What to Bring to a College Interview
There are a lot of factors that college admissions officers consider when evaluating applicants. While areas such as grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities hold a lot of weight in an admissions decision, there are a handful of other aspects taken into consideration as well—like college interviews, for example.
How Important is the College Interview?
In recent years, the college interview has been devalued as applicants’ focus continues to shift toward core considerations like GPA, SAT/ACT scores, and a student’s extracurricular profile. While a college interview isn’t likely to make or break an applicant’s odds of admission, it can play an integral role in separating a student from other applicants in their pool. This is particularly true at highly-selective institutions.
An interview is an opportunity for an applicant to share a more comprehensive picture of themself than the one painted in their application. At its simplest, an interview gives a student a chance to show off their personality and provides a platform beyond essays and extracurricular activities to convey their passions and interests.
A college interview is also an opportunity to offer an explanation for anything that you feel needs added clarity. For example, an applicant could share how an illness in the family impacted their grades at a particular time, while also highlighting growth or improvement over the course of their high school career.
Another benefit of the college interview is that it allows applicants to demonstrate their unique interest in a particular institution. As more and more colleges keep track of demonstrated interest—tracking everything from a student’s campus visits, college collateral signed up for, and classes sat in on—the college interview is another way for an applicant to express their enthusiasm for a college and make their case for why they’re a good fit.
How is COVID-19 Impacting College Interviews?
Because of the current pandemic, many colleges are conducting interviews virtually. We have a complete guide to virtual interviews that you should check out, but we also wanted to note the main differences in what you should bring, and how you should prepare. In the following sections, we’ll go over what you need for both traditional in-person interviews and virtual ones.
What to Bring to Your College Interview
Traditional In-Person Interviews
Below is a list of what to bring to a traditional in-person college interview, broken down by level of importance.
- Two copies of your resume
- A notebook and pen to jot down any important information you learn during the interview
- A list of prepared questions to ask (get a headstart on your interview questions by reading our article, 8 Meaningful Questions to Ask During Your College Interview)
- Directions to the location of the interview
One of the most important items to bring to your college interview is two copies of your resume, one for your interviewer and one for you to use as a reference during the interview. Your resume serves multiple purposes: it provides your interviewer with a snapshot of you as a candidate, can guide interview questions, and help an interviewer remember you. For more thoughts about bringing your resume to a college interview, check out our article, Should I Bring My Resume to My College Interview?
Might-need items: (Anything an interviewer asks you to bring)
- SAT/ACT scores
- High school transcript
- List of AP classes you’ve taken and plan to take
Applicants for specialized programs such as art, performance, and music should come prepared with a portfolio, video, or prepared performance piece, while student-athletes should have a highlight reel handy.
Recruiters might have limited access to an applicant’s file, consequently, being able to provide them with the bona fides of your college candidacy—such as test scores, GPA, and your AP coursework—will help them get a clearer picture of you as a student. Similarly, applicants applying for specific programs will benefit from having material on hand that proves their value in their chosen field.
- A bottle of water
- A snack (nothing messy)
- A hairbrush
- Cosmetics (if you use them)
- A phone (make sure it’s switched to silent)
For virtual interviews, you’ll likely be interviewing from the comfort of your home, though you should absolutely still prepare with the same amount of care. Make sure you have the following items nearby during your call:
- Notebook and pen to jot down notes
- List of prepared questions for the interviewer
- Phone (in case your computer has issues; just be sure to silence your phone)
You also need to make sure your tech is ready to go:
- Charge your laptop to 100% (or even better, plug it in during the meeting).
- Make sure your internet connection is stable.
- If you need a username or email to access the call, make sure it’s professional. Same goes for any profile photos.
- Test a video call with a friend to check if the sound and video are working properly.
Be sure to set up your space as professionally as possible:
- Get good lighting—natural lighting is best, like sitting behind a window (not in front of it, as it will make you look shadowy).
- Find a blank or neutral background, or use a Zoom background.
- Eliminate external noise, and use headphones if you can.
- Let your family know, so they don’t interrupt you on accident.
What to Wear to Your College Interview
Traditional In-Person Interviews
Business casual is a good guideline to follow when dressing for a college interview; the goal is to look clean, crisp, and well-put-together without coming off as stuffy.
Men should go with dress pants or khaki pants with a belt, a long-sleeved collared shirt, and dress shoes with dark-colored socks. Avoid jeans, sneakers, and flip flops at all costs. You should also plan to either be clean-shaven or have well-groomed facial hair.
The women’s dress code is similar to that of men, only with the additional option of dresses, which should be tailored and fit well. Shoes can range from a number of semi-formal or formal options, including heels, flats, or boots. In addition to jeans, sneakers, and flip flops being no-nos, so are leggings. Hair and makeup should be professional-looking, and flashy/distracting jewelry should be avoided.
For more tips on dressing to impress at your college interview, read our blog, What to Wear to Your College Interview.
Dress for virtual interviews is very similar, though you can worry less about shoes. That said, we still recommend wearing a full outfit that’s interview-appropriate. While the interviewer is only likely to see your head and shoulders, you want to avoid the potential embarrassment of standing up and exposing your sweatpants or pajamas (or even worse, your underwear, as the urban legend goes).
Also keep in mind that intricate patterns and bright colors don’t always present well on computer screens. You may want to avoid these and select simpler patterned clothes in more neutral colors.
Tips for Your College Interview
With a clear understanding of the importance of a college interview and knowledge of what to bring to it, there are a few other things an applicant can do to wow an interviewer.
Arrive early: Erase any stress about getting to the interview on time and demonstrate characteristics such as punctuality, seriousness, and dependability by arriving early. Same goes for virtual interviews; be ready at your computer at least 15 minutes in advance.
Be polite: Applicants should introduce themselves, shake the interviewer’s hand, smile throughout the interview, and thank the interviewer for their time at the conclusion of your interview. Before leaving, applicants should get the interviewer’s contact information and follow up with a thank-you note.
Make eye contact: Whether your interview is in-person or virtual, be sure to look at the interviewer while you’re speaking. This is especially important for video calls; remember to look at the camera, and not your computer screen.
Avoid cursing and slang: Match the professional dress code of the interview with a professional tone and avoid cursing, harsh language, and slang.
Have confidence: The goal of the interview is to present a confident image of a student who will excel in the classroom and on campus, but beware of overdoing it and coming off as pompous.
Be yourself: This is one of the few opportunities an applicant gets to let their personality shine, so take advantage of it! Answer questions honestly, highlight why you’re a great fit for their school (remember to show with examples and not just tell), and present the best version of yourself by acting mature and poised.
If you have more interview questions, you can get your questions answered by peers and experts in our Q&A forum. You may even find existing answers to your questions! Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started.