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College Admissions InterviewsGuide

Common Ap

So you’re done with college applications—congratulations! Next on the agenda is preparing for the college interview. While interviews are not part of the application process at every university, many of the top schools require them. Conducted by university representatives (whether an alum, admissions officer, or current student), interviews are primarily used to get a better sense of who you are beyond what’s on paper and to evaluate whether you would be a good fit for the university. An interview is an excellent opportunity to expound on your strengths, demonstrate your specific interest in the school, and offer further explanation regarding your transcript or other application materials.

Although the interview process might seem daunting—especially if you’re eyeing an interview at your dream school—most college interviews tend to be informal conversations in which the interviewer gets to know you and you, in turn, learn more about the school. At the same time, it is important to thoughtfully prepare for your interviews to ensure that you put your best foot forward with interviewers.

From scheduling with the university representative to following up afterward, here’s everything you need to know about college admission interviews.

OUR TIPS FOR Before Your Admissions Interview

Schedule Your Interview

When the interviewer first reaches out to you, take a moment to thank them for their time in your initial response.

Then, take the initiative to suggest some potential times and dates for your interview. It’s best to propose a couple of times that work with your schedule to increase the chances that one of your proposed times will also work with your interviewer’s schedule. Time management will be an essential skill during your college years—with a less structured schedule and more free time, you are more likely to be productive if you are proactive and schedule your own study time, activities, and meetings. Taking the initiative to schedule your interview demonstrates confidence and organization—two traits that will take you a long way in college and show your interviewer that you are prepared for the rigorous course load that their college will offer!

If you are arranging a virtual interview, you might also be asked to choose between platforms such as Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime. You can propose whichever platform you are most comfortable with, but always offer to download an alternative platform in case the interviewer has a specific preference.

Prepare to Answer These 3 Types of Questions

Once you have scheduled your interview, it is time to prepare! First, re-read your personal statement, activities list, and any supplemental essays you submitted in your application. This will help jog your memory regarding specific aspects of the college and the experiences you chose to highlight in your application materials. As you continue to prepare for specific questions, jot down notes on the school or specific anecdotes you may want to share. However, keep in mind that your notes should prompt your memory rather than provide you with a script. Your interview is not a presentation but instead a conversation between you and the interviewer, so you should prepare to speak comfortably and confidently, not memorize answers.

While there is no way of knowing exactly what your interviewer will ask you, college admissions interview questions generally fall into the following categories:

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Questions about your background

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What do you want X University to know about you?
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Tell me about a time…
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What is a challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?
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What are your hobbies / interests?
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Tell me about your specific strengths / weaknesses.

These questions are designed to get a better sense of who you are as a person, both in and outside of the classroom. Your goal in preparing for these questions is to have specific, concrete examples or anecdotes while making sure that your answers are concise. When your interviewer begins with an open-ended “tell me about yourself,” it is easy to ramble or provide a sprawling, unfocused response. Your preparation should include thinking critically about what aspects of yourself are most meaningful and important to share with the college representative.

Beyond asking general questions about you, your interests, and your involvements, your interviewer may ask you about specific experiences you have had—often a challenge you have overcome (academic or otherwise), a time you have had to work on a team, or an experience that shaped/changed your perspective. As you prepare for the interview, consider a few brief stories that could speak to these questions or ones like them.

KEY TIP

If an interviewer asks about your strengths and weaknesses, approach this as an opportunity to genuinely convey more about yourself. Speak confidently and specifically about your strengths and honestly about your weaknesses. While you should not be overly self-critical, you should demonstrate thoughtful self-reflection and awareness of your weaknesses. Frame your weaknesses as an opportunity for growth.

Example:

What are your weaknesses?

“I am a shy person and have struggled at times with my self-confidence. During my junior year, I was required to give a group presentation, which absolutely terrified me. But my teammates gave me support as we prepared and the presentation became the first step in my ongoing journey to speak up more.”

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Questions about your interest in the college

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Why do you want to pursue higher education?
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Why X University?
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Why are you interested in xyz major?
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Which class at X University are you most excited to take?
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Is there a specific club or student organization that you would be eager to join?

Many colleges take demonstrated interest into account when evaluating your application, so an airtight understanding of the school and its unique offerings is an important aspect of your interview. It is also the part of your interview which tends to require the most preparation.

