You Need to All Know About the College Interview

You’ve completed your college applications and sent them in. Your high school years are drawing to a close. The next hurdle you need to get past is the college interview. It’s a relatively brief moment in time but one you should be well prepared for. So, we’ve gathered some information to help you prepare for this important event.

Why a College Interview?

College interviews are not always required. In fact, many large universities don’t even offer potential students the option of interviewing. Some smaller ones do, though, and for some, the interview can be one influential factor in the admissions decision.

If you’ve been waiting to hear back after applying to a college and haven’t been offered an interview, it’s a good idea to call and ask for one. Find out if an interview is required, what types of interviews are available, and if the interview plays a role in the admission decision.

Interviews are generally conducted on campus or in your local area with an alum. You might think that meeting with an alum is unnecessary—they may not have a voice in your admission decision. But never turn down an interview if you are offered one, even if it is only with an alum. If you are given the contact information for a representative in your area who can set up an alumni interview, be sure to call or email him or her right away. Don’t expect an immediate response. It is best to give up to five business days for a reply.

Remember, your interview could be one factor in deciding between you and another applicant. Submitting your application early will give you a greater chance of obtaining an interview and getting the opportunity to make a good impression in person.

How to Prepare

If you’ve never had an interview before, this might be uncharted territory for you. So, we’ve compiled some ideas to help you prepare so you can go to your interview with confidence.

There’s no standard checklist that all interviewers use, although an on-campus interview will likely be more structured than an alumni interview. You will probably be asked several questions during your interview. You won’t know the questions ahead of time, so get to know yourself before your interview. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing? What are your goals? Find these things out before going to your interview so you can respond to those questions genuinely and confidently. Many times, interviewers will ask why you want to attend that particular school and what you have to offer the college. What do you bring to the table? What sets you apart from other applicants they may be considering? Why is being admitted to this particular college important to you? 

Be well read! Showing that you’ve read books that were part of your high school English curriculum will not impress your interviewer. Spend some time reading books in different genres. Don’t limit yourself. Know what your favorite books are and why, but don’t be afraid to talk about the ones you don’t like. And don’t forget to include current events in your reading material. If you’re asked your opinion on the latest tax cut, you want to know what you’re talking about.

An interview isn’t just an interrogation. More than likely, you’ll be given the opportunity to ask some questions of your own. Be sure to do your research about the college you will be visiting. Read about the classes and programs offered so you don’t ask about the nonexistent microbiology program. Think about some questions you might want to ask. Personal experience questions are great options. Ask what a previous year’s event was like or what Professor X’s latest research is about. Cater your questions to the unique aspects of the college, and don’t ask questions you can easily find the answers to on the school’s website.

Another good preparation step is to practice your body language and conversation skills. Invite a friend or family member to help you with this in a mock interview. Elicit feedback on your body language so you know what impression your conveying, perhaps unconsciously. Practice being mindful of what your body is doing so you don’t end up picking your nose during the interview. Pay attention to your tone of voice. Monotony won’t impress your interviewer. Also make sure that you’re prepared to greet your interviewer with a firm handshake.

What to Wear

Your appearance makes the first impression, so choose your outfit carefully. According to some, overly casual clothing like sandals, shorts, jeans, and t-shirts should be avoided. Dress modestly—nothing too lowcut or too short. You’re not trying to pick up a hot date; you’re trying to impress someone with your professionalism. If you want your interviewer to pick up on your seriousness about attending this college and succeeding, you need to dress the part.

Men, pick some nice pants—casual is fine as long as they aren’t jeans—and a shirt with a collar. A tie will only help your appearance, and a sports coat may add that extra touch but isn’t always necessary. And be sure your clothing has been freshly laundered or ironed—you don’t want to look as if you just woke up from a nap. Your clothes should be well fitting as well. You don’t want to be tugging at your collar or trying to pull up your pants in the middle of the interview.

Ladies, choose between a skirt or pants—whichever you’re must comfortable in. Remember that knee length or longer is a good guideline for your skirt. Add in a blouse that isn’t too revealing, and throw on a jacket if you want to dress it up a little more. Avoid the flip-flops and tennis shoes; make sure your shoe selection matches the rest of your outfit.

You may need to adjust your wardrobe based on the meeting place. You certainly wouldn’t want to show up in Starbucks with a suit on any more than you would want to wear joggers to the office.

This is the perfect time to dress to impress. If you want to come across as a serious, dedicated student, your appearance needs to convey that.

Miscellaneous Dos and Don’ts

Remember that your interviewer may know very little about you before your interview—especially if you are interviewing with an alum. Do be sure to highlight your interests and your achievements. And remember, this is just highlighting—you won’t have time to cover everything, but don’t be afraid to go in depth about the things that are important to you and that you are passionate about.

Do arrive early for your appointment. The last thing you want to do is indicate to your interviewer that you are not taking this seriously by showing up a few minutes late. Plan for traffic and whatever other obstacles may come up so that you can arrive 10-15 minutes early. If you aren’t familiar with the area, give yourself ample time to find the location. Arriving early will give you time to relax before you’re called in and will convey responsibility.

Don’t fidget. Be aware of what your hands are doing at all times. Don’t pick at your clothes, stuff your hands in your pockets, or play with your zipper.

Do sit in the chair provided to you. Believe it or not, not everybody does this. The floor is not your seat, and neither is your interviewer’s desk.

Do watch your language. You may swear with your friends and coworkers, but this interview is not the time nor the place. Keep your language clean, professional, and non-offensive.

Don’t chew gum during your interview—or your fingers or tongue. You can’t speak clearly when you’re chewing.

Do turn your cell phone off or on silent before going in to your interview. In fact, do this before entering the office. Be aware that you may be observed from the moment you step into view, and the office receptionist may have been asked to take notes about your waiting room behavior. So, stay off your cell phone both while waiting and in the office.

Do maintain eye contact. You certainly don’t want to stare your interviewer down, but maintaining regular eye contact when responding to or asking questions will convey sincerity and honesty to your interviewer. Shifty eyes cause suspicion.

Don’t use fillers when you’re talking. This is a good technique to practice beforehand. “You know” and “like” are expressions that you don’t need to use. You have important things to say and a limited time in which to say them, so get to it! Don’t fill empty space with meaningless words. And avoid phrases like “honestly” or “to be honest” at the start of your sentence. The last thing you want to do is convey that you are normally a dishonest person who is making an exception for this interview.

Do be yourself. Relax. You’ve got this. Remember that this isn’t an audition for a TV show, so there’s no need to act. Be down to earth and honest. Relaxed does not mean casual though, so don’t go tipping your chair back and putting your feet on the desk in front of you—or anywhere else except the floor.

Do arrive clean and well groomed. Don’t look like you’ve been forgetting to shave or had a bad hair day. Make sure you’ve showered—you don’t want your aroma to be your lasting impression.

After the Interview

Don’t forget to follow up! You’ve heard the proverb “out of sight, out of mind,” haven’t you? Don’t let that be you. After you’ve returned home from your interview, write a thank-you note and mail it to your interviewer. That simple note will set you apart from other applicants and remind the interviewer of who you are so you don’t simply become a name on paper.