Looking the Part: What to Wear to Your College Interview
Want personalized (and free) advice while applying to college?
We’re building a free college guidance platform for high school students like you! This means we’ll let you know exactly what and when you should be focusing on things like extracurriculars, college essays, standardized tests, and more. Sign up now to get early access to our platform and get guidance applying to college!
There are myriad circumstances in your life where you may have to dress for a certain role. You might be on a sports team, in which you wear your jersey the day of an important game. Maybe you’re having dinner with your grandparents so you put on some clean, ironed pants and a nice shirt. Or maybe you’re all dolled up and headed to the prom.
Different circumstances call for different attire, and when you near the end of your high school career, you’ll enter new territory in this regard. There will be special events, graduation and graduation parties, and of course, college interviews.
Preparing for interviews can be stressful. You are probably busy thinking about how to answer possible interview questions, planning how you’ll frame your unique experiences and communicate who you really are. You might be so busy thinking about what you’ll say and talk about during the interview that you don’t spend much time anticipating what you’ll wear to the actual interview.
It can be hard to decide what to wear to a college interview, especially if you’ve never interviewed for something similar. In this post, we’ll outline how you can play the part so that you make a positive first impression and show that you are serious about your college ambitions.
Because many students spend time stressing about how to dress for interviews, some colleges now specify the appropriate attire. If you interview confirmation specifically states that you may dress casually, you should do so, assuming that you aren’t wearing any ripped clothing or inappropriate logos. But if your interview confirmation specifics business casual or doesn’t offer any insight at all, keep reading. With our top tips for how to dress and prepare yourself outwardly for the college interview, you’ll be able to let your mouth do the talking, not any flaws or missteps in your appearance.
How to Dress:
You will need to choose clothes that look business appropriate. These are the kinds of things you would wear to a formal class presentation if you wanted to make a really positive impression. Your clothing should be modest and simple, but clean and crisp. A good general rules of thumb is, if you wouldn’t wear it to a family dinner with your grandfather, don’t wear it to an interview.
What does this entail exactly? You don’t need a full suit or anything, but you should at least look clean and put-together. Try to avoid any large brand logos on your clothing and certainly avoid jeans or t-shirts.
If you’re a boy, you should consider wearing dress pants or khaki pants paired with a collared shirt. Be sure to tuck your shirt in and wear a belt so that your pants fit snugly and no undergarments are visible.
If you’re a girl, you should consider wearing dress pants or a knee-length skirt or dress. Pair these with a simple blouse or business appropriate sweater. Be sure that none of your undergarments are visible through your clothes.
Your shoes should be appropriate and polished. You should not wear any sneakers, platforms, or high heels over 3”. Make sure that your shoes are not exceptionally scuffed or worn.
If you don’t already have a pair of nice, professional shoes, now is the time to invest in a pair. You will need them beyond the interview for jobs and other events in college.
Be sure to leave most of your fashion accessories at home or in the car. You should not wear or bring any sunglasses or hats to the interview. These types of accessories are more likely to distract attention from what you have to say.
The same is true of piercings. If possible you should remove all visible piercings except for earrings. If you do wear earrings, or any other jewelry, it should be modest and not distracting.
Hopefully this goes without saying, but you don’t want to show up for the interview with last night’s pizza on your chin or the stench of yesterday’s workout lingering under your arms. Be mindful of arriving for the interview having recently showered, brushed your teeth, and used deodorant. This shows that you have planned ahead and taken it seriously.
Beyond that, be careful not to apply too much perfume or cologne before your interview. For people who are not used to the smell, it can be overpowering and/or unpleasant. Some people are even allergic to strong perfumes. If you do choose to wear perfume or cologne, just a small amount will suffice.
Makeup and Facial Hair:
Again, your outward appearance should convey that you are taking the interview seriously and are respectful of the process. You should look composed, but not over-the-top.
For girls, makeup should be natural and light. Don’t wear bright lipsticks, eyeshadows, or anything else that might distract from what you have to say.
For boys, make sure to shave or trim your facial hair. Having a beard or a mustache is of course fine, but it should be well-kept. Remember that your facial hair is an indication of your care and preparation. Even if you normally wear it ungroomed, you should trim and groom for this occasion.
