Does your personality shine in one-on-one settings? Are there things about yourself and your life experience that are easier to communicate in conversation than on paper? If so, a college interview could boost your application! Interviews are usually not required in the admissions process, but if done effectively, they can have a significant impact on your application. Nail your interview with our strategies!
NOTE: Because of COVID-19, most colleges are offering only virtual interviews. Check each college’s website for the most up-to-date policies.
But first, let’s break down the different varieties of college interviews out there:
Traditionally, there are two types of interviews: evaluative and informational. Evaluative interviews are weighed by admissions officers (alongside test scores, grades, etc.) when they evaluate your application. Informational interviews are to learn about the college and demonstrate your interest.
Interviews are either required, recommended, optional, or not offered. You should make the effort to interview if the option is available. Check if your colleges have preferences for applicants scheduling interviews before or after submitting applications. For face-to-face interviews (either in-person or online), some selective colleges require that you request or register for an interview. Others will contact you about an interview after you’ve submitted your application. Check your email regularly after you submit your application; keep in mind you may be contacted through an alumni interviewer’s personal email.
Interviews are based on location and availability. If you make every effort to get a recommended or optional interview, but the college is not able to accommodate you, it shouldn’t hurt your chance of admission.
Interviews can be offered on-campus, off-campus, and online. On-campus interviews require you to visit the college itself. Off-campus interviews are offered around the world, usually pairing alumni with prospective students who live in the same region. Online interviews take place over platforms such as Skype and Zoom.
Possible interviewers include alumni, admissions officers, regional admissions representatives, and current students. If possible, find out what category of interviewer you’ll be meeting with. You should tailor your questions to your interviewer. For example, you would ask an alum about their personal academic experience at the college, while you would ask an admissions officer about the variety of research opportunities.
International students should check colleges’ specific policies regarding international applicants. Many colleges use third party services, such as InitialView and Vericant. If you need more information, email the admissions office or their international admissions representative. For even more advice, check out our lesson for international students in our College Admissions Guide!
How to Prepare:
Now that you know all there is to know about college interviews, how do you prepare for them? Follow our strategies below to nail your interview!
- Do Your Research: To demonstrate your preparedness and commitment to the college, conduct thorough research beforehand. You should research programs (majors/minors), classes, student organizations, study abroad opportunities, and school traditions.
- Be Ready to Answer Questions: Fear of the unknown is usually what sparks interview anxiety. Being prepared for a variety of questions will allow the conversation to flow freely and give you confidence in your answers. Questions range from those about the specific college to those about your character and educational background. We have a comprehensive list of questions you may be asked in our College Admissions Guide! Two questions you will almost definitely be asked are:
- Tell me about yourself. One of the toughest “questions” to answer isn’t even a question. Often interviewers will begin with “Tell me about yourself.” Prepare several points to touch on that invite further discussion. Use this open-ended prompt as an opportunity to show you are a well-rounded candidate.
- Why do you want to go to [college]? Your answer should be highly specific to the college for which you’re interviewing. Your answers shouldn’t be able to be recycled verbatim for another college.
- Ask Questions: Interviewers want you to be proactive. Ask questions to learn more about the college and your interviewer’s own experiences at the college, particularly if they are an alum. Formulate questions that demonstrate your prior research. While the interviewer wishes to get a sense of your personality, lean towards academic and community participation questions and responses. Do not ask questions about parties or any topics that may pigeonhole you as someone who prioritizes your social life over academics. We have a comprehensive list of questions can ask in our College Admissions Guide, but here are some examples of questions you can ask based on the type of interviewer:
- Questions to Ask an Alumni Interviewer
- How did attending [college] influence where you are today?
- Why did you choose to attend [college] over any others you got into?
- What was your favorite professor/class? Why?
- Questions to Ask an Admissions Officer
- Can you tell me more about [specific student organizations]?
- What kind of jobs are available to students on campus?
- Who is an alum whose life and work you think represents what [college] is all about?
- Questions to Ask an Alumni Interviewer
- Practice, practice, practice: Find a friend, relative, or counselor who can play the part of the interviewer and help you practice. Give them the questions listed above. This will help you work on formulating answers and give you the chance to speak about yourself to someone else. Your partner can provide feedback to improve your performance and help you refine your talking points. If possible, replicate the interview environment. If it will be online, practice online; if you set up an interview in a coffee shop, practice in one!
- The Day of the Interview: In any interview situation, you should present yourself professionally both in appearance and demeanor.
- Wear clean, unwrinkled, untorn clothing; you don’t need to dress up, but look put together.
- Leave plenty of time for unexpected hurdles — traffic, parking, train delays, getting lost, etc.
- Turn off your cell phone once the interview starts.
- Make eye contact, speak clearly, and avoid filler words such as “um” and “like”.
- Stay calm and avoid nervous habits such as nail-biting and hair twirling.
- Do not bring notes to the interview; let the conversation flow naturally. However, you can bring any supporting materials — research reports, your most recent resume, art portfolios, pictures from a community service project — and if the topic naturally arises, offer to share.
- Follow up: We cannot stress enough the importance of sending the interviewer a thank you note, regardless of how you felt the interview went. If you don’t already have the interviewer’s contact information, ask for a business card at the end of the interview so you can follow up that night or the day after. If the interview is online, ask for an email address. Keep the note short and sincere. We have a sample thank you note in our College Admissions Guide!
For more information on what colleges offer interviews, questions you should ask, questions you may be asked, third-party interviews, online interviews, selective college interview policies, and more, go to theclassroomdoor.com and check out our College Admissions Guide!