How to Answer Interview Questions About College
Time at college, both in terms of academic study and overall experience, helps to equip you to enter the workplace in your chosen profession.
As such, employers commonly ask recent graduates about their time at college during the recruitment process.
These questions may arise during interviews for entry-level jobs or graduate schemes. Students applying for internships should also expect to draw heavily on their college experience at interviews.
Why Do Employers Ask Questions About College?
Questions about college can illuminate employers on:
- Your subject motivation and career goals
- Your character and personality
- The skills and competencies you gained through study
You may be asked about your choice of degree subject and your modules, the transferable skills you gained through your study, your extra-curricular and social experience or how your degree has prepared you for a role in a particular sector.
Interview questions can be daunting, particularly if you’re new to the workplace and not yet used to evidencing your talents.
Being able to speak articulately about your college experience will increase your chances of securing your first role.
If you spend some time preparing your answers to questions about college, you’ll be able to use these questions to your advantage, displaying your strengths, enthusiasm and dedication to a career in your chosen field.
What Are Employers Looking for in Your Answer?
During an interview, employers ask structured questions with a clear agenda. These are almost always aligned to assessment criteria.
This process helps to ensure the interviews provide insight to evaluate all aspects of a prospective employee, from character and motivation to skills and overall potential.
This structure means that employers have certain content points in mind when listening to your responses.
Knowing what your prospective employers are looking for when asking direct questions about college will help you to structure your answers.
When asking about your college experience, employers are seeking the following:
Insight Into Who You Are, Your Personality and Character
This is achieved through asking questions about your overall college experience, your participation in clubs and societies, and by listening to how you come across when talking about your studies and career plans.
Insight Into Your Skills and Strengths
As a recent or soon-to-be graduate, you’ll have less work experience to draw upon than an experienced hire.
Employers usually ask professionals about their past job roles to reveal their talents and skills. For graduates, college fulfills this same function.
A prospective employee’s strengths and potential can be gleaned from delving into their college experience.
To Assess Whether You Are a Good Fit for the Role and Company
This type of cultural fit and suitability information isn’t available on your resume, so it is gleaned through online assessments, such as a situational judgment test and targeted interview questions.
Employers ask about college to discover more about how you navigated the experience and made the most of the opportunities presented.
They want to see that you are a focused and committed individual who will align with the company values and culture.
How Your College Experience Relates to Your Career Interest
Employers like candidates who have given their career careful thought and have structured their studies to set them up for success in the industry.
As well as seeking elaboration on the relationship between your studies and career interest, they’ll likely also want to know how you envisage your career pathway unfolding.
To Evidence Your Motivation for Working Within the Industry in Question
Companies look for employees who are highly motivated to be within the sector.
Questions about college modules can reveal your passion for the sector through innovative thinking and enthusiasm around your degree subject.
If you are making a career transition, you may also be asked about your college studies and the links to the industry you are trying to break into.
Employers want to see that your decision to switch has a solid foundation and that you are committed to fully embracing the change and the challenges that come with it.
How to Prepare for Interview Questions About College
Preparing for questions about college is the key to delivering solid responses in an interview.
Employers respond to well-structured, considered responses, and the best way to deliver these is through reflecting upon and distilling your experience ahead of time.
Exploring the insights and benefits you gained from college and organizing the material ready to answer will ensure that questions on college become opportunities to evidence your potential for the job role.
Before your interview, consider the following preparation tips:
1. Explore the Technical Knowledge You Gained Through Your Degree
If you are applying for a job role that is closely linked to your degree subject, review the technical knowledge you learned through your lectures, coursework and exams.
For certain job roles, being able to evidence a strong knowledge base, along with the ability to interrogate and apply this knowledge, is vital.
In preparation, review the job description and connect the modules you took and the specific knowledge acquired to the responsibilities of the job.
2. Reflect Upon the Transferable Skills from Your Time at College
College isn’t all about gaining academic knowledge. In fact, many of the most valuable skills honed at college are of the transferable kind.
Think about skills that are important for successfully navigating the workplace, including:
- Time management
- Organizational skills
- Communication skills
- The ability to empathize and respond to situations appropriately
List these skills, along with examples of how your college experience challenged and improved them.
3. Consider Work Experience Gained During Your Time at College
If you completed a placement, internship or any work experience, be ready to draw upon this. Using examples from a workplace scenario to back up your skills and competencies carries weight as employers gain an insight into how you operate within the work environment.
Don’t forget that a part-time job is also valuable work experience (as well as a great example of your time management).
4. Think About the Extra-Curricular Activities You Undertook at College
Whether you were a member of a club or society, a volunteer in the community, or maintained a hobby alongside your studies, reflect upon the skills this activity helped you build.
Extra-curricular activities display that you are a well-rounded individual, adept at managing your time to achieve a crucial balance between work and life.
They can also be useful for evidencing key competencies that are important in the workplace, such as:
5. Prepare Specifically for Each Vacancy
Employers look for tailored responses that relate to the specificities of the company and the responsibilities of the job role. Although you’ll find much of the material is transferable with a few tweaks (if you are not applying for roles across vastly different sectors), ensure your answers speak directly to the requirements in the job description.
How to Answer Interview Questions
To help you prepare to answer interview questions about your college experience, we’ve reviewed some of the most common questions below.
Sample answers provide an example of how to structure your response but remember that all responses should be personal to you – tailored for your academic background, skills and experience.
Why Did You Choose Your College, and What Factors Influenced Your Decision?
Employers may well ask about what drove you to attend your chosen college.
Through this question, they are seeking to explore your decision-making process and the level of foresight you had when making educational decisions.
