College Counseling Corner: The Art of Interviewing

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College admissions interviews give prospective students and admissions officers the chance to discern whether the school and the student are a fitting match. Yet, as the pool of college applicants has increased beyond schools’ abilities to meet with every candidate, the weight of the admissions interview on a candidate’s application has diminished. Instead, greater weight has been placed upon items that all voting members of the admissions committee are able to assess—candidates’ transcripts, test scores, recommendations, and the actual application.

Still, some schools continue to offer interviews, and these conversations can be instructive for prospective students as they consider where to continue their education. Here are some tips to make the most out of your admissions interview.

Conduct your research beforehand. Prior to your campus visit, spend time learning about the institution by reviewing its website and informational materials. Take notes to ensure that, even if schools begin to blur together, you can remember what attracted you to the schools on your list. Additionally, write down questions you have about the campus, student life, and academic program so that you can ask them during your interview or campus tour.

Prepare the answers to typical interview questions. It is common to become nervous during an interview, but you can alleviate anxiety and build self-confidence by preparing ahead of time. Think about and practice your answers to the following questions, which similar to ones you might be asked at your admissions interview.

  • What three words best describe you?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses (personally and as a student)?
  • What is important to you as you begin the next phase of your education?
  • If you were to live your life over again, what would you change?
  • What do you like about your current school? What would you change?
  • What do you look for in your friends?
  • What do you like to do in your free time?
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • Why have you selected this college as a possibility?
  • What did you do last summer?
  • What books have you read that have had an impact on your life?

During the interview, it is completely appropriate to pause before answering a question to compose your thoughts, or even to ask to come back to a question at a later time in order to more fully formulate your response. Make a good impression. Your interview attire should be professional yet comfortable. While dresses and suits are not expected, a nice shirt, sweater, and pants, clean and in good repair, are appropriate. If you’re taking a tour, be sure to wear shoes that are easy to walk in, and if rain is in the forecast, dress appropriately to avoid sitting through an interview in wet clothes. The importance of making a good impression doesn’t end once you leave the campus. End your interview by requesting the interviewer’s business card and follow up with a thank you note or email. This polite but often neglected practice can help to leave a striking impression. Your connection with the interviewer may also be helpful if questions or problems arise further along in the application process.

Treat all interviews seriously. Many schools now offer off-campus interviews with alumni or with a local admissions representative; others offer informational interviews that prioritize sharing information about the school over learning about a prospective student. While these interviews may not carry as much weight as on-campus interviews, they still provide a good opportunity to collect information about a school and gain a positive endorsement. Prepare for these interviews as if they were as influential as on-campus interviews.

Ask questions of your own. Remember that the interview process is a two-way street; students have power in this process! Try to consider admissions interviews as your opportunity to learn about these institutions in a highly personalized way that is rarely possible from typical admissions recruitment materials. Be forthright in asking questions that will help you to envision what your experience at a particular school could be.

This article is adapted from College Counseling Compass: A Parent Workbook to Navigate the College Counseling Process by Andi O’Hearn, Ross School’s Chief of Student Advancement.