Updated: Feb 22
This article was originally written and published by Rose Wong in 2020.
In the college application process, the interview allows schools to get to know you through an actual human being who has a connection with the university. The interviewer is typically part of the alumni; if you get the rare opportunity to do an interview on campus, you may meet with an admissions officer.
Truth be told, interviews count for a small portion of the overall application. At the end of the day, it’s a review submitted by a third party after meeting you for 30 minutes, so it makes sense that it doesn’t matter nearly as much as your essays, transcript or recommendation letters. With that being said, don’t blow it. A mediocre review may not affect an overall stellar application, but a scathing one would.
Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind when you head in for your interview:
Show how much you want to be at the school
This may be your only college interview or your 18th. Regardless, when you’re sitting across from the alum, you need to show that among the list of schools to which you are applying, this one is special. That’s where you want to be next year, and you know exactly why.
Do your research and be prepared to talk about aspects of the school that you are particularly excited about. And say the actual words: “[College] is my top choice.” The alum is listening for this, so make it clear that you want to be part of their alma mater.
Present a unique side of yourself
The alum likely has multiple interviews lined up for the day, camping out at one coffee table as high school seniors come and go. Don’t let your interview be the one they vaguely remember when it’s time to write her review for the school, and they have to search through your profile for something to say.
Show what makes you unique. It could be a robotics project that supports mothers in wheelchairs or a summer that you spent in Ecuador interviewing people for an oral history. It could be anything, but bring your passion, which is what leaves an impression.
Of course, you want to be natural and conversational. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice, practice, practice. College interview questions are not things that you get asked every day, so it’s important to think about your answer beforehand and ensure that you can thoughtfully articulate it when the time comes. Why do you think you are a good fit for our school? If you could have an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?
“Business casual” is the move. Trade in the jeans and sneakers for a nice collared shirt, khakis or slacks. Girls should consider a nice blouse with dress pants, or a dress fit for a professional setting.
Talk about other schools
If you speak too positively about another school, it may sound as though your heart is somewhere else. If it’s negative, it could be viewed as speaking in bad taste, and you never know if the interviewer has family or a close friend who attends the school.
If the alum asks about other colleges, they are throwing you a curveball. Answer carefully and pivot back to the interview focus—your experiences, academic and pre-professional passions, and interest in the school that you’re being interviewed for.
Say you don’t have any questions
Towards the end of the interview, the alum will ask, “do you have any questions?” Asking thoughtful questions shows that you are seriously considering the school, and declining to do so may come off as a lack of interest. Not to mention that saying ‘no’ would mean giving up the opportunity to extend the conversation and further connecting with the interviewer.
You may come up with more (and potentially better) questions during the interview, but always do your research and prepare a few. What was your favorite part of your time at X school? X program really interests me, do you think it will be feasible to do with a double major?
Forget to send a follow-up email
This is the perfect opportunity to thank the interviewer for their time and expertise, as well as reiterate your passion for the school, which hopefully they write about in their review of the interview. It means something that you took the time to write them a note after the meeting. Make it personal to the conversation, but keep it relatively concise.
Cliche because it’s true: BE YOURSELF. Insincerity shows and it’s hard to connect with a fake person. You are interesting and worth getting to know. And remember, we are here to help--feel free to give us a call to schedule a mock interview!
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Robert Powers (M.A. Johns Hopkins) is the college consultant at College Torch. He is an expert in colleges and the college admissions process. Parents are able to join his private Facebook group for Parents of College-Bound Students.