Columbia Interview Questions: What to Expect

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Columbia University library in New York City, USA.

Note: Starting with the 2023-24 application season, Columbia University is no longer offering alumni admissions interviews

For students who dream of attending an Ivy League university in a big city, Columbia University is often their top choice school. The college is renowned for its academic rigor and its core curriculum, which is the cornerstone of a Columbia education. Given these factors, it’s no surprise that gaining admission is exceptionally competitive.

Students need to do well in every component of the application process in order to stand out, and that includes the interview. Keep reading to learn more about Columbia interview questions, so you can be prepared to stand out and ace your interview.

What Is a Columbia Admissions Interview Like?

The first step to excelling during the Columbia University interview is understanding exactly what goes into the process and what makes it unique. You should know that you will be speaking with a regional alumnus and not a member of the admissions office. Interviews are meant to be more informational than evaluative, so they tend to have a relaxed tone. You will typically be assigned to an alumnus who lives in your area, so this is a great opportunity to see what a Columbia graduate looks like within your community. As interviews are not a required part of the application process, students who do not interview will not be at a disadvantage, according to Columbia’s website.

Instead, interviewing at Columbia is an opportunity to learn more about the college experience from someone who has been there firsthand. Students can get their pressing questions answered, demonstrate their interest in attending the college, and hone their interview skills by participating in this component of the application process.

Who Will Interview You at Columbia University?

While interview processes vary between colleges, at Columbia University, undergraduate interviews are always with volunteer members of Columbia’s Alumni Representative Committee. Interviewers have attended the college themselves, so they will be able to tell students more about campus life and coursework, based on their own personal experiences. The interviews are only conducted virtually, through platforms like Webex, Zoom, and Skype. If applicants are concerned about accessing reliable Wi-Fi for a video call, they may request a phone interview instead with no penalty.

How Long Will the Columbia Interview Last?

There’s no specific minimum or maximum amount of time for your interview with Columbia University. The length of your conversation will vary depending on the interviewer you get matched with, the direction your conversation goes in, and the number of questions you have. Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better when it comes to interviews; what matters most is that you convey your passion for attending the college and articulate the impact you wish to have. Students should note that interviews will not take place during school hours, typically between 7:30 am-3 pm local time.

How Can You Prepare for Your Interview at Columbia University?

The best way to stand out while answering Columbia interview questions is to demonstrate that you’ve done your research and have prepared some questions in advance. Start by reviewing some of the most commonly asked questions during college admissions interviews, so you have an idea of what you might be asked. Take some notes on each question to start thinking about the best way to approach your response. Ideally, your answers should be succinct, backed by examples when necessary, and directly relevant to what is being asked.

Once you have an idea of the questions and responses, start practicing your answers out loud. Make sure to speak loudly and clearly, and avoid rushing through any key points, which is something many students have a tendency to do when they’re nervous. Ask a friend or parent to practice interviewing you, so that you can get more familiar with what the process might feel like. And while preparation is critical, make sure that you remember that you are having a conversation, so it should feel organic and not over-rehearsed. Finally, don’t forget to brainstorm a list of questions that you can ask your interviewer, which will help you convey your interest in attending Columbia.

Sample Columbia Interview Questions

When it comes to preparing for your interview at Columbia University, you need to have a firm idea of what kinds of questions might be asked. Practice answering traditional interview questions, behavioral interview questions, and MBA questions if you’re planning on applying to Columbia for business school.

Some examples of each include:

Traditional Interview Questions

Traditional interview questions focus on general information that you can answer directly. Some will be based on your application materials, so know your resume thoroughly in order to answer effectively. Use examples to illustrate your points and give the interviewer a sense of who you are as a person and potential student. Common interview questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you decide to go to Columbia?
  • Why did you major in _____________?
  • Tell me about your job at ___________?
  • What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
  • What are your long-term and short-term goals?
  • How do you plan to achieve your goals?
  • What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
  • Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?
  • What qualifications do you have that will make you successful in your chosen career?
  • What three adjectives best describe you? Why?
  • Why should we accept you over other students?
  • What do you think it takes to be successful in an organization like ours?
  • What have you learned from your mistakes?
  • Do you think your grades are a good indication of your academic achievements?
  • How would you describe the ideal job for you following graduation?
  • What criteria are you using to evaluate the company for which you hope to work?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • What other schools are you applying to?
  • How do you plan to contribute to our campus?
  • What do you find interesting about Columbia’s teaching model?

Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral interview questions are questions based on how you acted in a specific situation. They’re meant to gauge how you react to stress and how you conduct yourself in an academic environment. They also allow the interviewer to get a much better understanding of you as a candidate.

  • Describe a time you faced a difficult situation, how you resolved it, and what you learned about yourself in the process.
  • Tell me about a time that you worked under deadline pressure.
  • Describe an accomplishment that has given you satisfaction.
  • Describe a situation in which you found yourself challenged. How did you handle it?
  • Describe a situation where you had a conflict with someone in an academic or professional situation. How did you resolve it?
  • Tell me about a project that you persevered through after wanting to initially abandon it.
  • What kind of leader are you?
  • How will you act if a member of your study team at Columbia is difficult?
  • Interview Questions for Columbia Business School
  • Walk me through your resume
  • Tell me about a time that you made a major mistake. How did you handle it?
  • Have you ever been in a leadership role? Can you tell me about a time you were a leader?
  • Can you tell me about a time that you contributed to a team?
  • How would you describe your interpersonal skills and communication style?
  • Tell me about a technology trend and how it will affect your business?

How to Answer the Most Difficult Columbia Interview Questions

While every Columbia interview question can feel challenging, there is a handful that are notoriously difficult to answer. These questions include:

  • What three adjectives best describe you? Why?

Students often struggle to answer this question because they feel like they’re being put on the spot. It can be hard to boil down all of your personality traits and define characteristics into just three words. Instead of worrying about capturing everything about yourself, strive to pick three words that will each reveal something different about who you are. For example “Ambitious. Eccentric. Analytical” might be a good choice, since each of these words conveys something specific about who you are and the role that you might play in an academic setting.

  • Describe an accomplishment that gave you satisfaction.

While it might sound easy, many students have a hard time owning their achievements, which is what makes this Columbia interview question so challenging. Before your interview, read through your resume so that you can remind yourself of everything you’ve achieved. Whatever you choose to highlight, make sure to focus on why such a milestone was meaningful. For example, if you’re delighted that you made the varsity volleyball team as a freshman, explain how hard you worked and how thrilling it was to see your efforts pay off.

  • Tell me about a project that you persevered through after wanting to initially abandon it.

Much like the questions above, this Columbia interview question requires students to think quickly and tell a compelling story. Make sure to choose a project that will allow you to tell a story of how you grew, either academically or personally. For example, if you almost failed a science lab and then repeated it to get exemplary results, walk your interviewer through that process and explain what you learned from it and how you will use these lessons in the future.

What Is Columbia’s Most Underrated Interview Question and How to Answer It?

Although all of the questions above can be challenging, the single query that tends to stump students most is “Do you have any questions for me?”. To ace this final Columbia interview question, you need to do some preparation and make sure you have a list of queries ready to field to your interviewer. Ideally, you can tailor these questions to the person you’re speaking with and their background. Rather than focusing on asking as many questions as possible, strive to ask quality questions that demonstrate your interest and enable you to learn more about the school.

Need Help to Prepare for Your Interview at Columbia University?

Practicing answers to Columbia interview questions is an important step in your test preparation process, but it’s far from the only action you need to take. If you want to learn more about the strategies that will help you stand out during the college admissions process, our team of admissions counselors can provide personalized guidance.


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