Are you a teenager preparing to interview at a US high school? Is English not your native language? Will this be your first time going to school and living in America?
Interviews are never fun, but they can be harder if you're not used to American culture and don't speak perfect English.
Here are some tips for your interview and a list of commonly asked questions.
Your interview will be on Skype
If you're an international student, your interview will probably be on Skype (unless you can visit the campus). If you're not familiar with Skype, install it on your laptop (not your phone — the screen will look too small and be unstable) and practice calling a friend so you get used to it.
I know you might prefer other programs for video chat, but US schools commonly use Skype.
Dress up for your interview
You should wear a dress shirt or a nice blouse for your interview even though it will be over the computer.
Monitor your body language during the interview
Use facial expressions
Smile — but not too much
Look interested when the interviewer is talking, not bored
- Laugh if they say something funny
Is this advice too obvious? Maybe, but some people get nervous during interviews and they forget to make facial expressions.
Sit up straight
Don't fidget with your hands or move around
Make eye contact
In some countries, such as Japan, it is considered rude to make constant eye contact. In the United States, however, the right amount of eye contact shows good manners and makes candidates appear likable.
Look your interviewer in the eye; don't look at the wall or table. To do this on your monitor, look into the camera, not at the picture on the screen.
- Keep your eyes steady; don't move your eyes back and forth
Commonly asked questions at US high school admission interviews
The questions asked to American and international students are basically the same, with a few exceptions.
International students will probably be asked about their country and whether their English is good enough to do well in a US school. Since they'll be living away from home, they might be asked about whether they'll miss their family or if they've lived away from them before.
A typical interview will last about 30 minutes. It will probably start with some small talk, and then they'll ask you some questions about you and your life.
I've divided the questions by topics and added some tips on how to answer them.
Questions about the school
To answer these questions well, you need to know the school’s culture, mission, and values. What does it emphasize on its website?
Did you take a tour of our school?
If you're an international student, the answer is probably no. That's okay.
Why do you want to study in an American school?
You can talk about the educational system in the US (something you like about it), the country (what you like about it), or English (how you want to improve yours).
It's perfectly fine to say that you want to study here because you want to get into a US college so you can get a better job, but don't talk about money.
Also, don't tell them if you are coming to America because you failed your college entrance exam. They will be able to guess this by looking at your grades, but don't mention it. If this happened to you, talk about other reasons for coming to the US.
What are you looking for in a school?
Why did you choose our school?
What are the key characteristics you are seeking in a school?
What are the most important aspects of a school for you?
What are your greatest hopes about attending our school?
What do you hope to gain from this school?
These are all similar questions. The interviewer wants you to show them that you know about their school. Make sure you've read the school marketing materials, so you can target your answer to that school.
Use specific examples of things that are true for that school. This is easy to do if you've read their materials.
Don't use the same answer for all schools you are applying to. It will sound too general.
Don't say something like, "I'm looking for a school that will challenge me" because this answer says nothing specific about that school. A better answer would be "I need a school that has harder math classes because right now my classes are too easy. I know that this school has AP math classes, including AP Calc, and they take their Math Team very seriously. I want to be a part of that because I know it will challenge me and make me learn."
What do you see yourself involved in, if you come here?
In what ways could you contribute to our school?
Do you have a passion for something the school offers?
These three questions are asking you about your interests. Tell them what kind of clubs you want to join or about your academic strength and how you will use that.
Again, no general answers. You must research their school and know what clubs they have or what kind of teams.
Tell me about your current school. Do you like it?
What does your current school do well?
How do you hope your new school will be different from your current school?
If there were one thing you could change about your current school, what would it be?
Don't be too negative. It may be that your school is truly terrible, but if you say negative things it can make you look negative too.
Questions about your international experience
Have you been outside your country before?
Have you been to the US before?
What do you think of US culture?
Explain where you've travelled before. If you've never been to the US, talk about where you have been.
Don't say anything negative about US culture.
What do you think of Boise? (or wherever the school is located)
If you've never been there before, you should've researched it enough to talk about it. Is it a small town? Say you love small towns. Does it have a lot of outdoor activities? Say you love these. Be specific to show you know about the area.
It's okay if you've never been to the area, but you need to show you care enough to research it.
Do you think your English is good enough to do well at our school?
Say "yes." They have seen your TOEFL score and are talking to you, so know exactly how good your English is. If you answer "no," they will think you don't have enough confidence to do well.
A good answer is "Yes, I think my English is good enough. It's not perfect, but I'm taking English now and will continue to do so, and I'm sure I will improve quickly once I live in America."
The “Tell me about yourself” questions
One of these is usually the first question you will be asked once the interview starts (after some small talk).
