How to Describe Your Most Rewarding College Experience

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When you're applying for an entry-level position, an internship, or a college job, expect the typical job interview question: "Describe your most rewarding college experience."

What the Interviewer Wants to Know

You're being asked to do so for a good reason. Your interviewer wants to know what activities you participated in and why, including those outside the classroom. What did you learn from them? Why are those memories still valuable to you today?

You want to be honest, but you also want to focus on an experience that demonstrates a skill or quality that the employer is looking for in a candidate.

Preparing an articulate and honest answer could put you ahead of other applicants.

Focus on the Values of the Company

Look back at the job listing. Identify some of the key skills or qualities mentioned there and think about college experiences that helped you develop those skills.

You can also look at the “About Us” section on the company’s website to get a sense of their mission and values. Think about college experiences that helped you develop any of these key qualities.

Explain Why the Experience Was Rewarding

Don’t simply recount your experience. Explain why you found it so valuable in a sentence or two. Again, try to connect what you got out of the experience to the values or qualities the company appears to be looking for in a candidate.

Be Honest and Sincere

You want to connect your college experience to the job, but you also want to sound sincere. Don’t make up an experience or say that you loved an activity or event that you actually hated. Employers can tell when you're simply telling them what you think they want to hear.

Review Sample Answers

Start preparing your answer by finding a sample interview answer that will inspire your own reply based on your personal experiences and background. Some suggestions:

Volunteering as a writing tutor: 

I volunteered to be a tutor at my college's writing center during my senior year. We offered free help to all students in every facet of writing. It was such a rewarding experience to see students who came to us stressed, anxious, or out of ideas leaving the center feeling relieved and, even better, more confident in themselves as writers.

Pre-orientation "outward bound" program: 

My most personally rewarding college experience occurred even before I arrived on campus as a freshman. The college offered an "outward bound" program for first-year students two weeks prior to orientation day. During those two weeks, I overcame fears, made lifelong friends, and gained the self-confidence I needed to start my college journey. I even served as a leader in the program the next year. I valued the chance to encourage other first-year students to challenge themselves.

Being academically challenged every day: 

Getting my diploma was my most rewarding college experience. I chose my college because it was a school that was going to give me a great education. I was challenged every day by my courses, and I worked very hard to earn my degree. I dedicated myself to my studies for those four years, working hard in class and seeking out help whenever I needed it. I have never felt as proud as I did at my college graduation.

Stepping outside your comfort zone and exploring the world: 

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the fall semester of my junior year studying abroad in Paris. As someone who has always wanted to see more of the world but who also struggled with foreign languages, not only surviving but thriving in another country and language for four months showed me that I'm capable of more than I had ever dreamed and that I can rise to challenges. I now make a point of stretching beyond my comfort zone on a regular basis, which has led to many more incredible experiences.

Joining a sports team: 

As someone who was not very athletic in high school, I didn't expect to be part of a sports team in college. But my freshman year roommate encouraged me to join him at trials for the badminton team, and to my surprise, I made it. Being a part of a sports team for the first time not only taught me to value my physical health and well-being, prioritizing sleep and my diet, but it also reinforced everything I knew about teamwork and the importance of each person in the group.

Key Takeaways

Align Your Answer With the Company’s Goals and Mission Review the job listing and the company’s website to determine their values and compose your story accordingly.

Be Truthful and Genuine Hiring managers will be able to tell if you’re dishonest in your reply.

Tell a Story How did your experience change you for the better? Convey that to the interviewer and you’ll make a good impression.