By Jenny, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
From a summer job at the ice cream shop to attending your dream college to landing that perfect job after graduation, there’s one thing that they likely have in common: an interview. You will probably do many interviews over the course of your lifetime, and for some students the college admissions interview is their first experience with interviewing. With so much riding on making a good impression, it’s not surprising that many students get nervous thinking about one. Knowing what to expect and what is expected in an interview can help ease those nerves and ensure that you ace it!
What’s the Purpose of a College Admissions Interview?
The purpose of a college interview is to give you the opportunity to personalize your application. It’s also another chance for you to talk about how you are the right fit for a specific school. Or if you’re unsure about a college, it’s another way for you to learn more about it, get the inside scoop, and find out whether you might be a good fit for their campus. Topics can range from your high school achievements and community involvement to your academic interests in college and anything in between. Not all colleges offer interviews, but the ones that do generally use interviews as another recommendation in your application. Another way to put it: It’s an additional piece in your application material that an admissions officer can use to advocate for you in the committee process.
How to Prepare for Admissions Interviews
The first step for any college interview is to plan ahead by learning the interview policy at a particular school. Some colleges or universities require interviews, others strongly recommend them, and others don’t consider interviews in their admissions process. Who interviews can also vary from school to school. Some may offer interviews only to high school seniors applying while others invite both high school juniors and seniors that are prospective applicants. A college may or may not require a portion of an application to be submitted before scheduling an interview. And what’s the deadline for requesting an interview? Will the interview be on campus with an admissions officer, faculty member, or a current student? Maybe your interview will be at a local coffee shop with an alum who lives close to you. Or it could be over Zoom or Skype. Knowing who your interviewer will be and the kind of interview you will be doing can help ensure that you make a good connection and have a meaningful conversation.
This type of planning can also help you decide what you need to wear – an important, if subtle, part of the interview process. If interviewing for a notable scholarship or competitive academic program, the dress code will be more formal (think suits, blazers, dresses and pantsuits). For other kinds of interviews, you can be a little more casual but still look clean and presentable (Pro tip: if your campus tour precedes your interview and it’s a hot day, bring fresh clothes to change into!) The key thing is to be comfortable while using good judgment. Speaking of scholarship interviews, research the scholarship program and familiarize yourself with its history and mission. You will likely be asked what you hope to gain from the program, the contributions you plan to make, and how you will enhance the experience for other student scholars in the same program.
Admissions Interview Do’s and Don’ts
- Be on time – even 5-10 minutes early. Allow time for traffic, parking, walking, and check-in.
- Give a firm handshake (even if you’re feeling butterflies) and make eye contact with your interviewer throughout your time together.
- Be yourself. Be genuine. Give a real sense of who you are and not who you think the college wants you to be.
- Think conversation, not interrogation. A college interview will feel much more like a chat so come ready to exchange information and thoughts. Your interviewer will do the same.
- Be prepared to talk about your academic and extracurricular life and the interests you’d like to pursue in college, including reasons why. What is your favorite class in high school? What do you want to study? If passionate about a field, show your excitement. If undecided, discuss your eagerness for academic exploration. Discuss your engagement in the community. Share activities that are important to you including any leadership roles.
- Come ready to discuss what you are looking for in a college. How did X college get on your radar? Research the college and give answers that are specific to the institution you are visiting.
- Elaborate on topics and avoid one-word answers. Your interviewer is eager to learn more about your accomplishments, passions, opinions, and ideas to get a sense of who you are and how you might fit into their college community.
- Discuss your accomplishments. Now is not the time to be modest. But note: there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.
- Ask questions, particularly ones that demonstrate that you are picturing yourself attending the school. This shows engagement and your level of seriousness for the institution. Questions can be about specific classes, professors, first year resources, research or internship opportunities, housing, the campus vibe, specific clubs and organizations, just to name a few ideas. It’s also fine and appropriate to ask your interviewer questions about his/her own experiences. For example, “What made you choose to work at (or attend) X college?” “What’s something that you would change about X school?” “What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about X college?”
- Remember to breathe and smile. This can be fun!
- Write a thank you note promptly after the interview. A thoughtful email is fine but handwritten notes or cards are most remembered (and treasured) by admissions officers.
- Chew gum or have a small piece of candy in your mouth. It’s unprofessional and gets in the way of articulation.
- Answer your cell phone. In fact, make sure to turn it completely off. Or better yet, hand your phone to your parents before you enter the interview room.
- Memorize your answers. You will sound rehearsed and unnatural, and you risk not sounding like yourself. Instead, have a general idea of how you would like to answer a question and then let your answers naturally develop as you speak. An informal conversation will feel more relaxed and less stressful.
- Say “I don’t know.” This is one of the worst answers. If unsure how to answer a question, feel free to ask for clarification. You should also always feel comfortable taking a moment to think about your answer before speaking. Come up with something rather than “I don’t know.”
- Hesitate to cancel if you are feeling ill. The admissions office will not think you are being irresponsible. Quite the opposite – this demonstrates you’re a responsible person for not getting others sick.
- Neglect to stay connected. After writing a thank you note, feel free to stay connected to your interviewer. You may find yourself with unanswered questions as the college process continues. Admissions always enjoys hearing from you!
Remember, college admissions interviews are meant to give an extra dimension to your application – no one is here to trip you up or look for a reason not to admit you. It’s important to prepare and make a good impression, but this is just one small piece of the college application process. It’s much more important to perform well in class, make an impact in your community and activities, and craft compelling applications. At IvyWise, we work with students through every part of the college admissions process, from laying the groundwork for a solid academic profile early in high school to preparing for essays and admissions interviews during senior year. We know what admissions officers are looking for and how to help students reach their academic and admissions goals. For more information on how we work with students in college counseling programs, contact us today!