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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! Here’s our ultimate admissions guide for college admissions interviews:

Why Is a College Interview Important?

College interviews are an opportunity to talk with someone who represents the school. 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.

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, is simply a chance to learn more about a school and get some of your questions answered.

If the 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!

Where Are College Interviews Held?

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 Do College Interviews Take Place?

A college that offers on-campus interviews would typically begin interviewing prospective students in the summer after their junior year and continuing through the 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 Is Going to Interview You?

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.

How to Prepare for a College Interview?

A few things to check off your list before you meet your interviewer:

  • Do your homework – Learn about the institution, its history, philosophy, and student body. You’ll want to be able to answer any question asked of you confidently, so be prepared. Check out our resource on Stanford interview questions for some examples of what to expect.
  • Prepare a list of intelligent questions based on your research
  • Give specific examples and detailed answers when addressing what you like about the institution and how you plan to contribute to the campus community. Check out our grad school interview questions and answers resource to better familiarize yourself with interview examples.
  • Dress for interview success – Select an outfit that is simple, classic, and suits the sensibility of the institution you are interviewing. All clothing should be clean and pressed, and shoes polished. Pay attention to proper hygiene and good grooming.
  • Arrive on time – Ask for directions beforehand to reach your destination at least ten minutes early. This will allow for a few minutes of mental preparation and any necessary physical preparation before entering the room.
  • Carry a portfolio – This may consist of transcript copies, letters of recommendation, and samples of previous work, whatever achievement you think may be relevant to the conversation.
  • Turn off cell phones and other electronic devices before entering the premises – You have only a brief window of opportunity with your interviewer and want to ensure there are no interruptions to break their concentration.

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.

How to Impress in an Interview?

Make your first impression count. Here’s how:

  • Exude natural poise by entering the room with good posture – stand straight and walk with a confident gait.
  • Maintain good eye contact and address your interviewer by their formal name and title
  • Greet your interviewer with a firm handshake – Extend your right hand and shake web-to-web with only two pumps and then release.
  • Ask permission to be seated – Appear awake and alert by sitting up straight with arms, legs, and feet relaxed and uncrossed.
  • Beware of excessive fidgeting, shifting in your seat, or other nervous body motions that may detract from your overall appearance.
  • Perfect your conversation skills – Be a good listener and refrain from interrupting.
  • Abstain from one-word answers. This is an opportunity to learn more about you, your personality, background, and interests.
  • Take your time and elaborate citing specific examples.
  • Practice graceful goodbyes – Once the interview has concluded, exit as gracefully and gratefully as you entered. Shake hands with your interviewer before departing and thank them for their time.
  • Don’t forget to obtain the interviewer’s business card – A formal thank you note is a must, and it’s crucial to have the correct contact information, spelling, and title of your interviewer.

Why You Should Thank Your Interviewers?

Three great reasons for writing a thank you note:

  • It is an opportunity to add a comment or insight you may have missed during the interview.
  • It provides you with another occasion to restate your interest in the school.
  • If possible, writing a thoughtful, handwritten note demonstrates professionalism, and you’ll stand out because most students don’t take the time to send a written thank you.

However, if the interviewer has previously stated he or she prefers to be contacted by email, send your thank-you note electronically. Send your note within 24 hours of the interview. Review it carefully to ensure it is grammatically correct and free of spelling mistakes.

6 Tips to Ace Your College Admissions Interview

While many large universities don’t typically offer admissions interviews, smaller colleges or specific programs at larger institutions sometimes recommend students do an interview as part of their application process. This is part of the holistic evaluation process and is just another way for the admissions committee to get to know you better. Admissions interviews are also a big part of the graduate admissions process.

While this may seem intimidating, the more stressed you are during the interview, the less your true colors will be able to shine through. It is important to harness this energy and use it to your advantage to present your best self!

Here are some of the best college interview tips IvyWise stands by:

Be Prepared

You want to treat this like a job interview and show the interviewer a demonstrated interest in the school at hand. Be prepared and do your research. The interviewer will have certain expectations based on their past experiences. In the MIT interview, for example, students are encouraged to bring something they are proud of to their interview, whether it be an article they’ve written to something they’ve built or created by hand. You can best prepare to meet these expectations by researching ahead of time.

Additionally, your admissions representative will fully expect that you are knowledgeable about the school that you are applying to, and they will test this knowledge during your time together. They will also expect you to be able to explain why you want to attend and how you plan to contribute to the campus community if admitted.

Practice Answering Certain Questions

Practice makes perfect, so do mock interviews and rehearse those detailed and specific responses by preparing for certain college interview questions that will probably be asked. For example:

  • Why do you want to attend X University/College?
  • How do you see yourself contributing to the campus community?
  • What about X University/College draws you to it?
  • Why do you think X University/College will benefit from having you as a student?

Ask Your Own Questions

Be sure to practice your handshake, posture, and body language for your interview. Also, be sure to practice potential interview questions beforehand so you do not feel blindsided by any questions that they may ask. Have different people ask you questions in different ways so you are ready for anything when the time comes.

Be Mindful of Small Gestures

There are a few small things that can make a big difference when going into any interview, whether it be for college admissions or a job. Make sure that you are about 10-15 minutes early for the meeting, and make sure to dress as you would for a job interview. Making eye contact, providing a strong handshake, and proper interview etiquette will go a long way. Additionally, turn your cell phone off and block out any potential distractions prior to the meeting.

Confidence Is Key

Firstly, relax and be yourself. The more stressed out you are, the more likely you are to stumble, forget your answers, or not present your best self. Confidence is always key in situations like this, where someone is trying to read you. Treat it like a conversation, and avoid being too scripted or memorizing anything. Avoid answering the questions based on what you think they want to hear. Be genuine, and let your true colors shine through. They will recognize and appreciate your confidence!

Stand Out

One sure way to stand out is to send a handwritten thank-you note to your interviewer after the meeting. Be sure to thank him or her for their time, and mention something that you discussed during the meeting that will help them remember you.

And for additional tips that can be applied to various institutions, check out our ultimate guide on navigating Princeton interview questions.

Master the College Interview Process With IvyWise

Remember, your interview may be the final step to the finish line, so make sure to put forth your best effort and make your best impression. After all, this is an investment into the next four years of your life. Having awareness of proper etiquette and good manners during the college admissions process is not only fundamental, but the benefits will live on forever.

IvyWise is here to help you tackle the admissions process with confidence and ease. Contact us today for more information on admissions counseling to get the most out of your interview prep.

To learn more about Cara, read her biography and watch her video below!

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