Each part of the college application process is designed to tell colleges something different about the applicant.This is a good thing: no single part of your application will totally make or break you.

That said, there is no part of the application that doesn’t matter or “won’t count,” which means that you should take your interview seriously and prepare for it well. The best way to do this is to understand what is at stake. In other words, the question we’re dealing with is not “Does my college interview matter?” but rather “Why does my college interview matter?”

What’s at Stake

Obviously, you can only learn so much about a person in the thirty minutes—or even hour—allotted for an interview. Thus, the point of an interview is not to provide admissions officers with an exhaustive or deep understanding of your family life, interests, or values. Most likely, this isn’t even the type of information they are looking to gain from interviewing you. Instead, these are the kinds of topics you should be covering in your personal statement and Common App, and they’ll likely come up in your teacher’s recommendation letters as well.

However, an interviewer can still learn a significant amount about you in a short amount of time—things like your personality and character, your ability to engage in conversations and answer question, and your decorum and self-presentation, to name just a few.Your college interview, unlike any other part of the application process, is your opportunity to make your application come alive—to put a face, personality, and voice to your name.

Indeed, the very fact that many universities devote time, money, and other resources to organizing and conducting student interviews implies that these interviews are important. But if that weren’t enough, think about it this way: an interview provides you with the opportunity to take matters into your own, physical hands and make your application come alive…literally. At its core, the application process is designed to show adcoms the real you. Imagine, then, how helpful it is to an adcom to receive input from your interviewer—someone who has not only seen you in the flesh but also spoken to you.

Realistically speaking, the interview is perhaps the best opportunity you have to distinguish yourself as an applicant to a competitive school. Though you can work hard to achieve perfect grades and fantastic standardized test scores, there are thousands of students across the country who will have these feathers in their caps too. If you really want to make an impression on an adcom that you specifically are energetic, excited about a school, and a good fit for its community, one sure way to do this is to emote these things in an interview.

Required, Optional, and Nonexistent: Interviews on Different Applications

As you are applying to college, you’ll notice that every school has its own application requirements; interviews are no exception. Depending on the school you’re applying to, interviews will vary greatly.

In terms of who will conduct your interview, you could be paired anyone from an admissions officer to an alum to a current student. Likewise, locations will vary based on a school’s resources and campuses. Some schools will offer only on-campus interviews and others will offer interviews in your city or hometown. The latter could occur in school clubs, coffee shops, or restaurants. You should research these logistics beforehand on the school’s website.

The most vital difference, though, is whether interviews are required or not. Some schools will require that you interview. In these cases, there is no question that you must put your best foot forward in your allotted time. If every student vying for a spot in the next graduating class will be interviewed, it will be even more important to distinguish yourself when you meet your interviewers in person.

Meanwhile, some schools will offer optional interviews. In these cases, you should definitely take advantage of this opportunity and schedule one if possible. As we’ve mentioned, an interview is a golden opportunity to distinguish yourself from other candidates who are equally as qualified as you. Additionally, if you turn down the opportunity to both learn more about a school and showcase your desire to attend, it could be misread as flippant disinterest.

Still other schools will offer limited interviews or no interviews at all. If you are not offered an interview at a school that does offer some interviews, do not fret. Look into opportunities to procure an interview anyway if you wish, but rest assured that you will not be penalized for this. Usually, this occurs because an adcom simply doesn’t have the resources to interview every single applicant.

Interviews: They Work Both Ways

If you’ve gotten this far, it should be pretty clear that your interview matters—that your performance, decorum, and self-presentation will all speak volumes about how much you deserve to go to your school of choice. But in addition to that, there’s another reason why your interview is so important. Namely, just as it is an opportunity for a school to decide if you are right for its community, it is equally an opportunity for you to decide if a school can offer you what you want in a college.

For one, the interview provides you with a forum to ask your interviewer any questions you want answered about a school. True, there are good and bad ways to go about asking these questions—and it’s important to keep this in mind if you want to put your best foot forward—but the fact remains that this part of the interview is designed to give you information about a specific school so that you can make an informed decision come May.

What You Can Do to Prepare

You should think of your college interview as an opportunity to strengthen your application rather than a potential pitfall. In this light, the best way to set yourself up for success is to make sure your interview runs smoothly—that you enter it confident and prepared.

The best thing you can to do prepare yourself is practice and prepare. Before your interview, research the school in depth, and go in armed with a list of things about the university that excite you, confuse you, worry you, and pique your interest. Is there a department in which you think you want to study? A tenured professor you want to meet? A class you want to take? Though you shouldn’t carry physical notes into your interview, you should make a list of these things beforehand and be able to reference them with ease if they are relevant to your interview discussion.

To further quell your fears or nervousness before an interview, it’s a good idea to do a dry run with a teacher at school, older sibling who has been through the college application process, or another family member. Practice answering questions intelligently and with direct, succinct responses. The more you practice carrying on a conversation that is more formal than your everyday discussions, the more prepared you’ll feel for your interview when the day arrives.

This blog is actually a great place to start preparing for your upcoming college interviews. We’ve covered many different aspects of the interviewing process in previous blog posts. Read more on preparing for your interview here, and check out this link for tips specifically geared towards the shy or introverted among you. Here we write about making the most of your college interview, and for our guidelines on dressing to impress in your interview, check out this article. Finally, read our rundown of what to do after your interview is complete here. Indeed, the steps you take in the days following your appointment are just as important as your actual performance.

Last Thoughts

Most importantly, remember to stay calm throughout the entire interview process. As we’ve said, no part of the application is designed to trip you up or ruin your chances of being accepted. Rather, each component positions you to showcase a different aspect of you. In your interview, let your personality and confidence shine!

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