This isn't asking you to describe your personality, it's asking for details about your education and academic strengths.
Keep your answer short — under 1 minute.
Tell me about yourself.
Tell me about your interests.
Start with where you're from. If it's a town that no one has heard of, tell them where it is. Then talk about your education, your academic strengths, and your extracurricular activities. End with saying that you want to go to school here because (whatever the reason is.)
Don't talk about your family.
Questions about your personality
They are trying to find out more about you by asking these questions.
This means tell me about your personality.
How would your teachers describe you?
How would your friends describe you?
What do you think is your strength?
What do you think is your weakness?
What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
Try to give a positive answer. If you're not a nice person, don't tell us that. Think of something nice to say about yourself. You can talk about a subject you aren't good at for your weakness, since they will see that in your grades.
Questions about academics
Describe the courses you’re taking.
What is your favorite subject?
What academic classes are your favorite?
What is the subject that gives you difficulty?
You can be honest about this. They will know by looking at your grades.
Have you ever gotten a grade you do not think you deserved, and what did you do?
Be careful with this one. Don't say anything negative about your teachers.
How do you operate as a student?
Talk about what you do to prepare for class and how you study for tests.
How much time do you spend doing your homework? How organized are you and what types of methods do you use to keep yourself organized?
Questions about your teachers
Describe a favorite teacher: what admirable quality does this person have?
What elements make a great teacher for you?
Questions about your extracurriculars
In American schools, most students join activities after classes are over. These can be sports, academic clubs, or other types of clubs. Each school will have a different mix of them, and you should look at the website to see what your school offers.
Tell us what you do outside of school.
What do you like to do in your free time?
In what extracurricular activities are you involved?
What kind of clubs have you joined? Did you enjoy them? Why?
What leadership roles or opportunities have you experienced?
Leadership experience is also important to American schools. Have you been president of a club or the captain of a team or been in charge of a project?
Do you play sports?
Do you like to read outside of school? What do you like to read? What is your favorite book?
If you don't read, you should prepare for this question by reading a few popular books and thinking of a few sentences about each that you could use to have a conversation on this topic.
Do you spend a lot of time on a computer? Doing what?
It's okay to say you use a computer for school work but don't say you spend all day playing video games or using social media.
Questions about your family
Interviews with younger students, like those applying to high school, may ask about family. It's considered rude to ask adults about their families in interviews (and in fact is illegal) but it's common with students.
Don't feel like you need to give private details about your family, and you shouldn't talk about how much money your parents make, but you should be able to give them the basics.
Tell me about your family.
Describe what sorts of things you do as a family.
How is your family supporting you through this transition to an American high school?
What do your parents do?
Do you have any siblings?
Will you miss your family if you’re at school?
Do you have any relatives in America?
Are you planning to live with a host family?
You can be honest in these answers, but try not to say anything negative about your family.
Questions about your friends
Tell me about one of your friends.
Which of your friends do you most admire and why?
Who is your best friend? Why do you like him or her?
Has your friend group changed since you started high school? Why? How?
Questions about random topics
This category can include questions on any topic that will tell the interviewer about you.
What has happened recently in current events that interests you?
What did you do last summer?
If you were president of your class, what would you change?
Also, sometimes they will ask about new movies or books that are popular with your age group.
What are you most proud of?
Did you ever have trouble talking to a teacher or a coach? What did you do?
What would you do if you did not make a team you really wanted to play for?
Who is your hero?
Here is a good answer from one of my students:
"My hero is Kobe Bryant, the best basketball player I have ever seen. He practiced basketball at 3 am even when he had already become a famous star. I admire his hard work and dedication."
Sometimes they'll ask questions to see how fast you can think and how creative you are.
What is your favorite color?
If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
There is no right answer, but don't look confused or upset if you get a question you haven't prepared fo. Just think of an answer quickly and say it.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
What do you plan to study in college?
Give an answer that shows you have thought about your future and are planning to stay in school at least long enough to finish college.
Time for you to ask them questions
At the end of your interview, they'll ask you if you have any questions for them. Don't say no. If you do, it will seem like you're not interested in the school.
Ask at least one or two. Ask three if you haven't asked any earlier in the interview.
Don't ask things that are explained on the website because it will seem like you haven't done your research.
Time to say goodbye
After you ask your questions, say thank you and tell them you really want to go to their school.
I hope this post helps you interview at an American high school. If you need help preparing for your interview, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.
Interview Genie is an interview prep company that specializes in coaching non-native English speakers. We'll work together on answers to questions you'll be asked in your interview. From communicating with your interviewer before the interview to greeting your interviewer and using the right body language in your interview, I'm focused on your interview success every step of the way.