Eleven Tips for Successful College Interviews
College interviews are a great opportunity for you to demonstrate your strong interest in a campus. Check out the following tips to help you prepare. Many of these tips can be adapted for a virtual interview as well.
1. No matter what…bring a resume and paper and pen to take notes…
Develop a nice resume. Bring two copies: one for you and one for the interviewer. If the interviewer doesn’t want it, that’s okay. A resume helps you organize your thoughts and offer some documentation to the interviewer. If you can’t remember something during an interview, look down at your resume, and it will refresh your memory.
Bring paper and a pen. You can write down some questions to ask beforehand or just take notes. Taking notes during the interview will help you remember what was said so you can write a detailed thank you letter or email later. Also the interview may help you write a college specific essay.
2. Understand the different kinds of interviews.
Interviews are conducted by admissions officers, college students, and/or alumni (graduates of the college).
- Some take place before you apply, while others only take place after you apply.
- Some are in person on campus, some are in person in your city, and some are now on Skype or other virtual methods.
- For some colleges, you must ask for an interview, while others automatically provide one once you apply.
- Some are scheduled in advance, while other times you can be lucky and find an admissions officer to speak with at your school or during a campus visit.
It is your job to find out what type, if any, interview is offered. Visit each college’s site and find out. If you cannot travel to the college for an interview, find out when the admissions officers are in your city at another school or college fair and see if they will meet with you individually. If not, download Skype, it’s free.
If you’re interviewing with someone referred to you privately, ask about their position, why they love their university, and their view of how you can best sell yourself in your applications. Bring a resume with you.
3. Know what the interview means at each college.
Regardless of who interviews you, there are two kinds of interviews: Evaluative or Informational. Find out if the interview is purely informational or intended to help evaluate you as a candidate.
Evaluative interviews allow you to introduce yourself in a way that can distinguish you from the many other candidates applying for admission. You and your interviewer engage in a relaxed and friendly conversation during which you will be encouraged to discuss your school, your courses, your activities, and your academic and personal goals. You will also be encouraged to ask any questions you have about the college and the application process. The interview summary written by the interviewer after your discussion describes your individual qualities and ability to contribute to the college community. It becomes part of your application file when you apply. BRING A RESUME TO LEAVE BEHIND.
Informational interviews require you to direct the conversation. The interviewer’s questions may be as general as, “What can I tell you about this school?” or “What questions do you have about the application process?” Ordinarily, no written evaluation is included in your application file after an informational interview. As the name suggests, the sole purpose of the interview is to raise and answer questions that will help you distinguish differences among colleges and which ones “fit” you best.
4. Know something about the college before you visit/interview.
Do your homework. You are not expected to be an expert on the college, but you should know basic facts before your interview. Viewbooks, Facebook, individual college blogs, catalogues, and college guides are all good sources of basic information. The interviewer’s questions will help you clarify the qualities you hope to find in a college and will help you understand how different colleges satisfy those expectations. Be prepared to talk about your college search. What are you looking for in a college? What is important to you? What is your vision of the ideal college? How did you decide to visit this specific campus?
5. Think about your high school years!
Be introspective. Think how you are different from your peers. Focus on your leadership and initiative. Focus on your strengths that match the college. What do you do with your “free” time? How would your parents describe you? What would your favorite teacher say? Your friends? Make a list of extracurricular interests and hobbies that have been important to you. How have you spent your summers? Have you ever worked, either on a volunteer basis or for pay? How have you changed during your high school years? What recent books have you read? What recent papers have you written? Be prepared for all kinds of questions.
6. Know your high school.
The colleges you apply to will assess your achievements within the context of your high school. Are honors courses offered? APs? How large is your high school? How many students are in your senior class? You should be able to describe your school, the courses you have taken and the level of competition you have faced. What course in high school has been toughest for you? Do you regret any course choices? Try not to complain about “bad” teachers! How diverse is your high school population? Your community? Don’t assume your interviewer can picture your school. Try to describe it as vividly as possible. Take along a copy of the LHS school profile.
7. Watch your language-verbal and body
Verbal: Avoid slang and don’t say “you know,” “like,” and “um.” Stop and think before you speak. The interviewer wants to get to know you as an individual and to evaluate you as a potential student. Listen carefully to the questions, think before you respond, and express your ideas clearly.
Body: Establish good eye contact with the interviewer. When people look at each other they communicate more effectively. Be aware of how you act when you are nervous. Do you tap your foot? Twist or flip your hair? Look at the floor? Say “you know” or “like” a lot? If you can identify your nervous habits ahead of time you can address them in the interview.
8. Be prepared to ask questions.
Ask questions regarding academic requirements or special services offered by the college, but avoid basic questions that should have been answered in your preliminary research. Do not waste time asking questions that are easily answered in the Viewbook, website, or catalogue. Examples: “How many students attend your school?” or “Do you have a major in psychology?” Use your time wisely by asking about things that interest you. You might ask about internship opportunities, accessibility of professors, athletic facilities and sports traditions, artistic performance opportunities on campus, leadership positions for students, or social life on campus. Ask questions that will help you distinguish qualitative differences between similar colleges. It’s a good idea to bring your list of questions to the interview.
9. Dress “comfortably.”
Most admission interviewers recommend that you wear clothes that are comfortable for you and make you feel good about yourself. You don’t have to “dress up” in a skirt or necktie unless that’s how you’re most comfortable. Be neat and don’t show too much skin, but be yourself.
10. Be honest. Don’t pretend.
If you really read science fiction, then don’t pretend that you like Dickens. Share any serious personal difficulty that has affected your record with your interviewer. Don’t try to guess “the right answer” to the questions. What you have done is not nearly so important as why you did it, why it was important to you, and how it has helped you to grow. If you have a weakness in your record (for example, a poor grade or semester of poor grades) try to put it into perspective for the interviewer. Be honest AND SHOW HOW YOU HAVE GROWN FROM CHALLENGING EXPERIENCES. DO NOT MAKE THE INTERVIEWER WORRY ABOUT YOU. If this is your first interview and you’re nervous, share those feelings with your interviewer. If you’re afraid that some aspect of the college might not be right for you, share your concern. Feel good about yourself and convey that feeling to the interviewer. You can be positive about your accomplishments without sounding conceited. Interviewers expect you to say good things about yourself.
11. Be sure to follow-up after the interview and write thank you cards or emails.
Interviewers, like everyone else, appreciate being thanked for their time. In your notes, write down the name of your interviewer as well as the date (many will give you a business card) and send a personal thank you note after returning home.
Thank them and then mention one or two new things about the campus you learned from the interview.
Share one new piece of information about yourself.
Ask another question about the college or ask if you can speak with some particular students, staff, or professors.
Colleges notice the gesture and it helps to reinforce a positive impression. If you enjoyed your interview and visit, find out about opportunities for you to return and to stay overnight on campus, sit in on classes, or attend upcoming special programs.
The information you receive from interviews can help you write your college specific essays.
Remember that every college or university wants you to leave your visit feeling good about the experience. If you take the time to research colleges, and then do a little thinking about how you’ve spent your time and what is important to you, you’ll find your interviews a powerful way to enhance your college admissions and application process.