How to Prepare for a College Interview

How to Prepare for a College Interview
portrait of Tyler Epps
By Tyler Epps

Published on November 25, 2020

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If you're applying to a highly selective school, you may be required or encouraged to interview with an admissions representative or alum as part of the application process. These interviews help colleges assess your personality, interests, and overall fit with the school. Moreover, they provide you with an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the institution.

Only a few colleges — particularly private schools — require an admission interview, but many offer them as an option or simply recommend them. Other colleges, like Hamilton College and MIT, strongly recommend participating in an interview.

Only a few colleges require an admission interview, but many offer them as an option or simply recommend them.

For colleges that offer interviews, your admission chances likely won't be negatively impacted should you choose not to participate; however, you should view schools with "recommended" or "strongly recommended" interview policies as required if you're serious about attending.

Regardless of the policy, each interview requires a great deal of preparation. Below, we'll cover the interview process, common interview questions, and general tips for ensuring a successful college interview.

How Does a College Interview Work?

First, you should check your college's website to see whether it offers interviews and how to schedule one. While some schools may reach out to you to set up an interview, most leave it up to you to contact them. If the college you're applying to only offers an optional interview, it's still a good idea to participate since doing so can help demonstrate your interest in the school.

College interviews normally take place in the fall of your senior year in high school, but you can schedule them as early as the summer after your junior year. Once you've requested an interview, an admissions representative will help you schedule a place and time that work for you.

College Interview Overview

Can be required, strongly recommended, or optional Typically takes place during college application season in the fall May be in-person or virtual Generally lasts between 30 minutes and an hour

Interviews can be virtual or in-person. If the interview is virtual, make sure to prepare the same way you would if it were face to face. You should also dress professionally and find a place with limited distractions and background noise.

In-person interviews can take place on campus or off campus, in or close to your hometown. They may be held at a high school, library, or even a local cafe.

Most college interviews last between 30 minutes and an hour, but don't worry if it extends beyond that time. In fact, an interview that exceeds that allotted time may mean it's going well.

The 2 Types of College Interviews

Once you know whether your school offers an admission interview, you need to determine which type of interview it conducts: evaluative or informational.

Evaluative Interview

Evaluative interviews are a bit more formal. In these, admissions officers assess your fit through things like your character, interests, and communication skills.

Few schools require this type of interview, but the ones that offer it usually strongly recommend it, meaning it's in your best interest to schedule one. It's difficult to say exactly how much an evaluative interview impacts an admission decision, but a strong interview can certainly give you an edge over other applicants.

Informational Interview

Informational interviews are much less formal and mainly serve as a way for you to learn more about the college or a specific program it offers. As such, interviewers typically don't issue a report to the college's admissions board, meaning your interview shouldn't negatively impact or count toward a decision.

Even so, it's best to treat the interview as evaluative since you want to make a good impression.

How to Answer Common College Interview Questions

While the wording of each question may vary, interviewers tend to ask about similar topics. Knowing this, you can start preparing to answer some of the most common college interview questions well before your actual interview.

It's important, however, that you don't memorize your responses, as you don't want to sound overly rehearsed. Rather than writing down and reading full-length answers, it's best to have your main points prepared for each prospective question.

Tell me about yourself.

The interviewer wants to get to know you beyond what's written on your application. Regardless of how you answer this question, the most important thing is to provide a response that's unique to you.

Avoid general character traits and descriptions that don't reveal anything specific about your character. For instance, rather than saying you're creative or interested in art, you could give examples of your creativity or talk about some of your favorite projects or pieces.

Why do you think you'd be a good fit at this college?

Colleges want students who will positively contribute to their culture, community, and programs. Interviewers are looking to identify whether your values and academic goals align with the school. In your response to this question, highlight any leadership or volunteer activities you've completed and provide specific examples that demonstrate your character.

Why do you want to attend this college?

Nearly all college interviews include a question like this. Interviewers essentially want to confirm that you're seriously considering attending the school. You can talk about a program that interests you, the school's culture, or maybe even its athletic programs. Whatever you choose to focus on, your response should be specific to that institution.

What are your biggest academic strengths and weaknesses?

Many college interview questions revolve around getting to know you better as an individual, but interviewers also want to get to know you as a student. Instead of merely stating a subject you excel in, explain how you use your strengths in that area to achieve your academic goals — and how you plan to continue using those strengths in college.

When talking about your weaknesses, discuss how you're working to improve your skills in that area.

Why do you want to study _____ in college?

If you expressed an interest in a specific program or area of study, the interviewer may ask you why. This is your chance to talk about why you're passionate about this field or major. Describe your professional goals and how your chosen major will help you reach them.

Be careful to avoid discussing topics like salary and job security, as these don't offer any insight into your academic interests.

Tell me about a time you faced a difficult situation. How did you overcome it?

Schools want to see how you handle challenges and the efforts you take to overcome them. It's best to have a specific example prepared for this question. Recall a situation that presented an obstacle you weren't prepared for, however minor or significant it may be. Then, explain the steps you took to deal with it and what you learned in the process.

Questions to Ask a College Interviewer

It's easy to get caught up in college interview prep, but remember that you're also trying to determine whether the school is a good fit for you. Just as you prepared to answer questions, you should also prepare and bring specific questions to ask the college interviewer.

Keep in mind that whether your interviewer is an alum or an admissions representative, they've likely conducted several college interviews before. Try to avoid general questions that can be found online or apply to any interview. Instead, get creative and come up with questions that are specific to the school you're interviewing with.

Interviewers tend to pay close attention to these questions because they can indicate whether you did your research, which, in turn, helps them gauge your interest in the school.

Here are a few examples of topics you could ask about in your college interview:

Specific programs or departments Campus culture or traditions Clubs, athletic programs, and extracurricular activities Study abroad opportunities

5 Additional College Interview Tips

You should feel prepared to answer common college interview questions and engage in conversations about qualities and activities that are specific to the school. Before the interview, research academic offerings and any unique information about the college that interests you.

For most college interviews, business casual is ideal, as it allows you to look professional but not overly formal. This is typically defined as no shorts, jeans, or clothing that's revealing; think button-downs, blouses, and unwrinkled pants.

Interviewing is a skill, and practicing can go a long way when it's time for the real deal. Not only will it help you identify areas to work on, but it'll also give you an opportunity to go over some of the main points you prepared for the broader, more open-ended college interview questions. For virtual interviews, you may also use your mock interviews to find the ideal lighting and webcam position.

A follow-up email displays a level of professionalism and expresses continued interest in the school post-interview. In addition, because interviewers meet with many candidates, following up can help ensure they remember you.

Even for evaluative interviews, it's unlikely the interview will be the determining factor for whether you get rejected or admitted. Therefore, it's best to view the interview as an opportunity to learn more about the school and assess your fit. Above all, you should be enthusiastic and engaged in your conversation with the interviewer.


Feature Image: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

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