They are looking for evidence that you chose a college with your career in mind, so display how your choice of college connects to your chosen industry and, ultimately, to the job role you are interviewing for.
When answering this question, ensure you can articulate the logic behind your decision and that it appears thoughtful and sound.
Avoid suggesting that you simply fell into completing your degree at your college, and instead demonstrate a clear decision-making process.
I chose to complete my English literature degree at Columbia University because of the reputation of the department and the academics in residence. Strong research was emerging around the intersectionality of postcolonial theory and environmental criticism in world literature, and I wanted to gain exposure to the leading academics in this movement.
I knew I wanted to advance through a career in academia, so finding the right academic environment was key. By investing time into researching my options, I found a supportive department that would provide an opportunity for fertile discussion and the advancement of my understanding of postcolonial eco-criticism.
Why Did You Choose Your Degree Subject?
Following on from the question about your reasons for selecting your college, you may also be asked about your motivations for choosing your degree subject.
It is important to insightfully reflect when answering this question, explaining the reasons you chose your degree whilst connecting these back to the job in question.
Be honest yet creative with your answer. Employers want to know the story behind your motivation to gain a sense of who you are and where your interests lie.
Avoid a response that implies you didn’t make your own active choice or that the subject you studied wasn’t your first preference.
I chose to complete an architecture degree because I want to be a part of shaping how people live and connect with others and the world. The design of our built structures, our offices, recreational spaces and our homes innately influences the rhythms and activities that occur within the walls. To me, studying and working within architecture and design provides a parallel window into the social architecture of our lives.
I saw the potential that built design had to improve social cohesion, from a family level inside a single home, to within an entire community, and I knew I wanted to work in this space. This firm’s focus on both modular design and intergenerational housing speaks directly to my interests and links to my project experience whilst at college.
What Do Graduates in Your Degree Subject Have to Offer in This Kind of Role?
If you are asked this question, do not be thrown by the reference to ‘graduates’ plural.
A question like this provides an excellent opportunity to evidence the strengths you’ve gained through your degree and illustrate how these directly relate to the job criteria.
The question also explores your passion for the industry, assessing whether you have ideas about how the sector can advance. The more innovative and interdisciplinary these are, the better.
Employers want to find candidates with a forward-thinking approach, who can draw on and apply college experience to new contexts.
Taking a psychology degree has provided me with skills for a career in marketing that communications and advertising degrees may lack. Understanding consumer psychology is key to driving sales and launching successful product lines, and psychology students can adeptly gather, evaluate and unlock these insights.
Studying psychology developed my understanding of the interaction between personal motivations and societal pressure while honing my data analysis skills. I distilled large amounts of behavioral data for my dissertation on the psychology behind different forms of eco-branding.
Were You Involved in Any Teams or Societies at College?
Employers often ask recent graduates about their interests outside of their degree subject. They like to know that candidates are well-rounded and have been able to maintain and develop hobbies that have positively contributed to their development.
This question is an opportunity to highlight how your involvement in a sports club or society honed a particular skill that is important for the job role you are applying for.
In college, I was the editor of our digital campus newspaper. I started out on the editorial team as a proofreader in my first year and enjoyed being a part of the publication so much that I continued to dedicate my time to it throughout college. This gave me the opportunity to understand what goes into producing a weekly digital magazine,and to hone my writing, proofing, SEO and marketing skills to improve our reach on campus.
Being the digital editor in my final year allowed me to develop my leadership skills through managing both the writing and editorial staff, and it gave me the chance to innovate the content we published.
Did You Enjoy Your Time at College?
By asking this open question about whether you enjoyed your college experience, employers are presenting you with the opportunity to speak about an aspect of your experience that was important or impactful for your development.
Think about a particular aspect of college life or study that you enjoyed, and relate it back to the job or industry in question.
For example, talk about how being involved in an extra-curricular activity ignited your passion for the sector or how completing a particular project impacted your research and career interests.
My years at college gave me the chance to develop my academic interests and explore what it is that fascinates me, whilst also providing the opportunity to find my independence and my own voice. I particularly enjoyed being involved with the volunteering society. It allowed me to become exposed to the pressing issues within the local community and spurred my interest in working for the Civil Service as a social researcher.
I was honored to be the chair of the society in my final year of college, a responsibility which required me to liaise closely with community organisations, develop the programme of projects for the year, and organize its implementation.
How Did College Help You?
This is a wide question, but don’t let it throw you.
The interviewers are handing you an opportunity to highlight a few of the technical or transferable skills you honed during your time at college.
This question is what you make it, so refer back to the sector and job role through your answer.
During my time at college, I gained strong critical-thinking skills through analyzing and interrogating literary texts.
I became more confident in my ability to structure a line of argument and rapidly reach well-evidenced convictions which, in turn, enhanced my presentation of findings to my peers.
I believe that three years of perfecting how to use the nuanced detail of a text to build an evidenced stance regarding narrative interpretation has given me the transferrable skills I need to transition into law and excel as a trainee on your graduate scheme.
If you’re a recent college graduate applying for a job role, expect to be asked questions that relate to your chosen college, degree subject and overall experience during the interview process.
Some of these questions may initially seem unrelated to the job at hand, but their intention is to illuminate your strengths, skills and character.
Questions on college provide opportunities to convey your motivation for your subject area, communicate dedication to your chosen career and highlight your competencies.
Reflect carefully upon your college experience before your interview, linking different aspects of your studies and social activities to the skills needed to excel in the job role.
With preparation, you’ll be able to use any questions about college to evidence your enthusiasm and potential to excel in a career in your chosen sector.