A Student’s Guide to College Interviews

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Benjamin Hannani, print spotlight editor

Among the many components of the college admissions process is the (often optional) admissions interview. If you are interested in college interviews, look into your schools’ interview policies. Certain colleges, such as those in the University of California (UC) system, do not conduct admissions interviews. Some schools openly post their interview dates and allow applicants to sign up for an interview even before they have submitted their application. By contrast, other schools may initiate contact and offer interview times to an applicant after he or she has already submitted his or her application.

With five admissions interviews under my belt (and more on the way), I have decided to share my acquired wisdom below.

Pre-interview preparation:

  • Before scheduling an admissions interview with a college, make sure that you are passionate about the school.

The admissions interviews I feel best about were the ones for schools that I am excited about.  If you are passionate about a school, your enthusiasm will be evident. Similarly, if you are not genuinely attracted to a school, your interviewer will sense your apathy. In these cases, interviews may actually be detrimental to an applicant’s admission so beware of scheduling interviews with “safety” schools that you may not care for.

  • Know specific information about the school you are interviewing for.

Spend a solid hour or two learning specifics about the school you’re applying to. I prepare for my interviews by tapping into several resources, including but not limited to, The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges (which I highly recommend purchasing), CollegeConfidential.com , information posted on the school’s website, students’ reviews posted on U.S. News & World Report, and speaking with friends who attend or have recently attended the college I am interviewing for.  I have not visited most of the schools I am applying to, but by effectively utilizing other resources, I can learn a great deal about prospective colleges.

Ideally, you should know about the school’s trademarks as well as specific items, such as fun traditions, renowned professors, and courses that appeal to you. Jot down questions and programs you would like to learn more about. These are the perfect subjects to ask your interviewer about.

  • Appearance matters.

Know the dress code. Most of my college interviews thus far have required business attire, although my most recent one was characterized as casual. Colleges often specify interview attire on their websites and in confirmation emails. When in doubt, call the school’s admissions office.

Also, remember that admissions interviews are not a fashion runway; they are not the time and place for avant-garde experimentation. Above all, you should be comfortable. If you feel comfortable and confident in your appearance, you will feel better during your interview.

  • Early is on time.

The cardinal sin of college admissions is being late to an interview so plan to be at the location of your interview 20 minutes ahead of time. Common etiquette is to enter the location 10 minutes before the interview – not too early and certainly not late.  If your interview is at an admissions office, you may need to fill out a form, often asking you to list your extracurricular activities and current schedule, before your interview.

Plus, who knows if there will be a traffic jam that holds you back or if you will need to quickly use the bathroom before your interview. At the very least, scan your appearance in a mirror.  True story: I would have walked into an admissions interview with my fly unzipped if I had not checked myself before I walked into the office of my interviewer.

What if you get to the location of your interview with more than 10 minutes to spare? Walk around for a few minutes. I actually ran into former classmates while I was strolling around a college campus before an admissions interview.

During the interview:

  • Be confident and engage in a conversation, not an “interview”

 There is no need to feel intimidated. Rather than nervously sit through a Q&A session, engage your interviewer in a conversation like you would with a friend (except without the inappropriate slang and profanity). Smile. Keep eye contact. Speak naturally. Begin and end the interview by reaching out with a friendly handshake.

The interview is both an opportunity for the interviewer to learn about you and for you to learn about the school and, to a lesser extent, about your interviewer.

After the interview:

  • Thank your interviewer – immediately thereafter and via email.

After the interview, smile and thank your interviewer with a warm handshake. Additionally, it is standard practice for interviewers to offer you their contact information in case you may have any questions in the future. Keep this contact information handy and send a “Thank You” email later that day to your interviewer.

 This last step is not a matter of “kissing up.” In fact, your interviewer has probably already filed your evaluation by the time they open your email. The  email is  simply a matter of common courtesy. Just as you would thank a friend for supporting you, it is appropriate to thank a professional for taking time out of their day to see you.

  • On to the next one.

Interviews are only one factor in the admissions process. If you feel shaky about your performance, know that the evaluation from your admissions interview will not “make or break” your acceptance. If you feel satisfied with your conversation, celebrate momentarily and then move on. At the end of the day, your interview will be considered alongside the several other components of your application.

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