10 tips to ace a college admission interview

By Wendy Worrall Redal

Most colleges no longer require interviews and some don’t offer them at all. But where they are available, interviews remain useful for schools and students.

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High School Parent | College Parent

An interview with a college admissions officer is a great way for your student to demonstrate interest in the school, to make a positive personal impression, and to address any aspect of her application — academic or otherwise — that might raise questions or doubts.

Ideally, schedule an interview to coincide with a campus visit. If your student is unable to visit in person, a phone/Skype or alumni interview may be an option. Some colleges schedule interview days at different locations around the country — your student should make sure she is on the mail/email list of her favorite schools to take advantage of this kind of opportunity.

For the most effective interview, have your student keep these 10 tips in mind and prepare answers to the 12 common interview questions that follow.

Know the purpose of the interview. An interview reveals your personality, confidence and enthusiasm, and may offer the college further insight into your character and the potential contributions you might make. This is your chance to address any holes or red flags in your application.

Do your research. Before you visit campus and interview, learn all you can about the college, especially about the major or program you’re interested in. Spend time exploring the college website in depth. Know the school’s history, program strengths, student profile and distinctive aspects, such as a common reading colloquium or a required service-learning experience.

Practice ahead of time. Have a parent or friend play the role of interviewer, entering a room to greet you, then posing questions till your answers come forth effortlessly, without uncomfortable pauses or too many “ums” or “likes.” Videotape your performance to troubleshoot weak spots.

Dress appropriately. Dress as though you’re going out for a nice dinner. “Business casual” is best — a dress shirt (button-down or a nice polo) and pressed chinos for guys, tailored dress or skirt/slacks and blouse for women. No athletic shoes or very high heels and no low-cut necklines or clingy attire. Hair and nails should be clean and well-groomed.

story-icon-bar-convo-3If you’re driving to campus, double check weather/highway conditions and estimated driving times. Construction can make you late for an interview and really throw off your student’s composure.

Know where you’re going and arrive early. Look at a campus map and know exactly where you are headed. Arrive with ample time to find parking and make your way across campus to the interview location (usually the Admission Office). Plan to arrive 15 minutes before your appointment. Sit down and take some deep breaths to relax and feel composed.

Make a positive first impression. Be ready to greet your interviewer. Don’t be staring down at your phone — look up, smile and extend a firm handshake. In an era where many young people communicate largely by text, in-person communication skills often get short shrift. Keep eye contact, even if you have to pause to contemplate an answer. Avoid fidgeting, playing with your hair or other distractions. Be attentive, yet relaxed.

Bring a resume. A resume can help prompt thoughts and comments, and you can share it with your interviewer if your file isn’t readily on hand. Include academic achievements, AP or IB classes, honors, awards, test scores and extracurricular activities. This way, you can quickly reference your accomplishments during the conversation.

Engage in conversation — don’t rely on a script. While it may be tempting to memorize what you’d like to convey, or steal glances at notes (in addition to your resume), it’s better to just talk normally. Your interviewer will lead the way, but don’t be afraid to let the conversation evolve spontaneously. You’ll appear far more sure of yourself if you do, and your real personality — the most important thing about you — is more likely to come across this way.

Ask thoughtful questions. To demonstrate initiative and curiosity, prepare some questions not readily answered on the school’s website. If you’re interested in a particular program (a major, honors dorm, study abroad, etc.), mention a few details you’re aware of and ask to know more. Or you might ask about what political issues have been significant on campus in the past year, how the college handles alcohol use by students, what advice your interviewer would offer incoming freshmen, or any number of things. The College Board offers a full list of suggested questions — just make sure to phrase them in your own words.

Send a thank-you. Write and mail a short, handwritten note as soon as your interview is over. Thank your interviewer for his or her time, and restate your interest in the college. Make sure the note is legible and 100-percent free of errors in grammar, spelling or punctuation. Admissions staff are buried under hundreds of emails a day — a handwritten note will stand out. 

12 Common Interview Questions to Master

  1. Why do you want to attend this college?
  2. Tell me about yourself (focus on three things).
  3. What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?
  4. What do you want to major in, and why?
  5. What are your career goals, and how would attending this college help you attain them?
  6. Tell me about your extracurricular activities and what they say about you.
  7. What are your strengths and weaknesses? (Show how you have used your strengths to accomplish something, and how you have overcome or grown through a weakness)
  8. What will you bring that’s distinctive to our campus community?
  9. Who has been a significant influence on you?
  10. What do you read, or what book has left an impression on you?
  11. Whom do you admire, and why?
  12. Tell me about a current event that concerns you – what position do you hold, and why? (Stay abreast of the news prior to your interview.)

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