Acing the College Interview: 10 Super-Helpful Tips

The college interview is a much-dreaded step in the college admissions process for many applicants.

It’s also extremely important. It’s an opportunity for admissions officers to get to know you as an individual.

If your prospective school offers admissions interviews, you should absolutely schedule one.

  • In 2015, MIT admitted 10.8% of students who interviewed and only 1% of students who opted not to.

The interview can give admissions officers or representatives a favorable impression of you, resulting in an acceptance letter.

Of course, this favorable impression will only come from a good interview.

By following these 10 tips on acing the college interview, you can learn to make the right impression.

1. Schedule the college interview early.

The first step to acing the college interview is scheduling it in a timely fashion. You can find out on a school’s website whether or not they offer interviews.

You can read information about how to set up an interview on the school’s website as well, or by contacting the admission office.

  • At some schools, admissions officers conduct the interviews on campus.
  • At other schools, local representatives such as alumni meet with and interview you.

If you’re scheduling an interview on campus, you’ll want to schedule at least four weeks before you plan to visit.

Interview appointments fill up quickly at the height of college application season. It’s also a good idea to schedule a tour of the college when you go for your interview.

Additionally, make sure you know the deadline for interviews for each prospective school to give yourself time to plan in advance.

2. Research the school.

Part of this advance planning involves researching the school.

One purpose of a college interview is to demonstrate genuine interest in the school, so you will want to appear knowledgeable on this topic.

You should focus on your area(s) of interest. Look up a few courses and extracurricular activities in which you’d like to be involved.

During the interview, you will seem like a truly interested and serious candidate if you’re aware of what the school has to offer and how you’ll fit into the picture.

3. Prepare answers to frequently asked questions in advance.

This one is slightly tricky. You don’t want to go into the interview unprepared, but you also don’t want to be over-prepared.

Why?

An over-prepared candidate may come off as rehearsed and stiff. Admissions officers and college representatives want to get a real feel for your personality.

They want to evaluate if you are a good fit for the school, and they can’t do that with canned, over-rehearsed responses.

For this reason, we don’t recommend writing out or memorize answers to common interview question.

Instead, you can come up with a list of frequently asked questions. Next, brainstorm bullet points that you want to cover for each question.

Here are a few college interview questions you will likely be asked:

  • Why do you want to attend our college?

Hint: This is a great time for you to mention your research. List specific reasons you like the school, including course offerings, clubs, esteemed professors, an enthusiastic student body, or particular accomplishments of the school’s.

  • What will you contribute to our campus?

Hint: You can include more research here. If you know a few clubs or organizations you would like to be involved with or even lead, you can mention them. You should also list ways you were involved in high school and what this shows about your character or personality.

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Hint: Examples are key for this question. List a few of your strengths, with examples demonstrating each. When you talk about your weaknesses, it’s important to also mention how you’re trying to overcome them. For example, you could say that you’ve struggled with history classes, but you’re learning new study strategies and improving.

  • How would you describe yourself?

Hint: Interviewers ask this question to get to know more about you that may not be addressed in other questions or in the application. There’s no “right” answer to this question, but it’s difficult to answer when you’re caught off guard. List a few talking points.

  • What do you want to do after graduating from college?

Hint: When answering this question (and other questions related to interests or goals), you should be sure to mention “why.” Why do you want to do this after college? How can this college help you reach these goals?

Preparing a list of points in advance will help you avoid drawing a blank during the interview. At the same time, you will sound more genuine and engaging than a candidate who memorizes entire answers.

You should also reexamine your application, transcript, list of extracurricular activities, etc. because interviewers are likely to ask you to elaborate on or discuss some of your high school experiences and achievements.

4. Prepare some questions to ask as well.

Asking questions during the interview will demonstrate your genuine interest in the school, and it can also help you demonstrate that you’ve done your research and/or has paid attention throughout the interview.

You can ask questions like the following:

  • What’s your best advice for an incoming freshman?
  • How does this school help students prepare for careers and/or graduate programs?
  • If the interviewer is a graduate of the school: What made you choose this school over the other schools that accepted you? What was the best thing about attending this school?
  • You can also ask questions about specific programs (like internships, study abroad opportunities, or various courses) that you’ve learned about while researching. Of course, these shouldn’t be questions that are easily answered on the school’s website.
  • It’s also a good idea to ask the interviewer about something he or she has mentioned earlier in the interview. This shows you have been engaged and listening attentively.

5. Practice in advance.

Again, you don’t want to sound too rehearsed, but it can be helpful to have a parent, relative, or friend ask you some of the college interview questions listed above.

You can practice speaking articulately about your key points without memorizing a prepared speech.

6. Dress appropriately.

Appropriate dress for a college interview is business casual.

  • Young men may want to wear dress pants, a collared shirt, and possibly a tie.
  • Young women can wear dress pants, or a skirt, with a blouse, and either a cardigan or a nice jacket.

Make sure that you are comfortable and confident in whatever you wear. It’s also important to ensure you are well-groomed. Clothes should be ironed and free of rips, tears, or stains.

7. Arrive on time.

We all know that arriving late to an interview causes a terrible first impression.

If you’re unfamiliar with the location of the interview, you may want to drive there a day or so ahead of time to become familiar with the route, traffic patterns, etc.

Leave early enough to allow for unforeseen circumstances like bad traffic or difficulty finding the correct building once you’ve parked, etc.

8. Use proper interview etiquette.

Remember appropriate interview etiquette. For example:

  • Leave your phone in the car.
  • Shake hands.
  • Start off with a little small talk; this is polite, and it will help you get comfortable.
  • Make eye contact and smile throughout the interview.

Proper etiquette goes a long way toward demonstrating your character and making a great impression on the interviewer.

9. Try to relax.

This is much easier said than done, but take deep breaths and relax as much as possible!

Ultimately, the interview should be a conversation to determine if you and the school are a good fit.

Preparation is also key to helping you feel confident and relaxed during the interview.

10. Send a thank-you note.

After the interview, it’s a nice touch for you to send a polite thank-you note to the interviewer. You should express gratitude to the interviewer for taking time to meet and answer your questions.

It’s a good idea to briefly mention something specific that was discussed during the interview or something new you learned about the school.

Lastly, you should reaffirm your interest in and enthusiasm for the school.

By following these ten tips, you should smoothly and confidently ace the college interview!

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