Ah, the dreaded interview. This is arguably one of the most notorious parts of the college application process. It sounds scary: a stranger asking you questions and judging you on all your life decisions…But, really, it doesn’t have to be! The so-called dreaded interview can be extremely manageable, so long as you plan well and follow some basic tips. Follow along and learn how to rock that interview.
So, do I have to interview?
Here’s the thing: the great majority of colleges do not require an interview. Many public universities and private colleges don’t even offer interviews–or only interview in certain geographical regions.
So, before you start stressing out about the interview process, make sure to check out your schools and their interview policies!
Should I interview?
If your school does give you the option of an interview, you should definitely try it out! This is a great way to show your passion and interest to the colleges you’re applying to, and it allows some insight into your actual personality beyond mere test scores. Unless you have extremely terrible people skills, this could work very well for you–especially if you’re a borderline case, in which acceptance and rejection are equally likely scenarios. Glowing notes from your interview could very well be the tipping factor.
This is one of the most important parts of the interview: preparation! Before your interview, keep these in mind.
- Become an expert
○ Schools are little attention freaks. In your interview, they will expect you to know your homework. Make sure to research any school you’re interviewing for (or actually, any school in general now that I think about it). This will help you tremendously if they ask school-specific questions, and it will look all the more impressive if they know you’re interested enough to do your research.
- Familiarize yourself with the questions
○ This one is HUGE. Review some of the most frequently asked questions and make sure you know how to answer them. This doesn’t mean memorization; this means comprehension. Know why you’re applying and how to describe yourself. The more comfortable you are with these questions, the less stressful your interview will be!
- Prepare some questions to ask
○ It’s best if you come prepared with some questions to ask the interviewer! Make sure you’re not asking common-sense questions, though, or questions you can answer by browsing through the college website! This will not work in your favor. Rather, ask those questions that aren’t as easy to Google. Keep them specific. A student who comes prepared with good questions will look a lot more impressive than one who arrives empty-handed. It shows your dedication to the school.
- Save the date!
○ Don’t miss the date! Make sure to save the day on your calendar and schedule anything else around it. Don’t plan anything exhaustive or time-consuming the day before and leave the hours before your appointment open just in case.
- Schedule wisely.
○ Each time you interview, you’ll become a little better at it. It’s best, therefore, to schedule interviews for your top schools after you’ve already had some experience.If you want, you could schedule interviews for schools you aren’t even interested in just to get the practice!
- Practice, practice, practice
○ …and practice some more! Get a parent, friend, teacher, or counselor to ask you some of the most common interview questions (listed below for your convenience). Set up a mock interview, and have them give you constructive criticism. There’s nothing like an outsider’s perspective to see your strengths and weaknesses.
Common interview questions
- Why do you want to attend our college?
- What can you contribute to our college campus?
- What three adjectives best describe you?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What activities do you find most rewarding?
- What is your favorite book?
- What do you want to do after graduating from college?
- Who in your life has most influenced me?
- Why do you want to major in ____?
- Dress to impress!
○ Dress in formal business attire. In other words, dress as you would in any formal job interview. If you come in khaki’s, you’ll make the impression that you don’t care much about the school. Girls: don’t wear too much makeup, and guys: keep those pants off the ground! Though you can wear whatever you want in day-to-day life, overly casual clothing won’t do much to boost your college app.
- Bring any necessary documents
○ Sometimes, you’ll need official documents such as test scores or your high school transcript. If this is the case, make sure you don’t forget! Forgetting important documents during your interview will only cast a negative impression.
- Don’t bring your parents
○ Though mom and pop might want to tag along on this new milestone in your life, please…don’t. Some colleges prohibit parents from attending the interview altogether, but in any case, it is wise to come alone. You are the one applying to colleges. Not your parents. Arriving alone will prove that you’re independent enough to handle this without parental support.
- Arrive on time
○ Leave your home well in advance of your interview! Have everything prepared the night before, so you’re not scrambling right before you leave the door. This includes preparing your outfit and necessary documents. It’s better to arrive a little early than to keep your interviewer waiting.
- Be aware of body language
○ Don’t keep checking the clock. Don’t slouch. Keep your eyes on the interviewer to show you are interested. Body language is powerful, and if you’re conveying an air of boredom or standoffishness, the interviewer will notice. In this case, your admissions officer might receive some less-than-praiseful notes that would work against your favor!
- Be yourself
○ This is easier said than done, but really: don’t try to be someone you’re not! Interviewers are oftentimes experienced: they’ll know how to differentiate between sugarcoated fluff and genuine sincerity. You want a college that’s best for you, not some artificial persona of yours.
- Don’t be shy
○ Try to be a little bit more outgoing–at least for the hour or so that you’ll be interviewing. This may sound like it contradicts the previous tip, but “not being shy” does not mean “completely reject who you are.” Just try to be more open to conversation. This is an interview, after all, and terse, uninviting answers won’t get you anywhere. Even if you are naturally shy, try to bring out the parts of you that like to talk–the part of you that emerges when you’re surrounded by your friends, for example. There’s no reason to feel all nervous and tongue-tied. Sometimes interviews are important; sometimes they’re just ways to confirm information. Either way, they won’t make or break your life.
- Don’t restate your application info
○ The interviewer doesn’t need to know your test scores! What interests you? What are your passions? The entire purpose of the interview is to evaluate things that cannot be evaluated on paper. Besides, bringing up tests and all of your stats will only make you seem like a robot with no personality.
- Ask questions
○ You prepared them (hopefully). Now go ask them! Your interviewer should be a semi-expert in the school: someone who works there or has studied there (or both!). Don’t be afraid to get this information. You might not get it anywhere else.
After the interview
- Keep any contact information you receive from the interviewer. You might want to keep in touch! If you get along well, this is a perfect resource for any more questions or for someone to advocate for you in admissions.
- Send a thank-you note! There’s nothing like getting some acknowledgement for hard work.
- Eat a big bowl of ice cream and relax. You did it!
Getting interviewed isn’t half so scary as everyone makes it out to be. So, don’t worry, seriously! While your interview might become a tipping factor in admissions, quite often, it honestly doesn’t make too significant of a difference. Rather, many times, it’s just a way to confirm the information you included on your application.
Also, make sure to keep these interview skills beyond high school! You’ll be using them for the rest of your life as you apply for volunteer gigs, internships, and eventually, a career. Good luck.
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About Maddi Lee
Maddi is currently a high school junior in southern California. She is an avid freelance writer and has been featured in multiple literary publications and anthologies. When she isn't writing, she loves traveling, doodling, and most of all, sleeping. Through her own experience and passion, she hopes to help guide fellow students through the roller coaster that is SAT and college admissions...that is, as long as she survives the journey herself!
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