Acing Your College Interview
Acing Your College Interview
Antonio Guillem /

Having to talk face-to-face with an admissions officer about why you want to go to their college sounds like a traumatic experience, especially for shy students or those whose grades aren’t where they want, but it isn’t that scary! First, it’s just an hour (or less), which is enough time for you to watch your favorite prime-time television show, and that’s it. Second, remember that though college interviews are important, they are typically not going to be the deciding factor in whether the school offers you an acceptance letter. Many colleges don’t offer interviews at all, but if you get the opportunity, jump on it. This is your chance to shine.

What are the types of college interviews?

There are two types of college admissions interviews: interviews that evaluate you as a prospective student (evaluative) and interviews that provide information. Evaluative interviews are mainly for the benefit of the school. You will be interviewed by an admissions officer or alumnus who will take down notes about their impressions of you as you answer questions. These notes will go into your application file and be taken into consideration when the school makes an admissions decision.

An informational interview is more casual. It is mainly intended to help you assess the institution. It may take place one-on-one or in a group setting. Instead of an admissions officer, you may be learning about the institution from a faculty member, a student, or an alumnus. Though less formal, the interviewer may still pass along his or her impressions of prospective students to the application committee.

Why are college interviews important?

College interviews give you a chance to meet and talk with someone who represents the college. This is an easy way to start a personal relationship with the school. By showing [glossary_exclude]interest[/glossary_exclude] and beginning a dialogue, you are automatically more interesting than any student who has turned down the opportunity for an interview. The college interview allows you to showcase any unique talents that you may have that are not reflected in a formal application, in your transcript, or in an essay. If there is anything on your transcript that needs explaining (a suspension or a semester of below average grades), this is your chance to be open and honest about the circumstances behind the situation. You can also discuss your goals and aspirations and how college will help you meet them. The interview is the time when you become more than just a stack of papers. Take advantage of that!

What types of questions will be asked?

Typically, college admissions officers are interested in three things: your feelings about the school and how you would be an asset to the student body, your personality and interests, and your goals and aspirations. Of course, it is likely that you will have to answer some off-the-wall questions that don’t directly address any of those things, and this provides you with an opportunity to showcase your ability to improvise. Below are some sample questions:

Questions that assess your feelings about the school and determine how you would be an asset: These questions give you a chance to prove that you have read about the school on their website or in an informational pamphlet. Talk about why the college is a good match for you and give specific reasons why this school fits your needs. Elaborate on which extracurricular activities have caught your attention and why you want to participate.

  1. Why do you want to attend our college?
  2. Why are you a good match for our college?
  3. What would you contribute to the student body?

Questions about your personality: It’s okay to brag about yourself, but try not to come off as cocky. If you’re asked to describe a weakness, turn it into a strength (for example, “sometimes it takes me a long time to finish assignments, but this is because I obsess over the details and want to submit an excellent product”). Talk about your strengths and what they’ve helped you accomplish. Choose words that are more unique than “smart,” “funny,” and “experienced.” Be honest and let your personality show.

  1. How would you describe yourself?
  2. Describe yourself in three words and explain why you chose them.
  3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  4. Describe a situation in which you had to overcome a hardship.

Questions about your interests, goals, and aspirations: Share not only your hobbies, but why they are important to you. If there is a way to link your hobbies to extracurricular activities at the school, do it! Don’t just say the name of a book you like, but explain why it resonates so deeply. Showcase why attending college is so important to you, why certain subjects interest you, and how getting an education from this school can help you achieve your goals down the line.

  1. What are your hobbies?
  2. What is your favorite book?
  3. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  4. What did you do last summer?

Questions intended to assess what matters to you and how well you can improvise: These questions are intended to gauge how informed you are about certain topics and to get an idea of your values. Read up on current events before you head into your interview. Think deeply about what is important to you and you will be able to come up with intelligent answers to any questions that you might be asked.

  1. If you were given $1,000, to what organization would you donate it?
  2. If you could meet one famous person, whom would it be?
  3. Recommend a book to me.

How can I ensure that my interview goes well?

Your interview is only going to last between 30 and 60 minutes, but it takes a lot more than that to prepare. You won’t have time to share everything that makes you unique and special, but you do have enough time to give a good impression and leave the interviewer feeling that they know more about what makes you tick. Always take this opportunity if it is offered to you, especially if you need to explain a blemish on your record or are in the middle of the pack when it comes to test scores. Below are some simple ways to ensure that you rock your interview.

Before your interview:

  • Practice interviewing with your family. It’s important to maintain eye contact and good posture throughout. You’ll likely be sitting, so make sure that you can find a comfortable, but still formal position for the duration of the interview. No sitting cross-legged in a chair with your elbows on a desk; you’ll want your back straight and at least one foot on the floor. You also don’t want to be shifting around too much because this will make it seem like you’re bored or distracted. Likewise, don’t pay attention to the clock or check your watch or phone. The interviewer will be watching the time and will let you know when it’s time to wrap things up.
  • Reread your application essay.
  • Dress to impress!
    • Business-casual is the recommended level of formality. It’s appropriate to wear a blouse with a modest skirt or dress pants or a collared button-down shirt with slacks.
    • Keep makeup, jewelry, and perfume to a minimum.
    • If you plan on wearing high heels, keep them pretty short.
    • Dress shoes are not a bad idea.
    • Ties are optional, but overdressing is never a bad idea.
    • Do not wear sneakers, t-shirts, or shorts.
  • Arrive at least five minutes early.

During your interview:

  • Don’t bring your parents into the interview with you. Interviews are the college’s way of getting to know you as a person and a student. Your parents will have plenty of opportunities to ask questions later. If they do come with you on a college visit and want to wait for you while you interview, be sure to introduce your parents to your interviewer when he or she calls your name. Be polite and courteous to both your parents and the interviewer.
  • Don’t chew gum while you’re speaking with the interviewer.
  • Be respectful and professional.
    • At the beginning of the interview, shake hands with your interviewer and address them by name as you introduce yourself (for example, "Hello, Mr. Carter. I'm Jane Doe.").
    • Never swear or use slang while talking to your interviewer.
    • Respect both the interviewer and the school. Don’t tell an interviewer that their school is your “safety school” or “back-up.” There is nothing more you could say to prove to a school that you are less than interested in what they are offering.
    • Be honest. Don’t lie or inflate your answers just to impress your interviewer. They’ll see right through you, and it will come back to bite you later on.
  • Act natural. Try to have a conversation instead of regurgitating answers to practiced questions. Fluid conversation is much better than stiff conversation. If you are asked a yes or no question, don’t just answer and leave it at that. Take the opportunity to expand on why you chose the answer you did.
  • Don’t be shy! It’s okay to talk about your accomplishments, and even to brag. Confidence and maturity together are key.
  • Ask specific questions about the college, but not ones that are answered on the website.

After your interview:

  • Be gracious; thank the interviewer and shake their hand when the interview is complete.
  • Send a thank-you note. Whether you choose to send a handwritten note or an email, you need to thank the interviewer for the time they spent talking to you. This is also a chance for you to follow-up with any questions that you still have and to maintain a dialogue with your prospective institution. Write formally and be courteous. No slang, no acronyms, and definitely no swearing. Your interviewer will surely take note of your tone and you don’t want to undo anything positive that came out of the interview itself.

Page last updated: 05/2019