How to Hack the College Admission Interview
These insider tips can help you ace undergraduate interviews for highly selective colleges and universities.
Optional Interviews Aren’t Really Optional
Even if an interview is described as optional or recommended but not required, you should schedule an interview. Interviews help a school to evaluate you as a person and help you to evaluate the school. Interviews are also a good way of demonstrating interest.
They are considered very important by only 4% of schools, but that includes many elite colleges and universities. An admission interview might not make or break your application, but even a slight advantage might help push your application into the admit pile.
Consider Alternatives to On-Campus Interviews
If you can’t visit for an on-campus interview, ask for an interview with a local alumnus or alumna. Interviews by Skype or telephone also are a possibility, although they are not as effective as face-to-face interviews.
Phone interviews are good because you can have a cheat sheet in front of you. Don’t use more than a single page because too many notes can distract you. Most interviewers can tell when you are reading a written response.
Leave early for the interview. It is better to arrive 10 minutes early than 10 minutes late. Plan for delays because of traffic. If the interview is being held at a location that is new to you, allow yourself 15 extra minutes to get lost on your way.
If the interview is being held at a restaurant, look for them inside. Don’t just wait at the entrance, because the interviewer might have arrived earlier than you.
An Interview is Like an Educational Blind Date
Laura J. Miller, director of college guidance at the Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey, likes to describe undergraduate interviews as an educational blind date. While you should talk about who you are and what you’ve done, it’s not all just about you.
The best interviews are ones in which the conversation flows and you don’t run out of things to talk about. The interviewer just wants to get to know you better. Google the interviewer beforehand and look them up on LinkedIn if possible. Ask how they chose the school and their major.
Alumni interviewers do not get copies of your application. Do not dwell on academic performance, though. More than two-thirds of students applying for top colleges are able to do the work, so grades and test scores will not differentiate you from other applicants.
Just as you wouldn’t bring your parents along on a blind date, don’t let them sit with you during the interview. Politely ask your parents to wait in the hall.
How to Prepare for the Interview
Most 17-year-olds don't have a lot of interview experience. Practicing with mock interviews can help you become more confident and less nervous by demystifying the process. Don’t practice too much, or your answers will sound rehearsed.
Read the local daily newspaper for a few days beforehand. Also, read their student newspaper. It can give you insights into what’s happening on campus and is a great way of showing enthusiasm for the school. Another option is to click on the alumni tab on the web site to get the latest alumni news.
Common Interview Questions
Laura J. Miller says that “Why do you want to go to this school?” is guaranteed to be one of the questions asked by the interviewer. Your response should discuss how you are a good match for the school and vice versa.
“Can you tell me about yourself?” is another common interview question. This is not an invitation to recite your life history or your pet cat. Rather, the interviewer wants to hear your elevator pitch for why they should admit you. How will admitting you benefit the campus? How are you more than just another good student?
A common variation on this question is “Tell me something about yourself that is not on your application.” Tell an interesting anecdote about yourself. Or tell them about something that has happened since you submitted the application.
Generally, the most interesting answers to interview questions tell the interviewer about the impact you had on other people or the impact that they had on you.
After the Interview
Send a personalized thank-you note to the interviewer the day after the interview. Most interviewers write up their interview report within a few days of the interview, while it is still fresh in their mind. Mention something that was discussed during the interview or follow-up on a question that was asked.