College Interviews: the Lowdown

December 2, 2019

How to prep for college interviews

Some colleges require interviews, others encourage them, and even others offer them as an opportunity for applicants to learn more about the school and the programs they offer.  As a prospective student, you should always jump at the opportunity to interview, regardless of whether it’s only offered or encouraged. 

Not only are college interviews a great way to demonstrate your interest in the college, but they are also a way to make your application come to life.  Whether the interview is with an admissions officer, a current student, or an alumni, the interviewer will be able to glean something beyond what you included in your application.  

What does it mean to demonstrate interest?

Some schools keep close track of when and if an applicant interacts with a school.  

Did you visit campus? Attend an info session?  Email questions to your admissions officer? Some colleges even track whether you open emails from them or how often you visit their site!

All of these are examples of showing interest in a school.  For schools that track interest, these kinds of interactions are important because schools ultimately want the applicants they accept to attend the college or at least seriously consider it.

If an applicant is asked to interview and declines, it is likely a sign that they are not seriously considering the school.  If an applicant attends an interview and is able to clearly convey their interest in the school, the interview can certainly improve their admissions chances. 

Not all interviews are created equal. 

There are a few different types of interviews. The first big difference is that some interviews are evaluative, while some are informational.  An evaluative interview is an interview which has bearing in terms of admissions decisions. Interviewees will be “evaluated” on some aspect or another, and the applicants performance in the interview will become part of their application file. They aren’t meant to be scary, but are generally meant to evaluate whether the student is a good “fit” for the school based on factors such as personality, strengths, weaknesses and goals. Many selective liberal arts colleges, like Hamilton and Wesleyan, require all applicants to partake in an evaluative interview.  While evaluative interviews may sound daunting, they rarely hurt an applicants chances; they are truly an opportunity to show your personality, interests, and passions beyond what is in your written application.

Many colleges offer, but do not require, informational interviews. Informational interviews are an opportunity for an applicant to learn more about the school.  These are generally with a current student or alum but might be with an admissions staffer, in certain instances. For any informational interview, it’s extremely important that you come prepared with school-specific questions — beyond what can easily be googled!  The interviewer is there to share their experience at the school with you, so set aside some time for formulating questions that allow you to learn something about the school you couldn’t gather from the website. The interviewer will likely ask a few standard questions, but the interviewee’s performance will not be “assessed.” In this sense, informational interviews are mostly a marketing tactic for the school. 

Does it matter who is interviewing you?

To an extent, yes.  It’s likely that an interview with an admissions officer will hold more water than an interview with an alum or current student.  Interviews with alumni or current students will be more casual than those with an admissions officer.  

Regardless of the kind of interview you’re offered, be sure to put your best foot forward by following the tips below.

  • Come with questions

Ask specific questions about the school, and make sure they aren’t questions you could find answers to on their website. Asking questions that are school-specific show that you did your research and are genuinely interested in that school in particular. Come prepared to talk about the college, how’d you fit in there, and how you’d contribute to the community. 

  • Don’t recite your resume

It is great to talk about the amazing things you did in high school, but be sure to add a layer of depth to it that a college admissions officer wouldn’t get from just reading your application. Specific stories about an extracurricular or work experience are more engaging than reciting a list.

  • Practice 

Sit down with your parents, a teacher, or a friend, have them ask you questions about yourself, and practice answering them.  With a bit of research online, you might be able to find lists of past interview questions for specific schools. While you shouldn’t take these as gospel, they can provide good practice.  

  • Learn how to talk about yourself 

Interviewers might ask an open ended question like “Tell me about yourself” or “How would a friend describe you.” Avoid cliches and overly vague characteristics, like “kind” or “helpful”. We recommend coming up with a few taking points beforehand that encapsulate your life experiences, your passions, and your personality that can be applied to a broad range of questions. These “talking points” should be personal anecdotes that convey a clear and meaningful message. 

  • Be yourself

There is really no reason to be nervous for college interviews.  They can generally only help your chances of admissions and they are as much for the applicant as for the admissions office.  Don’t be afraid to loosen up a bit and interact conversationally with your interviewer.  

Ultimately, if your interview goes well, it can be a great contribution to your application file. At worse, it can have little to no effect. If you get the opportunity to interview, you should absolutely take it!

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