Make sure to iron your clothes before the interview. Even completely appropriate attire will appear unprofessional if you arrive with it wrinkled.
If you are traveling from afar and won’t have the opportunity to change into your interview clothes after you arrive, be sure to bring a wrinkle release spray. Practice using it at home. Mist your clothes from a distance, smooth out wrinkles with your hands, and allow the spray to dry.
Also think about small impressions, such as the watch or the socks that you’re wearing. If they don’t fit the part, leave them at home.
Top it all off with a conservative hairstyle. There’s no need for mohawks or wild colors for this event. Remember, again, that you want the focus to be on you and what you have to say, not on what you’re wearing or how you’ve done your hair.
Despite wearing clothes that are outside of your normal wardrobe, try to feel comfortable in what you choose for the interview. Make sure that everything fits comfortably so that you won’t be adjusting your clothing or distracted by it during the interview.
Also, try to stay true to yourself even if you’re wearing something out of the ordinary. There are plenty of methods to incorporate your own sense of style in subtle ways that won’t overpower the rest of your image. A small piece of jewelry, a scarf, or cufflinks are some ideas.
Don’t Overdo It:
Remember, this is a college interview and your interviewers expect a high school student to walk in the door. They are not looking for a lawyer or a CEO.
There is no need for a complete three-piece suit unless that’s what makes you feel most comfortable. Similarly, if you don’t normally wear high heels, today is not the day to try them out for the first time.
Your interview attire should be something that makes you feel comfortable and composed while conveying that you take the process seriously and are respectful of the institution and the interviewers. There’s no need to spend lots of money on expensive clothing. A few polished staples that you can reuse for other events will do just fine.
Finally, don’t forget that no matter what you choose to wear, it won’t have any impact if you can’t complete the image by backing it up through your own actions. Your body language is just as important a part of your outward appearance as anything you’re wearing.
When you walk into the interview, even if you are feeling nervous, put a smile on your face, make eye contact, and shake hands with a firm grip. As you do so, introduce yourself and thank your interviewer(s) for having with you.
At the end of the interview, do the same and thank the interviewer(s) for their time. Tell them that you’ve enjoyed speaking with them and look forward to exploring your options at their institution.
What If You Don’t Look the Part?
This advice might seem overwhelming if you feel like you don’t look the part of the aspiring college student. Maybe you have some visible tattoos or piercings that can’t be removed. Maybe your wild hairstyle or color can’t be changed, or perhaps you just can’t get through the interview without your fluorescent pink plaid lucky socks.
If this is the case for you, don’t worry; this isn’t the end of the world. If there is a glaringly obvious component to your appearance that seems unusual or even out of place, relax. You won’t be the first interviewee to present an unusual image.
Rather than allowing it to be the elephant in the room, bring it up during the interview as a talking point. The interview is meant to get to know you better as a candidate and what better way than discussing how your appearance reflects who you are? Be confident in yourself and offer some insight so that the interview committee isn’t left wondering.
College interviews can be a stressful time, especially if you’re about to have your first one. Remember that if you prepare ahead, remain true to yourself, and go into the interview with confidence, you will put your best foot forward. There are few opportunities in life where you get to talk so much about yourself, and it can feel awkward at first, but with some practice and a little reminder to be yourself, the interview process can be comfortable and even fun.
If you are nearing college interview time and you need some more help preparing, whether it’s choosing your attire or preparing your talking points, consider our CollegeVine’s Mentorship Program, which provides practical advice on topics from high school activities and college applications to career aspirations, all from successful college students who have been in your shoes.
For more information about college interviews and the application process, check out these CollegeVine posts:
- What Not to Do At Your College Interview
- 4 Interview Do’s
- Should I Bring My Resume to My College Interview?
- How Much Do Interviews Matter?
- How to Prepare For Your College Interview
- 4 Interview Tips for the Introvert
- How to Make the Most of Your College Interview
- What To Do After Your College Interview
Want more tips on improving your academic profile?
We'll send valuable information to help you strengthen your profile and get ready for college admissions.