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College Interviews

How to Prep for a College Interview

8 min readaugust 28, 2021


College interviews can be quite intimidating 😳 Unlike college essays (which you can spend hours pruning, editing, and perfecting), interviews only give you one shot to make a perfect impression. And, although interviews are not a massive part of the college admissions process, they can give you a slight edge over other candidates that can land you a spot at your dream college. Here are a few tips to prepare for a college interview!
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Image from Unsplash.

Scheduling the Interview 

Depending on which college you are attending, plan to schedule 🗓 your interview at least 3-4 months before applying. That means that if you are applying Early Decision, you should schedule your interview in June-July of your senior year. Usually, you can sign up for an interview online. Just Google “[the name of your college] admissions interviews.” 
Picking your interview slot can be tricky, but you don’t have to overcomplicate it. In general, avoid slots first thing in the morning (especially on Monday 🥱), right before lunch, or the last slot in the evening. You want your interviewer to be in a good mood so that they give the admissions office a good recommendation! 

2 Weeks Before the Interview

You should start preparing for the interview at least two weeks in advance. Here is everything you should do to feel most prepared: 

1. Attend a tour or information session 

Before interviewing, your goal should be to learn as much as you can about the college. Sign up for a tour or information ℹ️ session online, and write down anything that you find interesting or any questions you may have. Often, student and alumni interviewers will mention which clubs they are a part of, their major, what sports they play, etc. If you know 🧠 a bit about the college, it will be easier to connect with your interviewer, and they will see that you are genuinely interested in the college. 

2. Do even more research on the college

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Image from Unsplash. 

Now that you have a general understanding of the college, skim their website and find out as much as possible about what you want to study 📚 and what activities you want to participate in. Interviewers will usually ask you questions along the lines of “what do you want to major in,” “what clubs are you interested in,” “what opportunities are you excited about,” etc. Know about your intended major, 2-3 clubs you would be interested in joining, and any exciting or unique opportunities the college offers. I usually frame my answers as questions to get the interviewer to talk 🗣 more, especially if they are interested in the same subjects. Here are examples of what you should and shouldn’t do when responding to these question types. 
Bad: 
  • Interviewer: “What do you want to major in?”
  • You: “Public Policy Analysis” 
Good: 
  • Interviewer: “What do you want to major in?” 
  • You: “I’m not quite sure, but I was really interested in the Public Policy Analysis major that [school] offers, especially with the capstone project. Could you tell me a little more about how it works?” or “I’m really torn between Public Policy Analysis and PPE . . . which one would you recommend?” 
Another question interviewers are likely to ask is simply “why do you want to attend this college?” Here’s where you need to be a little bit strategic—you don’t want to say something too cliche, but you also don’t want to say something too niche. Here are two tricks to craft a good answer to this question. 
1. Give one academic reason and one non-academic reason. For academics, you can talk about unique majors or research 🧪 opportunities. Maybe even mention a specific professor or department that you would like to work with. It’s easy to find papers that department chairs have published from the college, and you can talk about these research papers. You could also mention academic clubs. For your non-academic reason, lean into your tours and information sessions.
  • Ex: “I also really admire how focused the student body is on community service. At a Q&A session, I remember that the Dean of Admissions said, ‘If you view community service as something you have to do, our school isn’t the place for you.’ I think that being in a classroom with a group of students so intent on helping others will allow me to find more opportunities to collaborate with others to make the world a better place.” (Cheesy, I know, but it works really well with admissions officers) 
2. Consider your interviewer. If your interviewer is an admissions officer 🧑‍🏫, lean more heavily into academics. You should also focus on things that the school is proud of. 
  • Ex: “During my junior year, I helped start the Model UN club at my school. We’ve come so far on our own, but it’s so amazing to see [school]’s MUN team win national/international titles. I would really love to join the Model UN team and work with all the talented students and coaches at your school.” 
However, make sure that you are tying in your own experience and activities. If you are a STEM-focused student 🧑‍🔬, don’t randomly say, “I WANNA JOIN MODEL UN!” (Unless you’re actually interested in it, of course). Admissions officers will see through that. 
If you are interviewing with an alum or a student, try to comment more on the student body. The interviewers are likely part of a “peer leader” group (such as an alumni 🧑‍🎓 network), so comment on the community and the support system at the school. You also have more room to comment on things that are lesser-known and ask questions about them. 
  • Ex: “I hear that the school has a strong peer support system, and when I attended a virtual tour, [tour guide’s name] sounded so welcoming and excited to show us about [the college]. I feel like I would be happy at [the college], and when I become an upperclassman, I would also love to be a part of [whatever the peer leader group is called].” 
For more practice questions and tips, check out this comprehensive guide from Fiveable.

