The Ultimate Guide to College Interviews

By Jessica Tomer, Editor-in-Chief, CollegeXpress

The admission interview is about getting to know you as a person, not just a collection of test scores and extracurricular activities. Of course, that sounds nice, but it doesn’t make interviews less nerve-wracking. As if applying for college wasn’t stressful enough, you’re supposed to sit down with a stranger and sell them on why you’re a good fit for their school too?! Ugh.

But before you start panicking, think of admission interviews this way: they’re your chance to show colleges how excited you are to attend their school—and that can give your application a major boost. It’s like your secret weapon for getting admitted!

So if you want to rock your college admission interviews (and you probably do), follow this advice…

Practice, practice, practice!

The more you practice, the easier your college interview will be. You can start by reading sample interview questions and writing some notes down. Then say your answers aloud. If you want to level up, try practicing in front of a mirror and/or with a recording device. (Oh, it’ll be awkward as hell, but it can also be super helpful!)

Perhaps the best practice of all is with another person, especially someone with admission interview experience. That could be a parent or guidance counselor, or it could be an older sibling or friend who’s already had a college interview.

Here are some common—and a few not so common—admission interview questions to practice with:

  • The BIG one: Why do you want to go to [insert college name here]? Is it because the college is home to a professor you’re dying to learn from? A mind-blowing performance space? An entrepreneurial student body? A winning lacrosse team? Really put some time, thought, and research into your answer for this question—for every school you’re interviewing with. Show them why you’re a match made in education heaven.
  • >How have you contributed to your high school/what will you contribute to this college? What have you done to make the world a better place, and how do you hope to do so in the future? That’s what you should draw on to answer this question.
  • What are your academic interests? Even if you don’t have a major picked out, you should be able to discuss the academic subjects you’re most passionate about—key word being “passionate.”
  • What’s your favorite book and why? This question is about more than rattling off an impressive title and author; it’s a great opportunity to highlight both your personality and values through the book you pick.
  • What’s your biggest weakness? This question is really about showing how you overcome those weaknesses. Being willing to show vulnerability and a desire to grow and improve are clutch too.
  • If you could be any crayon in the Crayola 64 pack, which would you be and why? Admission officers ask offbeat questions like this to get a sense of your creativity. There are no wrong answers, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box! (Here are some tips for answering particularly tough interview questions.)
  • How would you get a round peg through a square hole? Similar to the “Crayola” question above, brainteaser questions like this are trying to gauge your critical-thinking and analytical skills. So if you get asked one, take your time and be as thoughtful as possible in your response. Again, there are no wrong answers, so just do your best.
  • Here are 13 more helpful college interview questions to practice with.

    Write down your talking points in advance

    You’ll be expected to talk about your strengths and accomplishments during your interviews. And you want to have some specific ideas and anecdotes in the back of your mind on interview day.

    Make a list of five to 10 personality traits you want to highlight in your interview; for example, are you particularly determined, empathetic, creative? Then try to come up with a few specific examples from your life that illustrate those traits. These interview talking points can get you started:

    • Your proudest moment
    • Your favorite memories
    • Your biggest challenges
    • Times you overcame adversity
    • People you admire
    • New experiences you want to have in college

    Maybe you showed great determination by spearheading a high school cleanup club. Or you demonstrated your empathy by knitting scarves and hats for deployed soldiers. Or you spent weeks painting a creative picture that now hangs in your high school guidance office. These are the things the admission committee wants to hear about.

    Do your homework

    During the interview admission folks are trying to figure out if you’re a good fit for their school—and you can’t show you’re a good fit unless you know what the school is all about. Do your research to get a sense of what the college values, its mission statement, its strengths, and its weaknesses. Try to make connections between those things and your own interests, goals, and experiences.

    You should also find out the logistics of the admission interview itself. Will your interview be one-on-one with an admission rep or alumnus? Will you be in a small group? How long should it last? Gather as much info about the interview as you can so you go in feeling prepared.

    Develop a calming routine

    This is the kind of life hack you can use way after your college interviews. The gist is to develop a calming routine around something you look forward to and do regularly. Maybe it’s seeing your best friend on the weekend or going to baseball practice. Before you head out to those activities, do the exact some routine every time: for example, you might take a shower, stretch for two minutes, listen to your favorite song, and eat an apple. Then, the next time you have to do something stressful (like an interview), go through your same calming routine, as if you were about to do that thing you enjoy. It will trick your brain, and it works like magic.

    Dress appropriately

    Two words: business casual. If you’re not sure what that means, there are oodles of outfit guides online (I like this infographic from Purdue University’s career center). But, in general, we’re talking dress pants, sweaters, button-down shirts, nice shoes, etc. No jeans, no graphic T-shirts, no sneakers, and no ripped or stained clothing. If you’re going to be touring the campus or just walking around a lot before or after your interview, you may want to pack a change of clothes.

    Speak thoughtfully

    That means taking your time (remember, we’re prone to rushing when we’re nervous!) and trying to eliminate “umms,” “ahs,” and “likes” from your speech. It’s also okay to pause for a few seconds to collect your thoughts; in fact, it shows just how thoughtful you are!

    Ask insightful questions

    At the end of your admission interview, you will almost certainly hear this: “Do you have any questions for me?” Do not say “no” to this question! After doing the research mentioned above, you should be able to come up with three to five meaningful questions for your admission interviewer. (Pro tip: write your questions down on paper, just in case your phone dies.) For example, “What does student-faculty mentoring look like here?” or “What kinds of students are happiest here?”

    But, whatever you do, don’t ask basic questions you could easily answer with a Google search. Your interviewer will not appreciate hearing “How much is tuition?” Trust.

    The most important admission interview advice of all…

    Be yourself. Sure, it’s cliché, but it’s also your best bet and a good mantra. After all, you’ve been you your whole life—so you’re ready for whatever the interviewer throws at you!

    Bonus: Rapid-fire interview tips!

    • Take a deep breath before you go in.
    • Make eye contact.
    • Have a firm (but not crushing) handshake.
    • Strike a tone that’s friendly but professional.
    • If it’s your first interview, it’s okay to say so.
    • Bring paper copies of your résumé, transcript, and test scores, just in case.
    • Say thank you when you’re done and send a thank-you e-mail later on.
    • Chew gum if you’re nervous. (No, seriously, it helps.)
    • Don’t forget to spit your gum out before your interview. 😉

    Jessica Tomer is the Editor-in-Chief for CollegeXpress, a free college and scholarship search site designed to guide students through the entire college journey—admission, financial aid, majors, campus visits, you name it. She is an education advocate, storyteller, and grammar nerd. Like many of her fellow Emerson College alumni, Jessica is a news junkie and bookworm. You can get in touch with her on Twitter: @CollegeXpress or @JessicaTomer.

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