Ideally, you would have included information in your supplemental essays about why you want to attend that school specifically, and if so, refreshing your memory by reading over those essays is a great place to start. From there, look into specific programs, extracurriculars, and professors that you think make the college special. You can also read over the university’s mission statement and values so that you can connect your answers to the school’s core principles. Expect questions like “What do you like about X College?” or “What makes you a good fit for Y University?”. Colleges also tend to publish their course catalog on their websites, and you can skim through to see whether a particular course excites or interests you.

That being said, be careful not to memorize some long-winded list about the twelve reasons you and this college are a perfect match. It’s good to be prepared, but you don’t want to sound over-rehearsed. Keep things light and natural.

Finally, if you have visited the college, consider what the experience was like—what did you learn about the student body, clubs, organizations, or university culture? These details will help you answer questions regarding both why you want to attend the college and what you will bring to the campus.

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Questions about your future goals

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What are your academic and career goals?
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What will you contribute to the student body at X University?
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How will X University help you achieve your goals, both academic and otherwise?

The interviewer will likely ask you about your future goals and how the university will help you achieve them, so prepare to articulate your specific academic and career goals. As you prepare, think about how you can connect these goals to things you have done throughout high school (in classes, extracurriculars, camps, or your own free time) in order to demonstrate your interests to the interviewer. In addition, consider which unique elements of the university that you have come across in your research would help you achieve your goals.

If you aren’t entirely certain what major or profession you want to pursue, that’s okay! Give the interviewer a sense of your current interests as precisely as you can, and express how you hope your time at the university will help you narrow your focus.

Example:

How will X University help you to achieve your specific career goals?

“My experiences as a member of my school’s student government and a leader on the mock trial team have led me to an interest in both political science and law. While I have not yet fully decided whether to pursue a career in the legal field or in politics, I look forward to taking advantage of the university’s abc program and xyz student organization to continue to hone my interest and develop my interpersonal and rhetorical skills. In addition, the university’s vast network of alums in both the fields of law and politics could be helpful to me as I seek to explore my career options in more depth.”

In addition to preparing for these three types of questions, you should be generally aware of current events, in case the conversation veers off course to social issues or political opinions. Make sure you read or watch the news on the morning of your interview. Once again, don’t try to memorize some complicated, nuanced opinion you read in The New York Times to try to impress your interviewer. You should be honest about your thoughts and informed enough to accurately share them.

Prepare Thoughtful Questions to Ask

Inevitably, the university representative will conclude your interview by saying: “Do you have any questions?”

When preparing your list of questions, approach the task with honest curiosity. What do you genuinely want to know more about? Keep in mind that whether the interviewer is an alum, an admissions officer, or a current student, they will have personal experience with the university and its students, so this is an opportunity to get a more personalized perspective on the university’s culture, student body, and program.

The most impactful questions demonstrate at least one of the following four qualities: (1) enthusiasm about the school, (2) interest in the interviewer’s story, (3) familiarity with the school’s academic, social and cultural aspects, and (4) a solid understanding of your own personal goals and precisely how the institution will help you reach them.

Here are some great examples:

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“Of all the courses and texts you encountered in the core curriculum, do any resonate with or inform your present career?”
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“How would you describe the school’s culture?”
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“What is your fondest memory of an X University tradition?”
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“If you could describe the quintessential student at X University in 3 words, what would they be?”
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“Which special offerings did your major present at X University that you knew you couldn’t get anywhere else?”
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“What is the biggest way X University shaped either your character or interests throughout your four years of study?”

KEY TIP

While you should have some questions prepared, don’t be afraid to go “off-script.” Allow the content of the previous conversation to drive your questions. Maybe you and the interviewer are both interested in ancient history—you can ask more specific questions about the department’s electives or the faculty’s research. Or maybe they successfully launched their own tech startup after graduating and you want to know how their connections from the school helped build their network as they got started. If anything the interviewer said piqued your interest, let that curiosity and connection drive your questions.

Practice with a Friend or Family Member

Before the day of the interview, it can be helpful to do a practice interview with a friend or family member in order to get comfortable with the process. Practicing with someone who knows you well will help you relax while also ensuring that your answers are truly reflective of who you are—your personality, interests, and goals.

