Top Tips to Nail Your College Interview

Along with your essays and letters of recommendation, the college interview offers admissions committees a helpful personal perspective on you as an applicant and potential member of their college community. Through interviews, admissions officers are hoping to learn more about you and how you would enhance or enrich their college community. Interviewers want to know who you are, beyond scores and statistics. They’ll ask questions and be listening for clues as to your level of excitement about learning, willingness to take intellectual risks, your sense of humor, your values, your aspirations, and what motivates you.

Most top schools offer interview opportunities – usually with an alum or an admissions representative – and most interviews have an evaluative, as well as informative, bent. You will typically be contacted for an interview once you’ve formally applied for admission. You do not need to request an interview. Applicants for early programs will usually be interviewed from late October through early December. Regular decision interviews usually run from early January through late February.

THE COLLEGE INTERVIEW: WHERE ‘RECOMMENDED’ MEANS ‘REQUIRED’

Interviews are typically “recommended” versus “required.” If you live in an area where there are no alumni interviewers, your application won’t be negatively impacted by the lack of an interview. These days, however, there are options to do interviews over SKYPE, etc., so your interview may not have to be in person. Make no mistake about it, turning down an interview opportunity does make admissions committees wonder about your level of enthusiasm for and interest in the school.

Although admissions interviews for larger colleges and universities are primarily the responsibility of alumni volunteers, smaller schools still offer applicants (and prospective students) an interview on campus. Typically conducted by admissions officers or senior student interns, the interviews basically serve two purposes: you get to know the school and the school gets to know you. “Fit” is an important consideration in the admissions deliberation, particularly at smaller schools, and the interview is key to assessing it. Don’t forget – a campus interview is also a great way to show that you’re a serious applicant.

A great admissions interview can make your application rise above the rest, so read on to learn how to put your best foot forward!

TOP TIPS FOR YOUR COLLEGE INTERVIEW

college interview brand

FIRST IMPRESSIONS MATTER

First impressions do matter! Make sure to dress appropriately for the interview and its location. A coffee shop on a Saturday afternoon will have a different vibe than a downtown law office on a Tuesday afternoon. You don’t need a three-piece suit but you shouldn’t show up in sweats either.

Little things make a difference. Allow time to find the location (and find parking) so that you can be on time. When you meet your interviewer, look him or her in the eye as you shake hands and introduce yourself. Be sure to silence your phone (and put it away) and don’t chew gum. Maintain eye contact during the interview and limit fidgeting (another reason to put your phone away). Be careful about too many “likes” and “ums” in your answers as well.

THIS IS NOT A TEST

The best interviews are wonderful conversations. Yes, you’ll be asked questions but this is the time to share your thoughts and opinions. There really are no wrong answers (but careful about incomplete or rambling ones). Listen to the interviewer’s question and answer it. A good interviewer will take your question and perhaps ask you a follow up question, going deeper to get to the “why”, not just the “what.” Don’t rehash your resume but don’t be shy about talking about your academic and extracurricular interests and passions.

Great conversations are two-way streets, so the interview is also a wonderful way for you to meet an interesting and engaged graduate of the school you hope to attend. Come prepared with specific questions for your interviewer – and not ones that are easily answered from reading the view book or searching the website. Ask about highlights from your interviewer’s undergraduate experience, her favorite courses and favorite professors, or how it prepared him for what he’s doing now.

Remember, people love to talk about themselves, so ask your interviewer about his/her experience at College X. What did he/she major in, favorite place to study, etc.

College Interview FAQ

PREPARE FOR COMMON COLLEGE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

You can expect that the interview will include a range of questions designed to get to know you. To prepare for your interview, think about how you’d answer questions like ones that UPenn suggests their interviewers ask:

  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “What is important to you?”
  • “What are your current academic and/or extracurricular interests?”
    “What led you to apply to Penn?”
  • “What classes, programs, and activities are exciting to you on Penn’s campus?”
  • “What plans do you have for your future?”

As you can see, each of these questions is open-ended but does require a focused, well-thought out response. “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” isn’t really a helpful answer to these kinds of questions. Remember, the interviewer is hoping to learn interesting things about you and convey them to the admissions committee as reasons to admit you. Don’t be shy about highlighting those things about which you are most proud.

Make sure you’ve done your homework on the college before your interview. You want to be able to connect your academic passions and extracurricular interests to distinctive features of the college and convey that you are a great fit for the school. You want your interviewer to imagine you as a great roommate, lab partner, teammate, etc.

Read the college newspaper online, note the cover stories and explore more deeply as it’s a great conversation starter.

Don’t be afraid to rehearse for your interview. Ask a friend or parent to be your interviewer and practice your responses. You don’t want to recite from a memorized script but do want to be prepared to offer thoughtful and concise responses.

“Interviews are like color commentary on your admissions application. It’s so helpful to the Admissions Committee to have a fresh perspective on your candidacy from someone who knows our school well and can clearly see how you’d make an impact on our campus. I also love that interviewers ask the question that was always on my mind as I read files — ‘tell me more’!” –Ivy League Admissions Officer

TO GOOGLE OR NOT TO GOOGLE

Do a little research on your alumni interviewer through sites like LinkedIn to get a sense of your interviewer’s major, post-college education and employment experience. Although you’re not the interviewer, knowing a bit about the alum you’ll be meeting can help you focus your questions. Did she major in a department you’re interested in? Is he working a field that interests you? These can make for great segues into your questions!

FINAL TIP

After the interview ends, thank your interviewer (another firm handshake). Remember to send a thank you note – email is fine but a hand-written note is a thoughtful touch (if you have a mailing address).

Good luck and enjoy the conversation!

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