this affected your academic coursework?
  • What do you have in common with your closest friends? How do you differ from them? Who are you in your friends' group?
  • How important is diversity in the type of educational environment you seek?
  • What do you expect to be doing in 10 years?
  • What specific book, article or journal have you read in the last year that had a significant impact on your thinking or perspective?
  • Can you think of a time when you...?
* Please note that in 2021, Brown replaced interviews with video portfolios. For the current format and recommendations for preparation, see the university website.

Oxbridge interviews

Compared to the Ivy League, Oxford and Cambridge interview formats are completely different. Here, much more attention is paid to the future specialty. Interviewers are academic mentors, university teachers. Usually, it is two people, sometimes more. At Oxford, for example, if you are applying for an interdisciplinary program, there will be an interviewer for each subject. Sometimes it can even be different interviews.

To begin with, you will be asked a few general questions, mainly based on your motivation letter. For example: "Why did you choose this particular university and the program?"

So, why Cambridge or Oxford? As we already know, there are no universal answers. But these two universities have a few features that are useful to remember and, if necessary, to mention. These are:

  • The intensity of the academic program. Show that you are inspired by the upcoming studies and that you are ready to work hard under the guidance of the best teachers. Give an example of when you delved deeply into a topic or project and developed a high working ability;
  • Unique tutoring system. Tell about the advantages that you see for yourself, for example, a personal approach and constant high-quality feedback from a tutor. Perhaps you have come across such an attitude to learning and felt the effectiveness of individual consultations yourself;
  • Collegiate system. Each college selects students independently, and they do not specialize in one scientific field. You may note that you like the idea of ​​an interdisciplinary community that supports students and creates a sense of belonging. The interviewer wants to see your willingness to improve the community.

Another part of the interview is the questions about subjects. The starting point is again the motivation letter and the written work attached to the application. The books / studies / concepts / events you mentioned are likely to be discussed with you. Try not to forget the authors, titles, and synopses.

Be sure to read additional literature: articles, research papers, popular science books, literary texts (depending on the specialty). This way, you can give additional examples, and not just from the school / university curriculum.

Questions can be both theoretical and practical. For example, economists can speculate about the application of mathematical functions to economics or solve a specific problem. Another option is that the interviewee is offered to familiarize themself with the material (text, poem, schedule, task, physical object), and then is asked questions about it.

Sample questions:

  • Why did you choose Cambridge / Oxford?
  • Why this college?
  • What is your favorite thing about your subject?
  • What do you not like about this subject?
  • Do you have any specific areas of interest?
  • How do you think that you studying this subject can affect society or add to it?
  • How important do you think this subject is in terms of humanity?
  • What do you want to be after university, and why?
  • What do you expect to gain from going to university?

Examples of interviews in foreign universities

Here are some more examples of how universities in different countries conduct interviews.

EHL (Switzerland)

At the Swiss business school École Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), students go through two interviews.

The first interview takes place remotely. You will be sent 5-6 questions to which you need to record the answers in a video. The advantage is that you have the opportunity to practice before you record and send it to the committee. The answers are reviewed along with the rest of the package of documents.

Successful candidates are invited to a special Selection / Motivation Day on campus in Switzerland or at one of the abroad branches. There you get to know the campus, take part in team assignments, take small computer tests and have another interview. There are two people talking to you — they can be members of the admissions committee, teachers or senior students. The interview lasts 40-45 minutes. The questions are usually traditional — about your motivation, goals, skills, extracurricular activities, etc. The admissions staff will also appreciate it if you have experience in hospitality (EHL specializes in Hospitality Management).

If you cannot come to campus, you can contact the admissions office, which will assess your case. Foreigners have access to the video interview option. Due to the pandemic, the selection days at the Swiss school were held online.

University of Toronto (Canada)

As a rule, an interview at the University of Toronto is compulsory. Candidates not invited for interviews are rejected. The format depends on the program you are applying for. For example:

  • For a program in applied computing (MScAC), the interview is traditional. Students talk with one or two representatives of the program. Their main task is to get to know you better and decide if you are suitable for the university.
  • In the Faculty of Music, the interview is more profession-specific. In addition to the questionnaire and pre-audition (all applicants send a video of the performance), the selected candidates demonstrate their skills during the interview. You may be asked to sing/play a section on an instrument, identify chords, play a melody, etc. Other questions relate to general knowledge of the repertoire (both as a whole and concerning your instrument), musical interests, and career goals.
  • For medicine, the University of Toronto has created an even more unique format — The Modified Personal Interview (MPI). This is a type of panel interview that consists of four separate interviews with four different interviewers — they can be medical students, faculty members, doctors, and other health professionals. Each mini-interview is 12 minutes long. Due to the pandemic, live conversations were replaced by video answers, 5 minute-long each. In some programs, there are two stages of the interview: 3 video answers to the questions asked followed by 3 online interviews with different interviewers.

