So you’ve finished submitting your college application materials and are super excited to be done.
But then you get an email about an interview and start to panic.
No worries, we’re here to help with this complete guide to the college admissions interview process.
Which colleges offer interviews?
Not every school will reach out to you with an offer for an interview. I do know that the four ivy league schools I applied to, as well as Tufts, had alums reach out to me to coordinate interviews. Northwestern offered interview slots online, but didn’t directly reach out. So do some research to see if interviews will be offered or are required as part of the application process.
How should I respond to the interview request?
If the alum (or admissions counselor) reached out to you directly via email, you may have a bit of anxiety regarding how to respond. I know I did!
Most importantly: remember your manners. Unless otherwise stated, address the person by “Ms.” or “Mr.” followed by their last name. Express how you’re grateful they reached out and express why you’re interested in attending their university.
If you are unable to make the day or time they requested, briefly explain your situation (you have a prior commitment), apologize for the inconvenience, and offer a few other times you’re available as alternatives.
Make sure to check over the email for any typos or grammatical errors. You don’t want to get started on the wrong foot. Then, hit the “SEND” button with confidence.
If the college doesn’t reach out to me for an interview, should I reach out to them?
In most cases, for colleges that recommend (and not require) interviews, we encourage you to set up interviews with the colleges you are most interested in attending. It’s a way for colleges to gauge your interest in the school and by setting up the interview you’re showing that you are proactive and indeed interested. Who knows? It could be the deciding factor between you and one of your peers who looks similar on paper, but did not have an inteview (or had a bad one).
Where will the interview be held?
Where the interview will be held varies greatly between the college, who is conducting the interview, and the distance between you and the interviewer. The interviews conducted by alums might be held in a public place, such as a coffee shop or library. Some might be held over the phone or via video chat, and if conducted by admissions, will most likely be at the university admissions office .
What should I expect?
If you’re meeting with an alum, try to get a sense of who they are via their LinkedIn profile. The more you know, the more pointed questions you can ask about their experience at the university. Plus, if they have a picture on their profile you’ll know who you’ll be looking for if you’re meeting in a public place.
And, if you’re meeting with a college admissions counselor, you should look them up on the college website to get a sense of their background and experience. You need just enough information to show you’ve done your homework. No need to track them down on Facebook and come armed with a bunch of personal details. Now that would be weird.
Most importantly: don’t be late! And make sure you dress for success. Better to be too formal than too casual in this type of situation. No need for a full out interview suit, but definitely not jeans either.
The interview typically lasts between 30 minutes and an hour. This is your chance to show who you are as a person so take your time to represent yourself thoughtfully.
What questions will I be asked?
The number one question you should prepare to answer is: “Why do you want to attend (school name)?” This should be a different answer for every school. That’s the point of this question: they want to see that you’ve done your research. Just make sure the answer is appropriate (i.e.: don’t say “I want to come because my friend Joey goes here”).
Get in depth. Is the school especially known for a certain field? Is the campus unique in some way? Does it have an outstanding career center?
There will be questions about college in general. “What do you hope to get out of college?” “How do you think college will help prepare you for your future career?”
You will also probably be asked questions about your high school career in general. “What’s your favorite class and why?” “What extracurricular activities do you participate in?” “What has been your most rewarding moment?”
There may also be questions about you as a person. “How would your friends describe you?” “What is your biggest accomplishment?” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” For the weakness part: talk about a weakness you used to have and how you were able to or are currently working on overcoming it.
Near the end, you will also probably be asked, “Any questions for me?” And yes, you should have questions prepared! More on that in the next section.
Here’s a tip: It’s completely okay to take a few seconds to think of an answer. It’s also okay to say, “That’s a great question, do you mind if we circle back to that later?” Just make sure not to do it for every question.
What questions should I prepare?
Ask any questions you may have about the school, but nothing should be easily answered with information on the school’s website. Remember, if it’s an alum, this is someone who actually attended the school you want to attend! Take this opportunity to ask some good questions.
For example, consider questions such as “How do you think your time at (school name) prepared you for your career?” and “How did you find the work/life balance at the school?”
And if you’re speaking with an admissions counselor, you might want to ask, “What type of student thrives here?” “What recommendations do you have for an incoming freshman to get acclimated to the environment?”
What else should I do to prepare?
Besides getting your questions together, you should also review your application: remember what you wrote down, as you could be asked to elaborate on certain things.
Grab a friend or family member and conduct a practice interview. Give him or her a list of possible questions. Practice your handshake, answering the questions, and eye contact. Have the person give you some notes at the end of things you could work on. These skills will continue to help you beyond the college interview process like when you’re applying for internships and jobs in the future.
What should I bring to the interview?
You should bring your list of questions, and a version of your resume (or list of leadership and extracurricular activities if you don’t have a resume).
You can also bring a portfolio of some of your work, especially if you’re planning on studying something in the creative field. In fact, in that case, that may be a requirement.
Also bring along a notepad and pencil so you can write down your interviewer’s answers to any questions you ask.
What do I do if my parent wants to come with me?
It’s fine if your parent is waiting for you somewhere nearby, but he or she should not be sitting with you at the interview. The school wants to see that you’re an independent, mature person who can speak for yourself, and they won’t get that impression if your parent is speaking on your behalf. The interview should be all about you.
You might also want to remind your parent not to riddle the interviewer with a bunch of questions as you’re heading out the door. That generally doesn’t go over too well either.
What should I do after the interview?
After you leave the interview, make sure you follow up with an email or written note thanking the interviewer for their time. Personalize the email by pointing out something specific you discussed to help him or her remember who you are. Whatever you do, do not send the same thank you email to everyone you interview with. Also, it’s generally not a good idea to call the interviewer unless they stated it’s okay for follow up questions. This can come off as a bit intrusive and won’t really help your cause for getting into the school.
Overall, just remember to prepare, act mature, and be yourself.