The college interview can be a nerve-wracking process, especially when you have no idea what to expect. To help ease the entire experience, here are some very practical tips for interviewing well for college admission.
When to Interview
Not every college you apply to will require an interview. However, the more prestigious schools, the more selective schools, or the more competitive schools will often use an interview as a tipping criterion for admission. Do not assume a school does not require an interview. Read your application materials closely to see if an interview is required. It is not even a bad idea to call the admissions office and check to see if an interview is required or recommended. If an interview is not required but recommended, you should go for it.
The interview should be done before the application deadline, which means in November or December for most schools. Do not think August is too early, though. Some applicants are very organized and schools are prepared for that. It is convenient to kill two birds with one stone and set up an interview at the same time you plan to visit the college, especially if the college is a distance from you. It is not the end of the world to have interviewed and then decide not to apply after you have visited and done a final comparison of schools; in fact, it can give you more practice for interviewing at schools you are applying to.
TIP: It’s actually a good strategy to do your first interviews at your least favorite colleges for practice.
One thing to do if you are visiting and interviewing at the same time is to schedule the interview on the second day or after you have taken the campus tour and had the information session. Then you will have seen and learned some things about the college so you can prepare some intelligent questions or tailor your answers to strengths of the school.
There may be a time when you should decide not to interview if it is only a recommendation. That time is when you feel your nervousness or your lack of practice will make a poor impression. If this is the case, you can depend on your record to represent you. Nine times out of ten, however, it is good to interview as often as you are able.
Setting up the Interview
The interview appointment should be set about one month before you actually plan to do the interview. You can make an interview appointment by calling the admissions office of the college to which you are applying. Sometimes it is a good idea to call more than a month ahead of time because it may be possible that the college has alumni in your home town area who can interview you. This will save time and money and will change your plans about visiting the campus at the same time you interview.
Be sure you make an appointment which will allow you plenty of time to arrive at the interview place, especially if you are not familiar with the campus or the area where the campus is located or the town where the alumnus has arranged to meet. No need to think you should be an early bird and make an 8 o’clock morning appointment and then arrive at 9:05!
Also, as suggested above, if you have combined the college visit with your interview, try to schedule your interview so that you will have enough time to take a tour of the campus or talk with a college representative beforehand so you will have a sense of the campus and not be talking generalities in the interview. Remember, too, that week days can be a better than weekends for both an interview and a campus tour because lots will be going on, including classes, so that you can gather more information for your notes and for your interview.
What to Expect
There are two types of college interviews. One is a formal interview and will more likely take place on campus with a dean or staff member from admissions. This is, of course, the traditional interview, taking place in an office over a desk with more traditional kinds of questions.
The informal interview is more likely to take place off-campus with an alumnus or with a student representative on campus. Because of the more informal setting, or because of the younger age of a student representative, this interview is conversational. This type of interview is also more give and take, you asking more questions about life style and expectations and with more sharing of common interests. Therefore, setting and age of interviewer indicates what to expect from an interview. The formal interview will be you answering the questions; the informal interview will be more sharing and more equally divided.
Each interview has an agenda. In the formal interview, the interviewer wants to get a sense of you, find out how much thinking you have done about college, and how well you express yourself and perform in an interview situation. In an informal interview, the interviewer wants to know how socially well-rounded you are, get a sense of how well you would fit on campus, and how adeptly you converse. If you are at ease in social situations and talk easily with people, the informal interview will be easy. If you are poised and think well as you talk, the formal interview will be a breeze; but the formal interview is the easiest to prepare for, as the social ease and conversant quality of your presentation is acquired through experience or is a natural trait. Practice will help you through most formal interviews.
For either interview, what you can expect is that the interviewer will be pleasant and helpful, trying to set you at ease, not trying to set you up! One good thing to remember is that the interviewer may be just as uptight about giving the interview as you are having the interview. If you can think about the interviewer’s feelings and making him/her comfortable, that is the best way to come across well!
What to Wear
You usually have to be prepared for either an informal interview or a formal interview, as you can not know in advance, unless you have been told a student is interviewing you. Even in the case of presuming an informal interview, it is best to dress well.
Good general advice is to dress in something comfortable. For example, don’t wear high heels if you rarely walk with them. Don’t wear a tie if you can’t tie it correctly or it binds your neck. You want to be yourself and not be unconsciously tugging or squirming and appear uncomfortable or ill-at-ease.
The second price of advice is to be neither too dressy nor too casual. Yes, be yourself, but in a socially acceptable way—because, after all, you are socially acceptable as yourself, right! Jeans, tee-shirts, sneakers, anything ripped or stained or dirty are too casual. On the other hand, gowns, patent leather shoes, black sheer nylons, tuxes, and full suits are too dressy. Young men are good with khaki-type pants, a belt, socks (not sports socks), leather shoes, and a shirt. The shirt can be dressed up a little more with a good looking sweater, a tie, or a sports jacket, but don’t feel underdressed because you don’t have a sports jacket. Be careful about fit. You do not want boxer shorts showing or sweater sleeves hanging below your fingertips! For a young woman pants and a shirt are fine. A skirt and blouse or a skirt and jacket also do well, but don’t think you need a matched set or suit. Either blazers or sweaters work with pants or a skirt, and just a blouse is fine, too. Neat and clean, simple and poised is what you’re going for. Women need to think about being “appropriate” more than fit. Short skirts, low cut tops, mid riff bareness are not appropriate.
A final piece of advice is don’t chew gum; don’t wear too much jewelry or jewelry that is too big. Hats are out. Make-up should be minimal and tasteful. Spiked hair, bouffant hair, red hair, and shaved heads are not greatly desirable. You want to impress by what you say, not how you look. If the interviewer remembers you more for what you looked like than what you are like as a person, then you’ve lost this round.
You should think about the types of questions you will be asked and how you might answer them. It would be good for you to do mock interviews with friends, teachers, or parents to stimulate your thinking. Do an interview with any and all people who know you to get ideas about you so you can better talk about yourself. Ask your parents to sit and discuss what you have accomplished up to this point in your life. Ask friends how they would describe you? Ask teachers about your learning style and strengths and weaknesses. And, practice talking about yourself with whoever will listen!
Also, you need to prepare answers to interview questions based on specific knowledge of the college at which you are interviewing. Be sure to review your own notes on the college, look at the catalog, and go online to make sure you research the ins and outs of the school to ask the right questions and make the right references.
The next section is more specific about what questions interviewers may ask.