OUR TIPS FOR The Day of Your Admissions Interview

Arrive Early

Plan to arrive at least 10 minutes early to your meeting location, whether in-person or virtually. This communicates to the interviewer that you value their time and recognize the importance of the interview.

Introduce Yourself

Take the initiative to shake the interviewer’s hand (if in-person) and introduce yourself. Be polite and outgoing, only to the extent that it doesn’t overshadow your personality. If you’re an extrovert, there’s no need to tame yourself to the point that you wouldn’t recognize yourself; if you’re an introvert, you don’t have to pretend to be bubbly. However, you should present the best version of yourself: smile, don’t speak at a volume inappropriate for the venue, and don’t act too familiar with your interviewer.

Dress to Impress

Showing confidence is not just a matter of actions but a matter of appearances as well. Just as you should demonstrate your confidence by taking initiative, dressing well will allow your confidence to shine through in the interview. Looking your best will show the interviewer that you put time and effort into your appearance, and this, in turn, will show the school that you’re interviewing for that you care about presentation.

First impressions are important. The way you look when you walk into your interview will play a role in how your interviewer perceives you. You should wear business or business casual attire. Finding the sweet spot between sweats and a suit is not always intuitive; some safe options are a modest dress, a blouse and skirt, or a button-up dress shirt or polo shirt with dark jeans or pants. Avoid wearing sneakers or sandals, and instead go with a pair of clean, closed-toe shoes. Your interviewer could be more conservative or significantly older than you, so avoid wearing T-shirts with inappropriate logos or dramatic facial jewelry.

Keep the Conversation Focused

Stay focused on the college for which you’re interviewing. Don’t bring up other colleges you’re applying to, because that will make the interviewer feel like you’re less committed to their college. Even if the school for which you’re interviewing isn’t your top choice, treat it like it is during the conversation.

Be a Good Listener

Yes, this interview is about you. But that doesn’t mean you should talk about yourself the entire time. The ability to forge personal connections will be vital in college and beyond, so think of it as a conversation rather than a chance to monologue at the interviewer.

OUR TIPS FOR After Your Admissions Interview

Send A Follow-Up Note

A kind, appreciative follow-up note is like icing on the cake for a successful interview!

Many students don’t know this, but interviewers actually don’t get compensated for the time they spend speaking with you. A simple email conveying your gratitude can therefore go a long way!

After beginning with a clear and honest “Thank you,” a great follow-up will highlight specific details in the conversation that most deeply aided and resonated with you. If there was a clear gem of advice that emerged in the discussion, don’t shy away from explaining the impact it had on you!

You’re not aiming for a Pulitzer here, so don’t stress too much about extensive length or poeticism. As long as you’ve double-checked for grammatical errors and syntactical simplicity, a short and sweet email will enable you to get your point across without overwhelming your interviewer’s busy schedule.

Send the email shortly after the interview, no more than 3-4 hours afterward if possible, and you’re good to go!

Example:

Dear Mr./Ms. X,

Thank you so much for taking the time earlier today to chat about [University Name]. I am so grateful that we were able to connect. *Insert reference to something specific that you talked about during the interview, like “I can’t wait to look up that series of French noir films you told me about!”*

I’ll be sure to keep you posted on my admissions results and decision-making process. Thank you again!

Best,

Your Name

ADMISSION INTERVIEW Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the point of college admissions interviews?

College admissions interviews are a way for colleges to get to know you outside of the context of who you are on paper. They are somewhat informal conversations with university representatives who will strive to relay more about you to the college you have applied to while also answering any questions you may have about the school.

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How do I schedule a college interview?

In most cases, a university representative will get in touch with you via email requesting an interview. From there, you should send them a few options of times that work best for you to meet so that you can find a mutually convenient time and date to conduct the interview.

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How important is the interview in the admission process?

How much the interview matters can vary from school to school. It may not make or break your application, but you should take it seriously as an important component of a complete application process. If a school offers you an interview, always accept. Not doing so is impolite and indicates that you are uninterested in the school.

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Should I be worried if my college interview was short

College interviews vary in length, subject matter, and a host of other factors depending on the school, program, and interviewer. Rather than feeling concern about the duration of your interview, focus on the subject matter—do you feel confident about the way in which you portrayed yourself? Did you communicate the primary points you wanted your interviewer to know? Did your interviewer appear to be interested in what you had to share? All of these things matter more than the length of the interview or the number of questions you were asked.