The Ultimate Guide to College Admissions Interviews
By Cara, IvyWise Principal College Admissions Counselor
There are so few places in the college application process for a student’s voice to be truly heard. Sure there’s the essay and email communication with an admissions representative, but what makes a college admissions interview such a valuable opportunity is the chance to talk about yourself in a less structured and less formal way. It’s an opportunity to share your story the way you want it to be heard.
Whether it’s before you decided to apply, or after you submitted an application, colleges use interviews to help build a more complete picture of you as a person. Fundamentally, an interview is a conversation – an exchange of information between you and a representative of the college. But the details of who, what, when, and where can vary greatly!
WHAT: At the most basic level, the college admissions interview is a chance to tell a representative of a college about some of the things that matter to you. You get to tell your stories about the people, places, and experiences that mean the most to you.
WHERE: Some (typically smaller) colleges offer on-campus interviews that can be done in conjunction with a campus visit. Larger schools might not be able to accommodate the volume of students who visit their campus, and can turn to their alumni population to offer interviews within their hometowns. If you are offered an alumni interview, you might be asked to set up a time and/or location in your own city with the person to whom you are assigned. It might take place in a public library or coffee shop, for example.
WHEN: A college that offers on-campus interviews would typically begin interviewing prospective students in the summer after their junior year and continuing through winter of students’ senior. For example, you can sign up for a Hamilton College interview most weekdays between July and December.
Other colleges might ask you to apply by a certain date in order to request or be offered an interview, which would then take place after you have applied. For example, a student who applies early decision to Brown will be automatically contacted upon submission of his or her application to set up an interview with a local alum (but please note, interviews are not guaranteed to all ED applicants depending on location and interviewer availability.)
WHO: Your interviewer depends on where you interview. On-campus? You might be chatting with a member of the admission staff or a senior student interviewer. Off-campus? You’ll likely meet a graduate of the school.
WHY: To tell your story. Think strategically before you go in about two to three things you want your interviewer to remember the next day, and have a game plan for how you want to talk about those things.
Additionally, it is important to understand whether an interview is evaluative or non-evaluative. An evaluative interview, like that offered by Rice University, means that a write-up or evaluation of the conversation will be added to your application for admission. Non-evaluative, like those offered at Colgate, are simply a chance to learn more about a school and get some of your questions answered. If senior year ends up being a time crunch of coursework and activities with a few college visits peppered in, you’ll want to prioritize evaluative interviews, as those can impact a final decision. Although colleges may not state outright which category their interviews fall into, terms like “highly recommended” or “strongly encouraged” are good hints that they count!
- Research each college’s interview specifics ahead of time. Every school does it differently!
- Make a spreadsheet or Google doc to help you stay organized.
- Prepare by practicing questions out loud with your family, friends, or college counselor.
- Know the important points you want to get to.
- Have a sense of humor – interviewers are people too!
- Know specifics about the school where you are interviewing.
- Elaborate on your answers. If the question is about your favorite course, “Math” is not going to cut it! Even if the interviewer doesn’t say it out loud, add “and why?” to the end of each question in your head.
- Write a thank you note or email after the interview.
- Don’t be afraid to slow it down if you are “stumped” by a question. It is okay to say, “That’s a good question… I need to think about it.” A little silence is fine. If you do not understand the question, ask the interviewer to repeat it.
- Don’t go in with a prepared script – the conversation should flow naturally.
- Don’t second-guess or apologize for yourself. Tell your story with confidence!
It’s important to remember that an interview provides additional context. Will a great interview overcome poor grades or test scores that fall way below a college’s averages? Probably not. Can it help build a better picture of the context surrounding your application? Absolutely.
If you plan to do a college admissions interview as part of your application process, here are some questions to practice with your friends, family, or college counselor.
- What do you like about your school? Is there anything you would change?
- What has been the most positive experience you’ve had there?
- What has been your favorite class?
- Are there any teachers with whom you feel particularly connected? Why?
- What would your teachers say about you as a student?
- Tell me about your role in your school community? What is the most significant contribution you’ve made to your school?
- How do you spend your time outside of the classroom? Which activities are most important to you?
- What are you looking for in a college?
- How did you become interested in our college?
- What are some of your goals –personal and career– for the future?
- How do you expect/hope/plan to transfer your high school contributions to the college level?
- What books or authors have made a lasting impression on your way of thinking? Have you read deeply into any one author or field?
- What events, if any, would you deem critical in your life thus far? Who has most influenced you?
- Tell me about a significant challenge or obstacle you have faced. How did you handle it? What did you learn?
- How have you spent your summers?
- How would you describe yourself as a person?
- Why do you think you are a good match for this college?
- Do you have any questions (always have at least one!)?
At IvyWise we work with students to help them present the best applications possible – including preparation for college admissions interviews. For more information on how IvyWise’s team of expert counselors can help you gain admission to your top-choice colleges, contact us today.
To learn more about Cara read her biography and watch her video below!