You’ve taken challenging courses, sat for the SAT or ACT, filled out all of the applications, written the essays and there’s still more??? The college interview can be a critical piece of the admissions process. Many students look identical on paper; they’ve all been involved in multiple activities, taken challenging courses, and penned compelling essays. How do colleges decide which applicants to admit? They interview.
Most students get the email or letter requesting an interview and the heart palpitations start immediately. Why do they want an interview? What will they ask? Will they like me? AHHH! Stressful.
Managing the college interview is easy with three parts: knowing how to dress, what types of questions they will ask, and what questions you should ask. The first part, how to dress, determines what the interviewer’s first impression of you will be. This doesn’t require a magical formula – GUYS: wear a nice shirt, nice pants, and clean shoes; GIRLS: a skirt (not too short!) and shirt, or pants and a nice shirt. If you would be comfortable around your grandparents or in a church/synagogue, then you’ll be fine for the interview. A suit and tie is unnecessary; dressing that way will probably only make you feel uneasy and tell the interviewer you’re uncomfortable and hoping to compensate by dressing up. I advise students not to wear jeans, only because they’re a bit casual. However, if they are nice jeans (preferably dark…) paired with a nice shirt and clean dark shoes, then jeans can be acceptable. Clearly, the idea is to form an impression that you take care of yourself, dress appropriately for an academic interview, and are comfortable presenting yourself.
The second component: What will they ask? Every college is different, but most have a bank of questions from which the interviewer can choose. The ultimate goal for the interview is to be conversational; they want to get to know who you are as a person and how you will contribute to campus life at their institution. Some interviewers will only get to one or two of the optional questions because the conversation is self-generating and easy to maintain. This is good! It means you and the interviewer have connected on a personal level and your personality is coming through without being forced. However, this won’t necessarily happen on every interview. Personalities differ and you won’t connect immediately with each one. Not to worry though – interviewers have their lists of questions to keep the conversation going. Some typical questions include:
Why are you interested in this school?
What do you expect to gain from your college experience?
How have you spent your summers and free time?
How would you describe yourself to someone who has never met you?
Name an experience when your friends were proud of you or the way you handled a situation?
Tell me about a significant personal experience.
Discuss the reasons for choosing your essay topic. (Bring two copies and be ready to discuss.)
What is your favorite book? (Don’t just give the title – be prepared to share your thoughts.)
Briefly explain a challenge you overcame and how it affected your life.
Prepare a 30-second biography. Paint a vivid, compelling portrait of yourself.
If you could travel in time, what period of history would you visit and why?
Prepare a little information about yourself and ask an adult to give you a mock interview using the questions above. The adult should NOT be a parent! You are way too comfortable with them; ask a teacher, counselor, or another adult. Remember, the idea is to be nervous and uncomfortable during the mock interview. Get this out of the way so you can be confident during your real interview. The more you practice (in front of a mirror, with friends, etc.), the better you’ll be. Trust me, this will be awkward, weird, and not fun – but you will get better. Keep working at it!
*Remember to bring two copies of the following (one for you, one for interviewer):
Any Supplemental Essays (if applicable)
The third part: What to ask? This is the part where most interviewees get freaked out. Toward the end of the interview, most students will be asked “Do you have any questions for me?” and the typical response is “Umm… I don’t think so.” Fail. This is your chance to show the interviewer that you have prepared and researched this amazing college where you are applying! Here are some good, generic questions (but also feel free to develop some on your own!)
What was your college experience like at ________ University?
How does ________ University help freshmen to get involved with campus activities?
What is the typical 4-year college schedule at ______ University?
Are courses typically taught by professors or teaching assistants (TAs)?
If _________ University is strongly known for its internship program, ask detailed questions about how these programs would work for your specific intended major or area of interest.
Ask a follow-up question for a topic discussed during the interview.
Stay true to yourself during the interview. This is not a test! The colleges just want to get to know you a little better and see what your contribution to their campus has the potential to be.
The best advice? Be yourself. Practice to gain confidence in your answers and be prepared to talk about yourself. That is why you are there!
By Marc Hoberman