How To Answer “Describe Your Most Rewarding College Experience”

Chris Kolmar
By Chris Kolmar
- Jan. 20, 2021
Articles In Guide

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Most students find themselves scrambling post-graduation to find an entry-level position or internship that puts them on the proper career path.

During interviews for these types of positions, knowing that these candidates have less formal professional experience, the interviewer often asks them to describe their most rewarding college experience.

What the Interviewer Wants to Know by Asking This Question

There’s a motive behind every question in an interview.

The purpose of asking an applicant to describe their most rewarding college experience is to assess the ventures they undertook while studying and how the skills learned during this time can be applied to the position they’re hiring for. It’s often a tactic used when hiring for an entry-level role, internship, or part-time job.

When a candidate discusses the experiences in college that they consider the most rewarding, it illuminates a lot about the person they are. Their answer demonstrates what they think constitutes value and reward. It also provides information on what areas they have educational experience in.

Tips for Answering “Describe Your Most Rewarding College Experience”

  1. Learn more about the company. Although asking about your most rewarding college experience is about your history, the interviewer intends on applying this information to how successful you might be in the position they’re hiring for.

    Since the goal is to highlight your values and experience that fits their expectations, do prior research on the company you’re interviewing with. Information about a business’ mission statement and values is usually found on their website.

    While it’s never recommended to stretch the truth to conform with a potential employer’s requirements, be strategic in the college experience you choose to discuss further. Pick an experience that makes you look like the most qualified applicant possible.

  2. Describe experiences that are relevant to the job opportunity. Only bring up a college experience that’s relevant to the job opportunity you’re interviewing for.

    While there were probably a lot of notable experiences that took place during the four years you were studying, not every one of them is valuable to speak about in an interview.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean that the experience has to be an accomplishment related to your major, but it should display qualities that are helpful for the role.

    For example, describing the most rewarding experience of your time in college as participating in Greek life because it awarded the opportunity to interact with many different kinds of people could be relevant to a position that requires a lot of teamwork.

  3. Research how to succeed in an interview. Doing prior research on how to perform well in an interview is helpful whether you’re describing the most rewarding experience of your college career or answering any other question. It gives you valuable information to work with and enhances performance despite experience level.

    Topics to research about interview success include:

Example Answers to “Describe Your Most Rewarding College Experience”

Example 1. Foreign exchange program.

“The most rewarding experience that I had in college was being a member of the foreign exchange program. When I was in my junior year of college, I studied in Rome, Italy for a semester.

I consider it the most rewarding experience of my four years in university because, in addition to continuing work towards my major, I gained valuable knowledge from living in Rome.

I built connections that I never would’ve without participating in the program, learned how to conversationally speak Italian, and gained experience in how to travel abroad alone.

I think these skills that I gained in the foreign exchange program will drive my success in this role as an entry-level public relations specialist because the role requires working with different kinds of people.”

Why it works. A foreign exchange program demonstrates a candidate who is willing to get out of their comfort zone to gain more experience.

The applicant presented their answer well because they describe the particular skills that they gained from doing a semester abroad in Italy. Additionally, they finalize their response by stating how this experience would make them a more competent employee if hired.

Example 2. Being academically challenged.

“College presented more of an academic challenge than anything that preceded it. I had always done well in my high school studies, and I went into college expecting a similar experience. I was surprised to find how much studying engineering at university pushed me to my limit.

I believe that the academic challenge that college presented me with as a whole was the most rewarding experience I had there.

It showed me how extensive my academic and professional capabilities are if I put forth all of my efforts. It taught me to bring a mentality of stepping up to difficult challenges, and I think this will benefit me in my future career goals.”

Why it works. Expressing your most rewarding experience in college as the academic challenge it presented can be a strong way to answer the interviewer’s question, as long as you have the grades to back it up.

It makes them out to be a realistic candidate. The response shows that the applicant has the potential to tackle a challenging situation at work and have a successful outcome.

Example 3. Participating in clubs and organizations.

“I had a lot of experiences during college that were fulfilling, but the one which impacted me the most was participating in the Environmental Protection Club.

I joined the club when I was in my second year of college, and by my senior year, I had become the president of the organization.

We worked on various small projects and a large one throughout each school year. In my year as president, I organized a concert with popular local music artists where all the proceeds went to environmental charities that the student body voted on.

I also coordinated an “environmental education” course with my university to teach the students how little changes in their lives make a big difference in the grand scheme of things.

It was the most rewarding experience I had in college because it showed me how my actions have a powerful effect on the world around me and inspired me to pursue a career involved in environmental law.”

Why it works. This is a strong answer when being asked to describe a rewarding experience in college because it outlines the applicant’s participation throughout the years.

They detail how they eventually attained a leadership position in the club, which would also be looked on favorably by an interviewer because it demonstrates initiative. Finally, they explain their management style by stating how they used their role to affect change.

Example 4. An internship.

“My most rewarding college experience actually took place outside of the classroom, during a spring internship with a local marketing company called Global Marketing Team.

When I learned that I’d been accepted to the internship opening, I was thrilled to gain real-world experience and build up my career in marketing. However, I had no idea how valuable it would truly be.

In my time working with the Global Marketing Team, I participated in campaigns for large-scale clients as any other marketer would. One of the projects that I worked on during my internship improved the client’s viewership on advertisements by 11%.

I contributed ideas as a part of the team and mastered how to do the administrative work associated with a marketing role.

This spring internship position was the most rewarding experience I had in college because it gave me useful training to succeed under pressure in an entry-level marketing position.”

Why it works. This is an example of a good answer because they give a lot of information about the previous internship role and what was involved. They provide a detailed account of the internship and why it was important to their career development.

Additionally, they included relevant statistics to the project they worked on, making their response even more powerful.

Example 5. An honors program.

“The most rewarding experience during college for me was earning a spot in the honors program at my school. Students were required to have a 3.5 GPA and two professor recommendations to be admitted.

My university’s honors program provided opportunities to work with other high-achieving students in small teams to broaden our horizons through professional projects.

As a member of the honors program, I was required to participate in these group projects with other members to improve our employable skills, such as collaboration and creativity.

It was one of the most valuable experiences of my college career because it allowed me to network with others and build my teamwork skills. I think the experience of being in the honors program gave me qualities that will make me a strong employee and team member in the future.”

Why it works. This applicant describes their time participating in an honor’s program as their most rewarding experience in college. This works for a couple of reasons. It demonstrates that they were a student who excelled academically, which looks good to an interviewer hiring for an entry-level position.

The candidate also recounted the valuable teamwork skills that they learned through project participation in the honors program. This shows the interviewer that they are prepared to work as a functional member of a team – another attractive quality for an applicant to have.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Once you’ve been asked to describe your most rewarding college experience, the interviewer will follow up with more questions to evaluate your potential as an employee. Below are some popular follow-up questions that might be asked during an entry-level or internship interview:

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.
Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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