#College Essays and Applications

The college admissions process can be overwhelming. Beyond applications, essays, and standardized tests, some schools also require college interviews. So what is a college interview, and how should you prepare for one? 

Not all schools require, or even offer, interviews. In fact, according to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s 2019 report, fewer than six percent of schools surveyed ranked interviews as “of considerable importance.” Schools that do require college interviews tend to be more selective and look to interviews to get a broader sense of the student as a whole. They may also offer interviews selectively, so it is not always a bad sign if you are not offered one. Ultimately, if you are applying to a school that requires or recommends an interview, then it is worthwhile to prepare. 

Before Any Interviews

In most cases, schools hope to schedule interviews within a week—leaving you little time to prepare. Luckily, a lot of that work can be done ahead of time. Preparation for a college interview should begin before you get an invitation. 

Start by taking stock of your application. What extracurriculars have you participated in? How are your grades? What have you written (or considered writing) essays about? Consider the stories you have to tell, and select a few that are the most important to you. Ideally, these should be stories where you play a central role, rather than simply playing a part in a larger group effort. You can also look up some commonly asked college interview questions. These often address college fit (“Why College X?”), activities, interests, goals, and your personality, as well as a few more wide-ranging questions. 

Once you’ve done that, practice! Tell your stories and practice answering questions with friends or family members. Focus on your contributions. However, stay away from memorizing answers. The best college interviews are like conversations, so this practice is more about being able to comfortably and fluently talk about yourself and who you are. 

Once You Are Offered a College Interview

Your dream school has reached out and wants to conduct an interview. What next? 

It is time to do a little research. Refamiliarize yourself with the details of the school and the program to which you are applying. You may have already done some of this research while writing your Why College essay. Then, look up the person with whom you are interviewing. Are they an alum or an admissions officer? If they are an alum, then what did they study, and what have they done in their career? How long ago did they graduate? 

All of this research will prepare you to write a few questions. Avoid anything that could be easily answered by a quick Google search or a cursory glance through the school’s website. Keep in mind the sort of questions your interviewer may be able to answer, too. A newer alum may be able to speak to coursework and professors, while an older graduate might have better answers about alumni networks and career potential. 

Once you have your questions, spend some time preparing for theirs. Remember, you are not the first student to go through these interviews. Search on the Internet and talk to classmates and colleagues who may have had an interview at that same school to get a sense of what questions your interviewer might ask.

At Your Interview

Be early. If your interview is in person, then give yourself plenty of time to allow for traffic, park your car, walk from the bus or train stop, find the building, or address any other unforeseen circumstances. If your interview is virtual or by phone, then make sure you have a quiet location to use with a neutral background and good Internet or phone signal. Sit in a chair at a table or desk, rather than at your bed, and be sure that your device is fully charged and functioning properly. 

Have a notebook and a copy of your resume on hand for yourself (and to offer to an interviewer if you are interviewing in person). While you likely will not take many notes during the conversation itself, you should note the date, the interviewer’s full name, and anything particularly exciting that you spoke about. 

Be polite. Aim to dress business casual, and make sure that any device (unless you are using it for the interview) is turned off or on silent. Introduce yourself at the beginning of the conversation, and thank your interviewer at the end. 

Relax. As difficult as it may be, remember that the best interviews feel like conversations. Do not be afraid to ask any specific questions you have. Admissions officers and alumni are people too, and they either work in this field or volunteer to do interviews because they enjoy talking to students and speaking about their college. 

After Your Interview

Take a few moments shortly after the interview to jot down what you remember about the conversation. If your interviewer gave you a business card, then make sure you keep it someplace safe. 

Then, within a few days of the interview, write a brief thank-you note. (Not sure how? Check out our blog about contacting admissions.) Use your notes to reference something specific from the conversation, and express appreciation for the interviewer’s time.

Still worried about your interview? We are here for any questions you have!