How to prepare for college interviews
Overall, interviews are an opportunity for a college to get more information about you in a more informal, personal setting. Think of it this way: The only real information they have on you is a big folder of documents — your personal statement and any supplemental essays, your transcript, your resume, your activities list, and so on. This is your chance to rise above the “on-paper” you and connect with the interviewer — and, by extension, the college itself.
Interviews are generally conducted by someone affiliated with the school — whether that’s someone from the admissions office, an alumnus, or even a current student. 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. And if a school offers you an interview, always accept. Not doing so can make you look uninterested in the school at best or less-than-personable at worst.
Of course, some schools don’t even do interviews, or conduct interviews only with a select group of students. Don’t sweat it if this is the case for a school you’re applying to — all colleges are different, and no one way of doing things is necessarily better than another.
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, a button-up dress shirt or polo shirt with dark jeans or pants. Your interviewer could be more conservative or significantly older than you, so avoid wearing T-shirts with inappropriate logos or dramatic facial jewelry.
Arrive at the interview spot early, check your appearance in the mirror before you head out. There’s nothing more embarrassing than leaving an interview and realizing you had spinach in your teeth the whole time. 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.
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.
More than anything, be personable! 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.
Do your research
Remember that many colleges take demonstrated interest into account when evaluating your application, so displaying a strong knowledge base about the school in the interview is a good idea. Look into specific programs, extracurriculars, and professors that you think make the college special. Expect questions like “What do you like about X college?” or “what makes you a good fit for Y university?”. 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.
In addition to facts about the college, you should be up to date about 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.
Come prepared with questions
One dreaded question that comes at the end of most interviews, which has long struck fear into the hearts of interviewees: “Do you have any questions for me?” If you don’t have questions for your interviewer, you should. Try to engage them regarding their own experience at the college — for instance, if they’re an alumnus, ask them broadly about their experience at the school. That might lead to a more interesting conversation, but if it doesn’t, ask deeper questions pertaining to your own desires to go to the school. If the theater program is a big selling point for you but you haven’t been able to find much information about it on the website or college tours, now’s the time to ask. Avoid throw-away questions like “How’s the food?” and “Is it hard?” Take time to brainstorm questions that you can’t find through a quick google search or in any college rankings list. Some good questions to ask are: “What’s one thing you wish you knew before you got to campus?” “What’s the biggest thing that’s missing from school X that you wish it had?” “When did you know you picked the right major?”
Follow up after the interview
It’s always a good idea to send your interviewer a thank you note. You probably already have your interviewer’s email address, so you can send them a quick note that way, typically no more than 24 hours after the interview concludes. Use it to reiterate your interest in the school and say what a pleasure it was to talk with them. This is not only good for your chances with the school — it’s just basic politeness, and you can never go wrong with that. Consider including a 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!”