The college interview is arguably one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of the admissions process. Most students want nothing more than to make a good first impression, which inevitably leads to the question: “What on earth am I supposed to wear?”

It is usually sufficient to dress in what’s commonly known as “business casual” for an interview. However, if you’re questioning whether your outfit is formal or professional enough, it is always best to err on the side of caution. While there is almost no downside to dressing more formally than is required, other than perhaps the embarrassment of being a bit overdressed, looking sloppy or underdressed might reflect poorly on you and could adversely affect your evaluation. Read on for our tips on dressing to impress for your college interview.

For Men

For men, business casual requires nice pants; this means slacks, khakis, or dress pants. Your shirt should be long-sleeved and collared; additionally, you should wear a jacket and a tie if you wish. If you happen to own a suit and want to wear it, that would be acceptable, but this is by no means necessary. As for shoes, you should do your best to wear polished dress shoes—at least, not sneakers—and dark socks.

On rare occasions, your interviewer will inform you that the interview is more causal. If this is the case, the above measures may not be necessary. That said, even if your interviewer expressly tells you that the interview will be more casual, you should nonetheless arrive looking neat and clean. A pair of dark, well-tailored jeans free of rips or tears will look acceptable with a nice shirt for casual interviews. And while a tie won’t be necessary in this scenario, sweatpants, sweatshirts, and sneakers are almost never a good idea.

In both scenarios, it should go without saying that your hair should be brushed and your overall appearance well-kept. This includes being clean-shaven.

For Women

The business casual dress code for women is similar to that for men, with addition of skirts and dresses. Dresses, should you choose to wear one, should be tailored and fit well. If your dress does not have sleeves, you should cover your shoulders with a blazer.

If you prefer, you can opt for a suit—a skirt suit or pantsuit will work—paired with a collared shirt, blouse, or sweater set. A blazer is likely not necessary, but it wouldn’t hurt to wear one if you have it on hand. For shoes, a number of semi-formal and formal options are acceptable. Heels are not necessary, but any ballet flats or boots you choose to wear should look polished and free of major scuffs, rips, or dirt. Avoid sneakers and sandals.

If you are informed expressly by your interviewer that the interview will be casual, you can plan to be slightly less formal than the business casual dress code we’ve outlined above. As we describe for men above, women too can plan to wear dark jeans without rips and a nice blouse in this scenario, but sneakers, sweatpants, and legging are still inadvisable.

Similarly, in all scenarios, your hair and makeup should look neat and professional. If your hair is long, it is always easiest to pull it back into a neat ponytail or a bun, which never fails to look well put together, especially if your hair is dyed in an unnatural color. If you’re wearing makeup, it should be minimal and neat; it’s probably best to avoid glitter and distractingly loud colors.

A Final Note

Whatever you choose to wear, ensure that it’s neat and comfortable, and avoid anything that will be visually distracting to your interviewer or to you. Obviously, it is important to look professional and composed out of respect to your interviewers and the school to which you are applying. Part of dressing respectfully means wearing suits that fit properly. Anything too short, small, or revealing is inappropriate for men and women. If your clothing is too tight, your skirt too short, or your blazer too small, you should leave it at home.

Additionally, it is important that you feel comfortable in your clothing so that you can focus on the interview rather than what you are wearing. Avoid anything that will make you feel self-conscious. There is nothing more distracting during an interview than someone who is constantly tugging at or rearranging their clothes.

After you’ve read this blog post, be sure to check out our other posts regarding interviews, which cover making the most of your interview, preparing for an interview, organizing your thoughts in advance if you’re an introvert, identifying both good and bad questions to ask your interviewer, and following up after your interview is over. Follow these steps, and you’ll have aced the interview process and gotten one step closer to your college of choice!

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