Does Being Offered A College Interview Mean Anything?

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It’s no secret that when it comes to college admissions, some factors are weighed more heavily than others. The factors that matter most will vary from school to school depending on the priorities of that specific college. An applicant who shines at one school might be deficient at another. It isn’t an exact science and it is ultimately a subjective decision.


One factor that is especially inconsistent is the importance of the pre-admissions interview. While your interview contributes to your overall profile as an applicant, its formality will vary. At some schools, you might have an interview with actual professors or members of the admissions staff. At others, you might interview locally with an alumni volunteer. Still others offer no interviews at all.


Sometimes, students wonder what an interview means about their chance of admission. There are occasions when a student who has applied to a school is later invited to an interview, and then anxiously ponders if this is some kind of indication that he or she has made it past an initial application review. Do interviewees represent a pool of screened candidates? Do they represent the applicants most likely to be accepted? When a college doesn’t offer interviews to everyone, how do they decide who gets an interview and who doesn’t?


There is no simple answer to these questions. In order to really understand what role an interview plays in your admissions process, you need to understand the multiple purposes and interview processes. In this post, we’ll outline the purpose of the admissions interview, offer some insight into how much interviews ultimately matter, and provide a few different scenarios with regards to whether or not being offered an interview is in any way an indication of the status of your application.


What Is the Purpose of the Interview?


An admissions interview serves multiple purposes. It personalizes you as a candidate by giving you the opportunity to share information about yourself beyond what is listed on your transcript. It also shows that you don’t just look good on paper; you can also talk the talk. At a college interview, you will generally discuss your goals and the reasons you want to attend the college, as well as ask questions about the college.


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, bad mouthing the school, and 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, Brown University notes that, “Rarely will an interview be the determining factor in an application.” This seems to indicate that only in extreme circumstances will an interview get you in, or keep you out, of Brown.


University of Pennsylvania clarifies that interviews are an opportunity to get to know you better as a candidate and for you to get to know the school better. The process at UPenn is for alumni interviewers to send a written summary of the interview that will then be included with your other application materials. However, 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 the website. 


The approach at Princeton University is similar to at UPenn. In fact, Princeton alums are told to consider themselves “ambassadors” rather than interviewers, with their primary role being to provide more information about and insight into the school.


Of course, there are some instances in which the interview might matter significantly more. For example, in the case of many combined BS/MD programs, the interview is ultimately the determining factor in admissions. In these cases, you are only offered an interview if you have already made it to the final round of application reviews and your interview is held in person, on campus.


In general, though, being offered an interview doesn’t mean much about your chances of admissions. In order to really read into it, you need to know the interview process at your particular school. 


Here are a few common scenarios:

Interviews Are Offered to Every Applicant


This is a relatively rare occurrence, since the logistics of interviewing every single applicant are usually nearly impossible. When interviews are offered to every applicant, they are usually optional. You should take the opportunity to schedule one if you are seriously interested in the school. It will likely not play a major role in your admissions decision, but it will show your interest and express that you are serious about the school.

These types of interviews are usually a combination of evaluative and informational. That is to say, they are as much for you to learn more about the school as they are for the school to learn more about you. Be sure to arrive with plenty of sincere questions about the school’s programs, resources, campus, and more.

A person sitting cross legged, pointing to the text, with an abstract monitor behind them  

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story


Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story


Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Interviews Are Offered to Most or Some Applicants


This is a much more common scenario. 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, 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 provide one in your region. This generally has nothing to do with your application, but more to do with where you are located and the proximity of volunteer alumni interviewers.


Generally, schools will try to offer interviews to as many applicants as possible, usually before applications have even been screened. This means that your strength as an applicant is of no consideration when they are scheduling interviews.


Like the scenario above, these types of volunteer alumni interviews are generally a combination of evaluative and informational. You should make it as much your goal to learn more about the school as the interviewer makes it their goal to learn more about you.


Interviews Are Not Offered


Interviews used to be a fairly standard part of most college application processes. While it was generally understood that most applicants from far away would be unable to travel to campus for an interview, many schools have offered on campus interviews for students who were able to do so.


This practice is becoming increasingly uncommon, as the number of applicants surge and alumni interviews make travel less of an issue. Some schools have done away with interviews entirely. Be sure you know if this is the case at any of the schools that you’re applying to; you don’t want to be holding your breath for an interview if none even exists.


Interviews Are Required


For some programs, interviews are a requirement at some stage in the application process. If the interview is a requirement during the early phase, it usually is still not a good indicator of whether or not you will be offered admissions. You can, however, consider it an evaluative interview that could potentially impact your standing with the admissions committee. Required interviews almost always indicate that the college weighs them significantly in the application process. Otherwise, why bother requiring them?


Some colleges will “strongly recommend” interviews, without actually requiring them. If you’re considering a school that “strongly recommends” an interview, you should approach it as a requirement. Remember, admissions are competitive already, and generally interviews help your candidacy by presenting a more multidimensional image of who you are. In addition, if it comes down to a candidate who made time for an interview and a similar one who did not, you can certain that the interview will factor into the admissions decision. 


Sometimes, interviews are required during later rounds of the admissions process. This is usually made clear in advance, so you will know ahead of time that the interview phase comes after initial reviews and is only offered to finalists. When this format of interview admissions occurs, it is usually in association with a specialized program. For example, BS/MD programs notoriously screen out about 80% of applicants before the interview stage, and then require on-campus interviews for all finalists.    


To summarize, in general being offered an interview is not a good indication of the status of your application. Furthermore, interviews will only rarely be a determining factor in your admissions process. That being said, there are some unique scenarios in which interviews become increasingly important later on in the admissions process. In these cases, though, that process will not come as a surprise. In general, this process occurs in specialized programs with more extensive admission screenings.


For more about interviews, check out these great CollegeVine posts:


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.