For many of you, college interviews will be the first time in your life that you must prepare for an interview. The prospect of carrying on a one-on-one conversation with someone who will be judging your responses may seem a bit daunting. But it need not scare you! Here, four simple ways to begin preparing for your interview, each one geared towards taking some stress out of the interviewing equation.

1. In preparation for your interview, decide how you would answer this sample question: What is your favorite book and why?.

Preparing an answer to this question is a fantastic way to kick off your interview prep. On a most basic level, this is a good place to start because it is a commonly asked question; preparing it once will likely pay off manifold times during the college application process.

But beyond helping you prepare for the possibility that this question is actually asked of you in an interview, planning an answer to this question is useful because it teaches you to start thinking about answering the types of questions that you will be asked in your interview. When considering your response, don’t settle on the first answer that occurs to you. . Rather, notice what your visceral response is, and then consider any other responses you can come up with in the following thirty seconds or so. Next, consider the why of each response, and ultimately choose the book that allows you to explain something about yourself in your answer.

As you do this, you will begin to notice that certain themes about yourself—your likes, your dislikes, your past experiences, and your values—will become more clear. In thinking through these aspects of your identity, you canstart to identify the broader message about yourself that you want to project to your interviewer over the course of your conversation.

2. Plan to arrive half an hour early to your appointment.

While nothing bad can come of arriving early to an interview, arriving late certainly makes a horrible impression. To show that you value your interviewer’s time, care deeply about the school for which you are hosting, and are a mature and responsible person, you should plan to arrive early—really early—to your interview. Make sure you factor in travel time and potential traffic or subway complications so that your commute to the interview will be relaxing and peaceful rather than chaotic and stressful. This will set you up to give as confident and professional an interview as possible. Showing up late or finding yourself rushing to make your appointment in time will leave you frazzled and ill-equipped to answer your interviewer’s questions to the best of your ability.

3. Spend an hour of the morning of your interview reading a newspaper of your choosing (The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Sun, and other comparable news sources are all great ideas).

If you do not already read the news often, you should certainly do so on the morning of your interview. Reading a reputable newspaper will not only kickstart your brain into action in the morning,, but also center your thoughts, and—most importantly—allow you to plug into current events and important breaking news.

Especially in elite college admissions, interviewers will expect that you are not only aware of the world around you, but also that you have formed intelligent opinions about it. Accordingly, as you are reading, your goal should not simply be to glean information about the news in order to regurgitate it in your interview, but to critically evaluate the implications of current events. In addition, you should formulate opinions about what you are reading as you leaf through your chosen newspaper. Even if your interviewer does not ask you a question explicitly related to the news—i.e. Have you read anything interesting in the news lately?—you will find that, if you have read even just a handful of articles, it is almost difficult to have a conversation that does not somehow relate to something you have read. While you should avoid cramming allusions to what you have read into conversation solely for the sake of letting your interviewer know you read the news, it can certainly enrich a conversation when a connection to something you read arises organically.

4. Follow up with a handwritten thank you letter to the member of the admissions committee or alumnus/alumna who interviewed you.

It should go without saying that it is proper etiquette to thank your interviewer. Almost always, your interviewer is someone who has volunteered to conduct interviews with student applicants and thus is not compensated. And even if your interviewer is paid by the admissions department for his or her help, you should nonetheless be grateful to them for taking the time to meet you in person. As we have mentioned in other articles on this website, the interview is not designed to trip you up; in fact, most interviewers usually approach the process looking for opportunities to send a positive report back to the admissions committee.

So that you don’t forget, you should hand write—not type an email or text—a letter of gratitude to your interviewer(s) the moment you return home from your interview. Your letter need not be long: a simple note of thanks for their time will suffice.


Have another college interview-related question? Maybe we’ve answered it in one of our other articles in the interview series. For more guidance on some other aspect of an upcoming interview, check out these blog posts:

Pre-Interview Advice

A Guide to the Interview Itself

Post-Interview Advice

Lily Calcagnini

Lily Calcagnini

Lily is a History and Literature concentrator at Harvard University who is doing her darnedest to write a thesis about all of her favorite things at once: fashion, contemporary culture, art journalism, and Europe. A passionate learner, she cares deeply about helping high school students navigate the process of college admissions, whether it be through private essay tutoring or sharing advice on the CollegeVine blog.
Lily Calcagnini