Preparing for College: Interview Tips

group of studentsCongratulations, you have submitted all your college applications! By now, you are likely an expert in the Common App, Coalition App, or the college’s personal website. Once you have clicked send on your last application, you are officially done applying to college. Regardless of the outcome, good or bad, top choice or last choice, you did it! Reaching this moment takes a lot of hard work. Take a moment to reflect on your accomplishments and be proud of yourself. Over the next few months, you will be able to take a deep breath and relax, until about mid-March, when most colleges begin sending out application responses.

A few weeks later, you check your email and surprise, you have an email from an admission counselor at one of the colleges you applied to. They want to invite you to interview with their admissions department. Do not panic, take a deep breath. Here are some tips to get you through this next step in the college application process.

Some of the questions you may have include: What is a college interview? Who is the interview usually with? Why do colleges conduct interviews? And, maybe, most importantly, how do I prepare?

  1. Accept the interview

    First, start by drafting your response in a formal and timely manner. You may want to ask a friend, family member, or teacher to proofread the email, especially if it is your first one. That way, you’ll have a template for future interviews. However, it’s important to do so in a timely manner, remember that you are not the only applicant that this admissions counselor or alumni recruiter is contacting, and you should be respectful of their time.

    Provide the counselor with around 3-5 specific different dates and times that work best for you. It is unprofessional when you cancel or arrive late to an interview! It is very important that you look at your availability to make sure you are not rushing home from school, work, or an activity.

  2. Be Prepared to Answer, “Why Us?”

    The answer to “Why Us?” when applying to college may seem straight forward, but realistically, it is quite challenging. However, luckily for you, you have likely already crafted a well-thought-out response to this question when you wrote you college essay. You may find it helpful to take a moment and reread your original essay to help you remember why you applied to the college in the first place.

    Although it may seem unproductive, it can be helpful to watch videos from the college or college students on YouTube or TikTok. This can help you familiarize yourself with what past and present students love about the college or university. It is also recommended that you take some time to research the school’s website. Select 1-2 professors and/or clubs that you would be interested in working with or joining if you are accepted.

  3. Gather your thoughts

    During the first half of the interview, you will be expected to answer questions that are driven by the recruiter. It is likely that they’ll ask questions about you and who you are as a person. They will also likely ask you, why you should be accepted into their school, i.e. what you have to offer the school, etc.

    Although the first half of the interview is important and constructing well thought out responses will be important, the second half of the interview will be crucial for you. Use the second half as an opportunity to your own interviewing, turning the tables a bit. Create a list of 3-5 questions that you have the college recruiter. Don’t be shy, use this as an opportunity to ask difficult questions, ones you wouldn’t be to on the college website. Remember, the recruiter was likely a former student and can give you great insight into what campus life is truly like!

    Here are some great examples:

      • Did you have a memorable professor/class that stood out during your undergraduate years?
      • How did [insert school name here] enrich your life?
      • What extracurricular events were you involved in on campus?
      • What is one piece of advice you would give to a prospective student? (This could be for the specific college or in general!)
  4. Dress to impress

    Once you arrive at college, you’ll probably spend more time in your college’s sweatshirt and sweatpants, than you’d like to admit, but right now, you’ll need to focus on nailing the interview first! Most of your college interviews will likely be informal and over Zoom, but that doesn’t give you a reason to dress down. Remember how you dress, impacts how you feel (yes, even if they can only see from the waist up!). The sayings, “dress for success” or “look good, feel good, play good” are true. Choose an outfit is clean and ironed. Also make sure that you feel comfortable and confident, business causal is always a great option!

  5. Make sure you have a conversation with the interviewer

    It’s easy to try and follow a script, but the best interviews come when people are allowing a natural conversation to occur. If they answer one of your questions and say something interesting, then feel free to comment and demonstrate that to them. You can use this time to ask them to expand on certain areas too.

What’s next?

Now that you have prepared for this interview, it’s time to discuss a typical college interview. You will join a Zoom link that was sent to your email. Remember that it’s professional to log in about 5 minutes before to signal that you are prepared to the interviewer. Every interview for each school is different, but they all typically last about 30-45 minutes. The first 10 minutes will be you answering simple questions (i.e. Why do you want to attend this school? or what activities are you involved in outside of the school?), and the remainder is you asking them questions.

What to do after the interview is over?

Within the 24 hours after your interview is complete, make sure to send a “thank-you” email. Although the interviewer most likely already sent their written assessment of you to the college, it is important to show gratitude for the opportunity to interview with them. If they mentioned a class or program that you didn’t know about or intrigued your interest, feel free to include that you did some further research to show your excitement! Although this might seem nerve-wracking, remember that this isn’t supposed to be. It’s another opportunity for a school to understand you beyond numerous essays. It’s supposed to be an easy-going conversation that adds one more glowing letter to your application. The interviewers want to interview you, so take the opportunity because you never know what might happen. Good luck because you’re going to rock it!