Preparing for College Interviews

“The best interviewers are skilled at making two things happen: First, they’re good at creating a transforming moment in the interview where a student says, ‘Wow, that was a great conversation.’ Second, they’re good at making a student walk away feeling better than s/he did when s/he walked in. The reality is that almost all students have good interviews, because admission counselors want the students who pass through their doors to do the very best they can, and will set the stage to achieve that result.”  (Mamlet and Vandevelde, 182)

As you plan for a college interview, keep this statement in mind: Interviewers want you to succeed. Interviews are conversations that should be seen as an opportunity that allows you to present the best of you and in turn learn more about the college you are exploring. It is a two way exchange. But because there is an element of evaluation in a college interview, you want to put the best You forward. With this in mind, I recommend the following advice for your consideration in achieving your goals for interviewing. They are:

  • Dress cleanly and neatly for the occasion; leave the baseball hat and gum in the car. Bring water with you if you think you will need it. (I do.)
  • Look your interviewer in the eye, introduce yourself with a firm handshake, and wait to be seated.
  • Listen carefully to questions. And know that it is totally fine to return to a question later in an interview and make a further point.
  • Put your pregame jitters aside and settle into the conversation (similar to taking a test or performing in a theatrical play): Your interviewer will ask questions, but the only right answer is to be genuine, forthcoming, and yourself.
  • Take your time with your responses: In addressing a question, do not default to the shortest possible answer. They are trying to get to know you and how you think on your feet; be thoughtful and thorough and let your personality shine.
  • Be prepared to entertain what and why questions and also be prepared to ask specific questions about the college and its program; you are also interviewing them to solicit information and perceptions. You should have your questions prepared before you walk into your interview.
  • Humility and Pride: Strike a balance between humility and pride in yourself. Don’t be so modest that you downplay your accomplishments, and, conversely, don’t gloat e.g., “I was honored by the coaches for being the Most Improved Player last year. I was proud of that because I worked really hard all season on my skills.”
  • Be sure to get the name and email address of your interviewer so you can write a nice thank you note.

In preparing for an interview, I often suggest that one categorize your thoughts and information into three intersecting domains (think venn diagram): academic world, extracurricular/hobby/Interest world, and family/community/social organizations world. If you sort your information into these three balloons, you can more readily pull that information down when you are asked a question.

And in preparing for an interview, here are some sample questions (Mamlet and Vandevelede, 183-184):

  • Why are you interested in this college?
  • What is your favorite subject and why?
  • What is your least favorite subject and why?
  • What did you do last summer and what did you learn from that experience?
  • How do you choose to spend your free time?
  • What are you reading for pleasure these days?
  • Do you feel that your grades and test scores are an accurate reflection of your ability?

In asking questions, you may consider:

  • What kinds of students are most successful here?
  • How would you describe this college’s personality?
  • Did you go to school here? If so, why did you come here and what did you like about it?
  • Can you tell me more about X, Y?

Finally, be the best “You” you can be: settle into the interview, be confident and curious, and try to enjoy and learn from the experience. One day you too will be interviewing others. Take note of the qualities and questions you admire in this process.