To-do list before an admission interview

  • Read carefully the invitation letter and the information on the website about the interview format. It is important not only what you will be asked, but also how it will be organized technically. The most common format for international students is online via Skype, Zoom, Teams, etc. Additional software may be required. Make sure that the admissions office knows your contacts, that you have correctly understood all the instructions, and have sent all the necessary data.
  • If you need to arrange a specific time for the interview and select an available slot (date and time), do not forget to do this. Better do it in advance, because options might become less varied the closer the deadline gets.
  • Pay attention to deadlines. The admissions committee can set a deadline by which the applicant must confirm their participation in the interview.
  • If you negotiate with an alumni interviewer in person, respect their time. Remember that this process is also part of the interview, and your organizational skills will be reported.
    • Be flexible and don't insist on a single specific hour;
    • Do not move the date and time several times;
    • Don't make the interviewer wait for an answer for weeks.
  • Make your own list of questions — you can ask them at the end of the conversation. This is the main point for informational interviews and a good opportunity for the evaluational ones. Study the website of the university, program, faculty and ask about what’s important. Creativity is welcome. Do not ask trivial questions, the answers to which can be found on the university website. Sample questions:
    • What are some pros and cons of your school in your experience? (For an alumnus or a student)
    • What extracurricular activities were (are) you involved in and outside the college? (For an alumnus or a student)
    • How easy is it for first-year students to take upper-level classes? (For the admissions committee)
    • What advice would you give me as an incoming freshman? (For everyone)
    • What research do current students do? (For students and admissions committee)
  • Look at the admissions committee's recommendations, look for students' personal stories about interviews — both in general, and specifically at the target institution. Think through the answers to the standard questions. These are usually the hardest to come up with non-standard responses to. Then see more specific questions for your specialty. It is impossible to predict everything. But the more examples you have in your head, the more confident you will feel. Just do not memorize the answers — it is very noticeable and frowned upon by the interviewers. Sketch out the bullet points and leave room for improvisation. Your speech should sound natural.
  • Learn the STAR technique (Situation Task → Action → Result). This format suits most situational questions where you need to tell a story: how you applied a particular skill (teamwork, leadership, goal setting, etc.) and achieved a high-quality result.
  • Prepare a speech presentation for 30-60 seconds — an elevator pitch. It is not guaranteed that you will be asked to tell about yourself in such a format, but this way you will train the skill of self-presentation and won’t get confused by the phrase “Tell me about yourself”.
  • Make sure you have pens, notepaper, and documents close at hand. Often, applicants are asked to show their passports on camera in order to check that the right person is in front of the interviewers. Make sure that you have no internet connection issues and that nothing will interfere with you during the interview.
  • If you are applying for an undergraduate degree, you are not required to have any special dress code. It is enough to dress neatly, without bright prints, massive accessories, and ripped jeans. If you are a future graduate student, treat interviews like job interviews. Wear whatever you feel as comfortable as possible, in the formal or business-casual style.

How to act during an interview with the admissions committee

  • First of all, remember the name of your interlocutor to avoid embarrassing situations during the conversation.
  • Listen to the questions carefully. It is important to keep in touch with the interviewer and pay attention to the nuances.
  • If you answered incorrectly or could not answer at all, do not get stuck on it. First, just one question shows nothing. Second, the train of thought is almost always more important than the final decisions. Thirdly, at such moments, the commission pays attention not so much to the correctness of the answer, but to your behavior: how you cope with stress, how you react to a failure, how it affects your self-confidence.
  • At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer, ask all the questions you are interested in and listen carefully about the next steps — what stages you still need to go through and when to expect the results.
  • If you have contacts of the interlocutor, then after the end of the conversation (within 24 hours) send them a letter of gratitude. This mainly applies to alumni interviewers. You can write that you:
    • Appreciate the time allocated to you;
    • Were glad to discover and discuss common interests;
    • Brought out some ideas / thoughts from the conversation;
    • Feel even more committed to the university now, etc.

Be honest and talk about what you really care about. Not what you think the interviewer wants to hear.