How to Hack the College Admissions Interview
These insider tips can help you ace college interviews for highly selective colleges and universities.
Optional Interviews Aren’t Really Optional
Even if a college interview is described as optional or recommended but not required, you should schedule an interview. Interviews help a college evaluate you as a person and help you evaluate the college.
College interviews might not have a big impact on college admissions decisions, but they are a good way of demonstrating interest in the college, especially if you can’t visit the college in person. They are considered very important by only about 4 percent of colleges, but that includes many elite colleges and universities. An admissions 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 the college 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 during the interview. Don’t use more than a single page because too many notes can distract you from the interview. Most interviewers can tell when you are reading a written response. It is best to write a few reminder keywords on an index card, as opposed to complete sentences or paragraphs.
Leave early for the interviews. 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 a few extra minutes to get lost on your way to the interview.
If the interview is being held at a restaurant, look for the interviewer inside the restaurant. Don’t just wait at the entrance to the restaurant because the interviewer might have arrived earlier than you and already be inside.
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 college 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 is not out to get you. They just want to get to know you better.
People like to talk about themselves, so engage the interviewer in conversation. Google the interviewer before the interview and look them up on LinkedIn if possible. If the interviewer is a current student or alumnus, ask them how they chose the college and their major. Does the major connect to what they are doing now? What did they like the most about their college years?
Alumni interviewers do not get copies of your application. You can talk about your essay, if necessary, during the interview. Do not dwell on academic performance, though. More than two-thirds of students applying for admission at 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 come with you to your college admissions interview. It is incredibly awkward and gives a bad impression. The student can get intimidated by having their parents looking over their shoulder, especially if the parents interrupt the student to offer their own answers to the interviewer’s questions.
How to Prepare for the Interview
Most 17-year-olds haven’t had a lot of experience with interviews. Practicing with mock interviews can help you become more confident and less nervous in real interviews by demystifying the process. Don’t practice too much, or your answers will sound rehearsed.
Read the local daily newspaper for a few days before the interview. Also, read the college’s student newspaper. It can give you insights into what’s happening on campus and is a great way of showing enthusiasm for the college. Another option is to click on the alumni tab on the college’s web site to get the latest alumni news.
Common Interview Questions
Laura J. Miller says that “Why do you want to go to this college?” is guaranteed to be one of the questions asked by the interviewer. Think about this question before the interview. Rather than respond with platitudes about the college, your response should discuss how you are a good match for the college and how the college is a good match for you. Give specifics.
“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 the college should admit you. How will admitting you benefit the college 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.” Be prepared to answer this question, in case it is asked. 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’ve had on other people or the impact that they have had on you.
After the Interview
Send a personalized thank you note to the interviewer soon 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, so it is best to send the thank you note quickly. Mention something that was discussed during the interview or follow-up on a question that was asked.