Top 10 Tips for Your College Interview
Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?
See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.
Many top colleges offer interviews, either on campus or through local alumni interviewers. For students applying to these schools, an interview can be a crucial piece of the admissions puzzle. Although few schools actually require interviews, many more recommend them, and in these cases, applicants should treat the interview process as though it’s just as important as the rest of the application.
To learn more about preparing for your interview, don’t miss our top 10 interview tips.
Note: many interviews are virtual due to COVID-19. See our guide to virtual interviews for more info and tips!
1. Know Your Stuff
Before you go to any interview, you need to do your research. While you won’t be asked about specific academic knowledge, you will be speaking specifically about the college and how it relates to your interests and aspirations.
You should be prepared to discuss specific aspects of the school that interest you, programs you may be interested in, and any other particulars of the college that are uniquely well-suited to you.
2. Prepare Your Own Questions
As you research the school, be mindful of anything you’d like to learn more about. Although most of the interview questions will be directed towards you, there will undoubtedly be time in the interview devoted to your questions about the school. Some students are unprepared for this, which can come off as either hasty or pretentious.
Have a mental list of questions you’d like to ask your interviewer. Keep in mind that these questions should show that you have done your due diligence already, so avoid questions whose answers are readily available on the Internet or elsewhere.
3. Anticipate Common Interview Questions
While most interviews will consist of some unique questions that you can’t anticipate in advance, many will also have at least one or two common interview questions that are easy to prepare for when you consider them in advance. Review a list of common interview questions and have your responses ready.
There might include common staple questions like:
- Why are you interested in this college?
- What are your academic strengths?
- What do you plan to be doing ten years from now?
For more about preparing for specific questions, see our post What to Say in a College Interview: Responding to ‘Tell Me About Yourself’.
No matter how much time you spend researching a college and anticipating possible interview questions, there is no substitute for actual practice. When it comes to practicing for an interview, there are several different approaches, but the more realistic you can make it, the better prepared you’ll be.
Of course, it’s still helpful to practice your responses to common interview questions aloud in front of the mirror, but even more helpful is to have a friend or mentor act as interviewer from start to finish. Having a “mock” interview in advance can help to calm your nerves about what the actual interview will be like when the time comes.
5. Be Early
The common expression here holds true—if you’re not early, you’re late. In order to put your best foot forward, it’s a good idea to arrive for your interview with time to spare. This way, you’ll have time to use the restroom, get a cup of water, or simply take a few deep breaths to calm your nerves ahead of time.
Even if you arrive right on time, you won’t be in the right mindset if you’ve been rushing to get there and stressed about the possibility of being late.
6. Be Your (Best) Self
Your interviewer wants to get to know you as an individual, so it’s important that you’re able to relax enough that your personality and voice can shine through. That being said, this isn’t the time to elaborate on your affinity for salacious humor or your tightly held political views, unless either is also evidenced through extracurricular or academic involvement.
It’s better to keep to the aspects of your self that are relevant to your college application. Who are you as a student, a friend, and a member of the community? Be yourself, be personable, but don’t let your guard down so much that you may offend or deter your interviewer.
7. Dress Up, But Comfortably
Lots of students want to know what to wear on the day of the college interview. This depends on a few different factors, including the setting of your interview and the stipulations of the college, if any are given. For example, the MIT interviews are specifically casual and students are encouraged to wear attire appropriate to the setting, which is usually a coffee shop or library.
If no specific information is given about attire for the interview, you can assume that you should dress in polished clothing, but clothing is comfortable. The interviewers know and expect you to be a high school student, so you don’t need to overdo it. For more information about dressing for your interview, check out our post Looking the Part: What to Wear to Your College Interview.
8. Don’t Look At Your Watch
During your interview, keep your attention focused on the interviewer and the conversation. Looking at your watch, the clock, or simply gazing off into the distance can make it seem like you’re in a hurry to get the process over or you aren’t focused on the task at hand. One sign of a great interview is when the conversation moves along so smoothly that you don’t even notice the passage of time. Additionally, set your phone to silent or turn it off during your interview.
9. Try Not to Worry.
The college interview is not as important as most students think. Interviews and recommendation letters combined make up less than 10% of your application weight. Of course, you should still take the interview seriously and prepare diligently for it. But you don’t need to stress about it; a good one may give you a small boost, but a bad interview won’t harm your application that much (unless it’s truly bad, like you’ve said something offensive).
The goal of the interview is really just to put a face to your application, and to get to know you as a person. There’s no pressure to be the most impressive candidate ever; just aim to have an interesting and engaging conversation with your interviewer.
10. Send a Thank You Note
After your interview, be certain to follow up with a handwritten thank you note. While emails are usually sufficient for most communication these days, writing a handwritten thank you note shows more consideration and respect for the process in this circumstance. Be sure to refer to a few specific parts of the interview in your note, which will help to jog your interviewer’s memory if he or she has met with dozens of students.
Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.