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).
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:
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.