Resources:

3. Update your resume 

This is pretty self-explanatory. Make sure that you have a resume ready to go in case your interviewer asks for it. Most of the time, they won’t ask for a resume 📑 or activities list (because you will be applying to the college anyway), but they may. Also, if the interviewer reaches out to you before the interview, you can send them your resume. 

4. Prepare for some basic interview questions

Here is a (short) list of potential interview questions:
  • What have you been up to over the summer/over quarantine? 
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What is your favorite class, and why? 
  • What extracurriculars are you involved in? 
  • Tell me about a challenge you’ve faced.
  • What is your favorite book? 
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses (academic or otherwise)? 
  • Is there anything you regret about your high school experience? 
  • Why do you want to apply to our college/why do you think it’s a good fit for you? 
If you can answer these questions, you should be set for the interview. It’s always possible that your interviewer will ask you something out of left field, but your interview will likely consist of versions of these questions ❓ for the most part. 

5. Practice your table manners

If you’re interviewing at a restaurant or coffee ☕️ shop, make sure that you practice your table manners and etiquette. You don’t have to stress too much, but it never hurts to brush up on some of the rules you may have forgotten over quarantine. This video is super helpful in terms of coffee shop etiquette. 

The Day of the Interview

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Image from Unsplash

On the day of the interview, make sure you arrive prepared and polished. Dress professionally, turn your phone off, and be on time! If your interview is in person, dress business casual (think along the lines of slacks, khakis, button-downs, and blouses)🧑‍💼, bring a print-out of your resume, and use a notepad to take notes. Arrive 5-10 minutes early, and when you meet your interviewer, look them in the eye and shake their hand. Come prepared to pay (and offer to pay!), but usually the interviewer should pay for you 🧾 in general. If you’re interviewing online, you should still dress professionally and arrive on time. Have a PDF of your resume, and make sure to check the sound, internet, and lighting before you enter the interview. Also, make sure that your background is neat! 
When your interview begins, the interviewer will likely introduce themselves and talk about their connection to the college. If they’re a student or alum, they will probably talk about their major. Be receptive and ask them a few questions 🧐 upfront. Small talk is where you build connections before they segway into the interview. 
Answering interview questions can be stressful, but try not to stress! You’ve prepared as much as you can, and you’re just there to be yourself. You’re not marketing yourself to the college. Instead, they’re marketing themselves to you (literally . . . they’re trying to take your money). Don’t be afraid to make (appropriate) jokes, give honest answers, and nerd 🤓 out about what you’re interested in. It might also be a good idea to create an elevator pitch to introduce yourself in a unique way! You don’t have to hide last night’s Netflix binge or your weird fascination with Rubix cubes—it makes you seem like a fun person, and it’s a good conversation starter. That being said, never say something negative about another school or compare colleges. 
At the end of the interview, they will give you some time to ask questions about the school. These questions should be intentional: you can have a few questions prepared before the interview starts, but for the most part, you should try to ask questions that pertain to your conversation 💬, especially if they’re a student. Ask about their experience, what they love about the college, etc. You’ll leave them nostalgic and with a good taste in their mouth, and that pleasant feeling will make them feel good about you
Before you leave, make sure to get your interviewer’s contact information 📇 so that you can send a thank you message and ask any more questions about the school. Thank them for their time and shake their hand again. 

Resources:

After the Interview 

After the interview is over, send your interviewer a short thank you email 📧, and mention something positive about the interview. Say that you’re looking forward to applying, and thank them again for taking time out of their day to help you. Send your thank you email no later than 24 hours after the interview. 

Final Thoughts 🤔

Phew . . . this was a long article 🥲 Here are the big takeaways:
  • Be professional 
  • Be honest
  • Be yourself! 
You’ve already done all the work. Now is your time to brag about it! Take a few deep breaths 🧘 and know that you got this! 

Resources:

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