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Preparing for your College Admissions Interviews

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The college interview can be extremely stressful for students. Often it is the first real interview high school students have experienced. Fortunately, admissions committees realize that high school students have little interviewing experience and the process is usually straightforward. The interview probably isn’t going to make or break your application, but you still want to interview well.

Very few colleges use interviews to weed out applicants. A great interview could enhance your application, but it won’t make up for a weak academic record or poor test scores. Just taking the time to visit the college and talk to an admission officer makes a positive impression, because it shows that you’re really interested in the college.

College interviews generally fall into one of the following three categories:

  • On-campus evaluative interviews. A representative of the college will interview you on-campus—typically in the admissions office. While you’ll be given a chance to ask questions, the main purpose of the interview will be for the interviewer to form an impression of you and make notes for the admissions committee. This is sort of like a job interview
  • On-campus informational interviews. Informational interviews add a personal touch to the admissions process and are meant to answer any questions the applicant might have. Informational interviews could be with an admissions officer or other representative of the school. Keep in mind that notes may be taken and included in your file.
  • Alumni interviews. Sometimes you’ll meet with an alumnus of the college near your hometown. Colleges do these interviews because it allows all students to have college interviews, regardless of whether they’re able to travel to the school. It also gives applicants a chance to ask questions. Be prepared for any type of question. Since you’re not meeting with a professional admissions worker, you’ll probably be evaluated (and you are being evaluated) on how your poise, passion, and ability to engage the interviewer in interesting conversation.

There are a few things to keep in mind about the interview regardless of which type you participate in:

This is a conversation, not a quiz. Interviewers are looking at the persona side of the student and are trying to determine if you would “add” to the campus community. They want to know about you, your interests, and your passions. Try to be conversational.

The interview should be a give-and-take situation. They ask you something, you respond. Then you ask them something and they respond. Remember, you are also interviewing the school to see if it is a good fit. Be ready to ask questions about specific programs or offerings. Make clear that you’re trying to envision what it would be like to be a student there.

Enthusiasm is crucial. Good students are excited, passionate, and enthusiastic. They participate. They are engaged. To some extent, you must fit this profile if you want to join their ranks. Be excited about what you’ve done and your future.

Modulate your tone of voice. Too many applicants prepare their answers and deliver them in a rehearsed monotone. Vary your voice and use pauses where necessary.

Be confident, but don’t be overconfident. Self-assurance is a good thing, but sometimes students act as though they’ve already been accepted to a school. This may make you appear as though you are “too good” for that particular school. Don’t act as if your acceptance is a given.

Don’t be late! Ever! If you are, it appears as if the interview is not important to you. Often times college admissions officers schedule interview appointments back to back. If you are late, you may have only a few minutes to talk with someone or you may need to reschedule.

There are certain questions an interviewer is bound to ask you. Be ready for them. There is no reason for not being able to quickly answer basic questions.

Pay attention to your appearance. Even if you’ve been told that the interview is casual dress, make it business casual. Make sure you look neat, clean, and your hair is combed.

Make eye contact. It shows commitment and professionalism. Too much eye contact can be disturbing, however. Look directly into the interviewee’s eyes while you are speaking at least a few times during the interview. Do not look away when he/she is speaking directly to you.

After the interview, thank the interviewer. When you return home, immediately send your interviewer a thank you letter. Not only is it polite, it shows your interest in the school and will be noted in your file.

Why settle for a so-so interview when a little preparation can make you stand out from the crowd? Before the interview, think about how you’d answer the following questions:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are you most interested in?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What is your favorite subject? Why?
  • What subjects don’t you like? Why?
  • What books have you read lately for fun? Do you have a favorite book?
  • Why do you want to go to [insert school name here]? What makes you [school name] material?
  • Do you know what you want to study?
  • What is your favorite activity/sport? Why?
  • What do you think you’ll be involved in at college?
  • What do you do in the summer?
  • How does this college fit in with your interests and talents?

Often, your questions tell an interviewer more about you than anything else. Asking how many students attend the college, for example, tells the admission officer that you haven’t done your homework. On the other hand, insightful questions show that you’ve thought seriously about the college and your own needs. One strategy is to jot down several important questions ahead of time and take the list with you to the interview. This gives you two advantages: you won’t forget anything and the admissions officer may be impressed by your level of preparation.

Here a few examples of good questions:

  • What percentage of students come back after freshman year?
  • Can you tell me some things about ____________ program/major?
  • What makes _______ program/major a good one?
  • What social options are available if I don’t join a fraternity/sorority? (for colleges with Greek systems)
  • What campus issues are students talking about this year?
  • How involved are students in extracurricular activities? Do most students stay on campus during the weekends?

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