Does Being Offered A College Interview Mean Anything?
- What’s the Purpose of the Interview?
- How Much Do Interviews Matter?
- Interviews Are Offered to Most or Some Applicants
- Interviews Are Not Offered
- Certain Programs Conduct Their Own Interviews
It’s no secret that when it comes to college admissions, some factors are weighed more heavily than others. One factor that is especially inconsistent is the importance of the admissions interview. While your interview does contribute to your overall profile, its structure will vary. At some schools, you might have an interview with an actual professor or member of the admissions staff. At many more, you might interview locally with an alumni volunteer. Still others offer no interviews at all.
With all this variation from school to school, it can be hard to get a handle on how much interviews matter, if at all, or what the logistics of them are. This post will hopefully demystify some of the more confusing elements of the college interview process.
What Is the Purpose of the Interview?
An admissions interview serves multiple purposes. For one, it personalizes you as a candidate by giving you the opportunity to share information about yourself beyond what is listed on your transcript, in your activities list, and so on. It also shows that you don’t just look good on paper—you can also talk the talk, and are truly passionate about the things you discussed in your application. Finally, the interview allows admissions officers to evaluate whether your reasons for wanting to attend their school are genuine, and how well your goals align with what they have to offer.
How Much Do Interviews Matter?
With a few exceptions, interviews are generally not defining factors in the admissions process. Of course, if you completely bomb your interview by swearing, badmouthing the school, or disrespecting the interviewer, there’s a good chance that you’ve just bought yourself a rejection letter, but the average interview is never so cut and dry.
Some colleges offer direct insight into how heavily they weigh the interview process. For example, University of Pennsylvania clarifies that interviews are a two-prong opportunity, for them to get to know you better as a candidate and for you to get to know their school better. At UPenn, alumni interviewers send a written summary of the interview that will then be included with your other application materials. UPenn also goes out of their way to note that it is rare that an unfavorable interview summary arrives. “We find that interviews are generally positive and complement what we see in the rest of the application,” notes their website.
If you can’t find interviewing information for your particular school on their website, you may want to turn to the Common Data Set for that school. This is an institutional document compiled by most colleges which breaks down all aspects of their admissions process, including how much weight is given to various components of your application.
Finding the Common Data Set on a school’s website can be challenging, but if you simply google “[x school] common data set,” it should come right up. You can then do a quick control + f for “interview” to find the relevant data, as the documents themselves can also be somewhat difficult to navigate.
At most schools, the Common Data Set states that interviews are considered as part of the holistic review of your application, but are a smaller piece of the picture, like the area you’re from, compared to more important factors like grades, extracurriculars, or overall character.
In general, being offered an interview doesn’t say much about your chances of admission. In order to really read into it, you need to understand the interview process at that particular school. Here are a few common scenarios:
Interviews Are Offered to Most or Some Applicants
Usually, a school that offers interviews will do so through alumni volunteers. A school will do its best to provide an interview for every applicant who wants one. Due to limited alumni volunteers and geographic distribution, though, it is not always possible to provide everyone with an interview.
If you are not offered an interview, it is because there were no alumni available to conduct one with you in your region. It says nothing about the status of your application, but rather about where you live relative to volunteer alumni interviewers. Fortunately, virtual interviews have made interviews more accessible to more applicants, but schools still receive more applicants than they can realistically interview—alumni are busy people, after all, and typically aren’t paid for the time they spend interviewing.
Generally, though, schools will try to offer interviews to as many applicants as possible, sometimes before applications have even been initially screened. So, your strength as an applicant is of no consideration when they are scheduling interviews. That being said, an interview is still an opportunity to enhance your candidacy, even slightly, so make sure you’re thoughtful about how you can put your best foot forward in case you are offered one.
Interviews Are Not Offered
Some schools have decided that interviews are simply not informative, and no longer offer them at all. Even some highly selective schools, like Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt University, have gone this route and no longer offer any interviews to incoming undergraduate students.
If you’re applying to a school that doesn’t offer interviews, you don’t need to do anything differently with your main application, but do make sure you’re aware of the policy, just so you aren’t waiting around for an interview offer that isn’t coming.
Certain Programs Conduct Their Own Interviews
For some programs, interviews are a requirement at some stage in the application process. For example, this is common for performing arts programs at schools like Juilliard or Berklee College of Music, where an interview may also involve elements of an audition.
It is less common, but still sometimes seen, with other selective programs within an institution—interviews are required, for instance, for applicants applying to the Architecture major at Cornell University, largely so that they can discuss the portfolios of their work they submitted with their main application.
You should be aware that interviews that are required for specific programs are likely weighted much more heavily than the informational interviews that may simply be a standard, relatively minor part of an applicant’s general profile. If an interview is required for a major or program you’re applying for, make sure that you’re highly familiar with the program and interview process, so nothing trips you up or surprises you in this more significant interview.
What If My Interview is Virtual?
A virtual interview does not carry any less weight than an in-person one. Odds are, it was simply impossible for that school to set up an in-person interview with you due to geographic constraints, as there may have been no one available in your area. Alternatively, your interviewer may be Covid-cautious and so made the decision to conduct their interviews virtually. Or perhaps they simply feel that this is the most convenient way for both of you to meet, if they have a busy work schedule or lots of family commitments.
How to Calculate Your Odds of Acceptance
To summarize, in general being offered an interview is not a good indication of the status of your application. Interviews will only rarely be a determining factor in your admissions process. That being said, there are some unique scenarios in which interviews are an important part of the admissions process to a particular program within the institution as a whole. In these cases, though, that should not come as a surprise.
Because the interview is highly unlikely to be the determining factor for your application, you may be wondering how the other, more crucial aspects of your application stack up at your dream schools. To answer that question, check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. It takes into account just about every element of your application (other than your interview, letters of recommendation, and essays, which aren’t quantifiable), including your grades, course rigor, test scores (if you have them), and extracurriculars, to give you personalized odds of acceptance at all of your top choice schools.