A Guide to the College Admissions Interview
What is a college admissions interview?
Many colleges and universities invite applicants to complete an interview in the fall of their senior year. Mostly, schools reach out to students to schedule the interview and not the other way around. This is not true universally, however, so it’s important to do some research or ask someone on the admissions team of the school(s) where you have applied to see if it is your responsibility to schedule the interview. It is very important to research a college’s interview policy early, as they might require you to request or schedule the interview a few weeks in advance of the application deadline.
College interviews come in two forms: evaluative and informational. During evaluative interviews, the interviewer learns more about the students’ background and the kinds of things that will be part of the application. Their goal is to get a sense of who you are as a person and learn more about your personality than they could glean from your written application. This can sound intimidating, but really it is an opportunity to share the best version of yourself and talk about your passions in more detail. Your responses will be recorded and become part of your application file.
The informational interview is designed to give applicants the chance to ask questions and learn more about the institution where they are applying. It should be seen as an opportunity to gauge fit that can help students decide where to go after they have received acceptance letters. Note also that interviews may be conducted by admissions officers or alumni.
For both kinds of interview, it’s important to make a good impression and come prepared to ask and answer questions.
How can you prepare for the college admissions interview?
Approach the college admissions interview as a chance to show off your best self. There aren’t many opportunities in the applications process for students to speak for themselves, and the interview is a space that provides that. Students should be honest in their interview, but of course they should display the best version of themselves. In order to remain calm, mature, and confident, it is vitally important to adequately prepare beforehand. Pick out a few topics or key points that are important to you and that you wish to communicate and use these to direct your answers to the questions that come up. Colleges want to know about your interests, passions, goals, how you spend your time, and why you think you will succeed on campus. They will likely ask you questions about your high school experience, what you do for fun, and why you have chosen to apply. Research and read over the most common interview questions and practice giving your answers with a friend or family member in a mock interview. While you should be prepared, it’s also important for the interview to flow more like a natural conversation. In other words, don’t make your responses too scripted. You should be able to think quickly and answer questions even if you didn’t prepare for them specifically.
If a question takes you by surprise, it is perfectly fine to take a few moments to think before you answer. Don’t get flustered—simply say something like “That’s a great question. Let me consider for a moment,” and pause to collect your thoughts. Maybe even sip some water. The moments of silence are worth it if a well thought-out answer follows rather than an immediate but weak response. For all the questions asked, try to be as specific as possible. Avoid generalizations and vague ideas. If they ask why you want to go to that school or what you will contribute to campus life, it’s not enough to list generic good qualities. Provide details that show you’ve actually done your research and understand the institution you’re applying to as a whole. When discussing your strengths or interests, provide details and examples to demonstrate that you are serious.
You should also have a few questions in mind that you want to ask. These can and should help you gain valuable information about the places you are applying to and need to come from a place of genuine interest. If you are speaking with an alumnus, you could ask them about their own experience or why they chose that institution. Otherwise, your questions should reveal that you have done thorough research on the institution. For example, you could ask about a specific program that interests you or inquire about an issue you found in the school newspaper. Read the latest news on the school website and seek out campus publications for information on relevant and pressing issues.
Finally, be professional and mature. Show up to your interview a few minutes early. Make eye contact, demonstrate active listening when the interviewer introduces themselves, and ask questions. Wear neat clothes that make you feel comfortable and confident (no need to overdo it on the formality). This year, interviews will be virtual, so plan ahead. Work out technological issues and make sure you have a quiet space to do your interview where you won’t be interrupted. Keep your camera on during the interview and make sure your face is always visible. Remember to take deep breaths and speak with a strong, supported voice so that you can be heard. Most importantly, try to relax! Confidence and ease will make you seem mature and capable to your interviewer and confer an overall good impression to your application.