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How to Prepare Effectively for College Interviews

Interviews are a great opportunity for you to not only demonstrate your interest in a university but also learn more about the student experience. In order to make the most of the opportunity, it’s important to understand the purpose of the college interview and how to best prepare for it. 


Interviews are typically offered after a student has submitted their application, but some schools require students to request an interview before they submit (it’s important to check each school’s method). Interviews are generally casual conversations, lasting 30-60 minutes, and may be conducted by university alumni or admissions office staff. Most are conducted by alumni interviewers, who are volunteers — not official representatives of the university. They do not have access to your application materials, and you will not be expected to discuss your grades or test scores. The interview is meant to 1) help you and the university decide if you are a good fit for each other, 2) hear how you communicate, 3) help universities make sure there are no red flags in your application, and 4) get a sense for whether you really want to go to that university (or not). 


Interview prep

The best kinds of preparation you can do for an interview are 1) reflect on your high school accomplishments and work on your college essays because the interviewer may ask similarly general questions, such as to tell them about an extracurricular activity, why you want to major in xyz, what is an example of leadership, etc.; 2) do some mock interviews with your family, mentor, and/or counselor so that you practice lots of types of questions; and 3) have lots of great answers for the all-important question of “So, why do you want to go to college here?”. 


Here’s a quick breakdown of each of those categories: 

  1. Reflect on your high school experience and accomplishments: Your interviewer will likely ask questions about your high school experience and future goals (“What is your favorite subject?” “Are there any extracurricular activities you would like to continue in college?”). Keep in mind that you may have to bring up any interests first, as your interviewer may not have any of your background information. The interviewer may also start the interviewer with the dreaded question “So tell me about yourself.” Don’t stress - just tell them your name, where you’re from, and maybe a couple facts about yourself such as what activities you enjoy or what your favorite class is. This is just a warm-up question, so don’t worry, and don’t spend too long on it. The best way to prepare for these types of questions is just to reflect on who you are as a person, what you enjoy doing, what you’re proud of, and what you’re passionate about. Then write down 4-5 of those things that you want to make sure to mention so they’re top of mind.
  2. Mock interviews: Practice makes perfect! Ask your counselor, mentor, parents, and/or friends to ask you a couple interview-type questions. Because you won’t be able to prepare for every possible question your interviewer may ask you, your goal in this stage of preparation is to be able to think of a response off the top of your head to any question and to tie it to an interest of yours.
  3. So why do you want to go here?” In addition to making sure that you can communicate effectively, the most important thing that the interviewer is trying to get a sense of (for non-ED applicants) is “If we accepted this student, would this student enroll?” That answer is very important because colleges are very focused on their “yield” (i.e., the percentage of students who enroll at an institution after having been accepted). If a school’s yield goes up, generally their rankings go up, as do their endowments and other rankings, so it is a big focus of universities (especially this year, when some universities are in danger of closing). The best way to demonstrate interest in a school is to research that school extensively and have a lot of reasons ready for why you like it! Spend time researching the university on its website and social media accounts, and speak with any friends, mentors, family members, or anyone you know who went there to get a real sense of the school. Look into what you might want to major in at that school and how that program might differ from similar majors at other schools. Have a good idea of the overall campus culture and what attracts you to this specific university. Is that school famous for certain traditions? Try to have a short story in mind for each point you want to make — you want to avoid one-word answers or not being able to engage in back-and-forth with your interviewer. 


General tips:

In addition to your responses, prepare questions for your interviewer because they will likely leave a few minutes at the end of the interview for you to ask questions. Prepare questions about your interviewer’s personal experience (rather than university administration or policy). For example, if the interviewer is an alum, ask how they decided on their major, which extracurricular activities they did in college, what their favorite part of attending that school was, and/or if they have any advice for you.


My main advice after having conducted countless interviews: don’t rely on scripted answers, and don’t be afraid of silence. Interviewers would rather you say you need a few moments to compose your answers than listen to you ramble. Just say, “That’s a great question. Could I please have a moment to think about my answer?”


Interviews are generally an optional piece of the application process, but we recommend that if a college offers interviews, you should always take that opportunity to demonstrate your interest in that school. 


Finally, keep in mind that interviews are usually not the deciding factor in the admissions decision — if you make polite, genuine conversation and demonstrate interest in the school, then the interview can only support your application.