Prep for a College Admissions Interview

High school students who have been hired for a job may face a familiar task when enduring the college application process: an interview.

Admissions interviews are part of the college admissions process that give students a chance to converse with someone who represents a school. Students can use interviews to personalize their applications, show their individuality and prove their interest in a school.

Admissions interviews can take place virtually or in person. They typically last 30 to 60 minutes, according to IvyWise college admissions counselor Christine Chu.

The interview process can vary across colleges in several ways, according to Erin Hays, director of admissions and associate vice president for student services and enrollment management at the University of Oregon.

“I’m under the impression most schools have moved away from required interviews and offer them as an optional part of the application for admission,” Hays wrote in an email. “There could also be variance in who is interviewing, from student ambassadors to admissions counselors to alumni. The common denominator, regardless of interview purpose, is the opportunity for a student to personalize their application and learn more about the school.”

Why Prepare for a College Admissions Interview?

Students can put as much time as they want into most college application materials – like resumes, cover letters and personal essays – and seek editing suggestions from others. However, there are no revision opportunities for interviews, so it’s crucial for students to make sure they are ready, experts say.

“Students should take the time to prepare for them because … an interview is a one-shot prospect,” Rachel Rubin, founder of the college admissions consulting firm Spark Admissions, wrote in an email. “Though admissions officers and alumni usually work to make interviews feel conversational and comfortable, they are still evaluative exercises (at some schools) and thus merit thoughtful attention and practice.”

College applicants should consider taking advantage of the fact that in an admissions interview, they can tell a school more about them, Chu says. They can speak about hobbies, interests or experiences not highlighted in any of their other application materials.

How Do You Prepare for a College Admissions Interview?

Here are six tips for students hoping to ace their college admissions interviews:

  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Do your research.
  • Prepare your own questions.
  • Be authentic.
  • Dress for success.
  • Write a thank-you note afterward.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Students can familiarize themselves with the interview process by answering common interview questions aloud, just as they would when it’s time for the real thing. It would help more to find someone who can ask you the questions, experts say.

“If you can sit down with a parent, teacher, friend or trusted adviser and do a mock interview, that’s even better because it’s a chance to work out some of the jitters and get yourself in the right headspace for the real thing,” Rubin says.

She adds that if possible, students should practice in the format that they will actually be interviewing in. In-person practice will best prepare a student for an in-person interview, for example, while virtual practice will best prepare a student for a virtual interview.

Do Your Research

Colleges want students who want them. Applicants can demonstrate interest in a school by showing interviewers that they have done their homework. 

“Students should thoroughly research the college before the interview, identifying four or five distinctives about the university that align with their interests,” Chu says. 

Prepare Your Own Questions

Good interviews sound like natural conversations. Interviewers will have ample questions for students, and students should show up with some questions of their own.

By asking questions, students can further demonstrate their interest in the school. Thoughtful, open-ended questions work best, Rubin says.

“Come prepared with a few questions about the school that are not straightforward, fact-based inquiries to which you could easily find answers via the school’s website or Google.”

Be Authentic

“Oftentimes we show up as who we think other people want us to be, when in fact we are enough,” na’Khia Washington, director of school counseling at Boys’ Latin School of Philadelphia, wrote in an email. “And we show up better and do better and are more confident when we are our authentic selves.”

Colleges say they seek well-rounded student bodies and want to enroll people with a variety of personalities, passions and backgrounds. Interviews give students a chance to show their uniqueness, Rubin says. 

“Admissions officers really are trying to figure out who you are beyond the page, and while you want to put your best foot forward in this setting, you should let yourself shine in your own light rather than trying to respond to admissions officers with what you might think they want to hear,” she says. 

Dress for Success 

Interviews give students get a chance to make an impression on schools not only by how they communicate but also by how they present themselves. In addition to demonstrating preparedness, showing up to an admissions interview dressed well can give a student a psychological edge, Rubin says. 

“For both phone and video interviews, even in cases where the student will not be visible, I would recommend that they wear nicer clothing,” she says. “Something about putting on the business attire we associate with interviews helps to get us in the right mindset for succeeding at them.” 

Write a Thank-You Note Afterward 

Admissions interviews give students with a chance to stand out. They can set themselves apart from other applicants by sending a message of gratitude after the interview. 

“This practice has fallen out of favor somewhat, but I think it’s generally appreciated by those on the receiving end of the thank you notes,” Rubin says. 

By sending a note to their interviewer, students can further demonstrate their interest in an institution and also show an admissions office that they are mannerly. 

Common College Admissions Interview Questions 

Here are 16 questions that students should be prepared to be asked in some form during a college admissions interview, according to Chu, Hays and Washington: 

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you interested in our college?
  • What will you contribute to our campus community?
  • Who in your life has influenced you the most?
  • Tell me about a challenge that you overcame.
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • What academic area interests you the most (or the least) and why?
  • What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?
  • What do you do for fun in your free time?
  • What are your five-year goals after graduation?
  • What community, social and school activities have you engaged in?
  • What are your career goals?
  • Do you have a support system?
  • How do you handle feedback?
  • What classes have you taken?
  • What is your favorite class and why?

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