How to Ace Your College Interview

January 19, 2023
College Admissions

The Basics

College interviews offer an important and exciting opportunity for you to represent yourself in person and showcase your strengths and personality to a college representative in ways you cannot in your applications. They also allow you to learn more about the college and its programs.

Most colleges don't require an interview and the interview is rarely the deciding factor in the admissions process; however, the benefits to meeting face-to-face (in person or via a video call) with an admissions officer or an alumni admissions representative are many. It provides you the chance to:

  • Convey more nuanced aspects of yourself
  • Explain a hitch in your transcript
  • Discuss special circumstances that affected your studies
  • Learn more about specific programs or whatever else interests you
  • Gain better insight into what being a student at that particular college would be like

In turn, the interviewer will be looking to do the following:

  • Gain a clear understanding of how you will contribute to academic and social life
  • Hear from you about your experiences and interests in both your personal and academic life
  • Get a sense of your achievements, your interpersonal and communication skills, and why you are interested in their school
  • Answer the specific questions you have about the school that show you have a deep understanding of its unique features and culture

Some colleges will expect you to request an interview while others may invite you for one but may not make it a requirement. It is important to know what each school’s policy is; information should be available online, but do not hesitate to contact the admissions department for clarification.

Interviews will typically last from thirty minutes up to one and a half hours. Longer interviews are sometimes an indication of a great interaction, but do not be put off by a strictly kept deadline; alumni interviewers are often busy professionals and conversations done with admissions staff are generally kept on a tight schedule.

While the college interview can be nerve-wracking, there are several steps you can take to prepare to make it less so and increase your chances of acing it. With a little practice, you will find that no one can tell your story as well as you can.

How to Prepare

Below are some key things on which to focus as you prepare for your interview.

Know your application

Reread your entire application (data forms, essays, etc.). Your interviewer will be sending a summary of your meeting to the admissions committee, and you want to make sure what they send is consistent with what you submitted in your application. You also do not want to take up the small amount of time you may have with an interviewer telling them what the college already knows from your application.

Know yourself

Make sure you can talk about each of your activities, awards, and scholarships, and your specific contribution to each. Review your transcript to remind yourself of the classes you’ve taken and make sure you can talk about your favorite/least favorite classes and teachers and why they impacted you the way they did. Be able to discuss your potential major.

Develop your story  

Your number-one priority with the interview is to distinguish yourself by demonstrating your unique personal story. In your answers, be sure to highlight the themes incorporated in your application. Whether you are discussing your past educational challenges, your current work experiences, your personal defining characteristics, or your future plans, each example must support a consistent theme.

Know what’s going on in the world around you

Spend a little time reading and listening to the news. Current events are great fodder for good discussion. It’s one thing to say that you care deeply about the volunteer work you do at a local food pantry, but you will really stand out if you can put that work into the context of policies, events, and social change. Seek out editorial pieces online to see various opinions on different issues and come up with your own reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with them.

Know your interviewer

Do a little online research on your interviewer; you may find they have an academic or professional background of interest to you. Use the information to demonstrate that you are well-prepared and curious about your interviewer but avoid being overly familiar.

Know the college

Thoroughly review the college’s website. Make sure you can talk about the school(s)/program(s) that interest you. You might even consider searching for scholarly writing from professors with whom you’d like to study. Learn about clubs that catch your eye. Understanding what the college has to offer will allow you to think about why you are interested in attending it and how it aligns with your academic and career goals. Some key areas to consider:

  • The college's mission and values and how they align with your own goals and priorities
  • The programs offered by the college and how they fit with your academic and career goals
  • The faculty members at the college, their areas of expertise, and whether any professors’ research interests align with your own
  • The college's extracurricular activities and how they fit with your interests and goals

Practice your responses to common interview questions but don’t overdo it

Be prepared with a list of questions the interviewer might ask and practice your responses. You want your answers to be clear and crisp without appearing rehearsed. Authenticity will impress your interviewer more than ostensibly "perfect" answers, which will come across as insincere. The principal things your interviewer will be looking for are:

  • Why you are specifically interested in the college
  • Your academic experience
  • Your extracurricular activities
  • Your character and values
  • How you will contribute to the college’s academic and social communities

Some common questions include:

  • Why do you want to attend this college?
  • What are your academic and career goals?
  • What do you hope to contribute to the college community?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What is a challenge you faced and how did you overcome it?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

Be prepared to ask questions

The college interview is also a great opportunity to tap into the interviewer’s unique knowledge and point of view about the school. So take advantage of this and avoid asking about topics for which answers can be easily found or that are overly obscure. Some questions you might want to ask include:

  • What are the strengths of the college's programs?
  • What opportunities are there for students to get involved on campus?
  • How does the college support students in achieving their academic and career goals?
  • What resources, such as career services, are available for students?

If interviewing with an alumnus, consider asking questions such as:

  • What was your favorite part of attending the college?
  • How did the college influence your career trajectory?
  • What advice would you offer an incoming freshman to the college?

The Interview

Make a good first impression

First impressions are key, so it's important to dress appropriately and arrive on time, whether you are meeting in person or via a video call. Business casual attire is best and make sure your appearance is clean and neat. Greet your interviewer with a smile and be sure to make eye contact. If meeting in person, shake hands with confidence.

Being late or dressing inappropriately for your interview sends a message that you are not serious about the opportunity, and it can be difficult to recover from a bad first impression.

Establish a connection

Try to establish a connection and build some sort of personal rapport with the interviewer to turn the “interview” into a conversation about what interests, motivates, and inspires you. Don’t interrupt your interviewer if they start talking. Interviewers are trying to get to know you in a very short period of time, so don’t hesitate to engage fully.

Show enthusiasm

Show your enthusiasm for the school and its programs by expressing specific reasons why you are interested in attending and what you hope to accomplish during your time there.

Use examples to support your responses

To make your responses more compelling, use specific examples to illustrate your points. This not only will help the interviewer get a better understanding of your experiences and abilities, but it will also make for better conversation.

Follow up

After your interview, send a thank-you note right away to the interviewer expressing your appreciation for their time and consideration and the opportunity to learn more about the school. This common courtesy is an essential step to confirm that you are gracious, thoughtful, and genuinely interested in the college.

In Conclusion

College interviews can be intimidating, but they are an important opportunity to showcase your strengths and make a good impression on the admissions committee. By preparing well and presenting yourself confidently and authentically, you can increase your chances of getting accepted to your top-choice school. Remember to stay relaxed, be yourself, and demonstrate why you are a great fit for their school.