Advice for Nailing the College Interview
Updated: Mar 22
The college interview can feel incredibly daunting for most high school seniors. After all, the vast majority of 17-year-olds have never had to prepare for an interview, or have only interviewed for jobs in food services or summer camps. Some colleges require all applicants to participate in an interview, while others offer them as an optional task to complete. For the sake of demonstrated interest, if a school recommends students interview, then applicants should make a point of getting that application in before the deadline and schedule the interview as early in the fall of senior year as possible. This blog is going to cover interview tips to ensure students have a successful interview experience.
The Purpose of the College Interview
The college interview serves several primary purposes:
It's an opportunity for the interviewer to connect with the applicant on a more personal level, which will give them more leverage to advocate for the student when making admission decisions.
It allows the college to gather more information about student's interest levels (in the school, academics, and extracurriculars), and could serve as a foundation for the college to generate more specific outreach about opportunities on campus.
It's a chance for students to ask informed questions first-hand to determine if the school is truly a good fit for them for the right reasons.
It's an opportunity for students to really drive home all the whys in their application--Why is math your favorite subject? What had led you to your interest in a particular major? Why did you spend so much time on this activity?
How Much Weight does the Interview Hold?
This may sound hard to believe, but in general, the college interview doesn't hold too much weight in the admissions process. It would take a serious grievance for an interview to have a particularly negative impact on an admission decision (like cursing at the interviewer, or something else wildly outlandish). The interview is really just a chance for the student to share more about themselves in a personal way, and for the interviewer to get a better sense of who the student may be on that college campus and how they'll fit into the community. It's important that students prepare for the interview, and to use it as an opportunity to highlight important aspects of their being.
Applicants often want to prepare for an interview by having a set of questions they know the interviewer might ask, but that's not usually possible. In many cases, the interviewer doesn't even know what they'll ask! The vast majority of admission interviews are simply a conversation with admission officers, or more commonly alumni. Regardless, the following tips should help students best prepare for the interview process:
Dress appropriately, even for a virtual interview. You don't need to wear a full suit, but you shouldn't look like you just rolled out of bed.
Be authentic and try to be as engaged as possible. In most cases, the person leading the interview will not be much older than you as an applicant! They also tend to be relatable human beings, who will laugh when you laugh.
Take a minute to think before responding to questions that catch you off-guard. You're allowed to organize your thoughts!
Do some research about the college before the interview and ask informed questions. Some schools will even share the interviewer's information with you so you can also look them up on LinkedIn and prepare questions accordingly to make the most of the interview. Don't waste the interviewer's, or your, time asking question that are easily googleable.
Be sure to discuss why you feel that college is going to be a good fit for you. What will you take advantage of on campus? Is there a class or professor or major that you're most excited about? Will you want to play a sport or represent the school in another way? Don't quote the college's website, mission, brochures, or outreach! When an interviewer asks why you're interested in their college, don't just compliment the school.
Don't memorize answers to specific questions--you don't know what they will ask, and that level of preparation isn't necessary or a positive reflection of the student. The interviewer wants to get to know you as a person, so practice being able to answer some general questions about yourself, and practice talking about yourself out loud, but don't worry about saying the right word or offering the right tidbit.
Questions might feel way too broad, which often causes students to feel overwhelmed. The biggest culprit tends to be, "Tell me about yourself." You could answer this thousands of different ways, but we highly recommend reframing the response. Feel free to focus your response on a few main things you want the interviewer to know. For example, "Academically, my favorite courses have been psychology and sociology, and I've noticed I am most successful in a supportive peer environment. But outside of school, I love hiking and swimming, and spend a large portion of my time training service dogs for children with autism."
Some questions may be very specific and narrow. Be sure to supplement your shorter response with the why. "Do you think you'll enjoy the experience of a residential community?" "Yes because I deeply value peer support and community engagement, so I'm drawn to the idea of sharing dorm space with other students whose interests overlap with mine."
The interviewer is never trying to ask trick questions or trip you up, they are purely trying to get to know you better.
Be confident. You know yourself better than anyone, and if you've done your research and taken the time and energy to apply to a college, you likely know why you want to attend and what you hope to get out of it. You've worked hard to get to this point, so you don't need to be a braggart, but you should absolutely feel confident sharing all of the awesome things that make you, you!
Ask about qualities in a college that are particularly salient or important to you. Do you care how competitive the classroom environment is? Do you care about how many dining halls there are or if the students feel there's enough variety of food options?
Be honest. If the interviewer asks you why you're interested in the school or how you came to find it, it's okay to say that a friend also applied and told you about it, or that a counselor/advisor added it to a college list for you to explore.
Good luck (but I know you won't need it),
Jessica Chermak, LPC, CEP
Independent College Counselor
Co-Founder of Virtual College Counselors