Present Yourself Well in the College Interview

By Patricia Gorden Neill - March 26th, 2013

College interviews are for the most part voluntary. At a few of the most selective Ivy Leagues, the interview is mandatory. Colleges manage this by using their networks of alumni in various parts of the country. If you are visiting your college choices, you can arrange for an interview with the admissions office. If you live far away from your dream school, contact the admissions office to line up an interview with an alumnus in your area. Some colleges do interviews via webcam over the Internet using Skype.

All colleges differ on the weight they put on different sections of the college application, and while an interview is not the top of the list in importance, it is one chance for a college representative to meet with you face to face. As a student, it allows you to signal your interest in attending that specific college, something all colleges would like to know. It also benefits prospective students as they can put a face to their grades and test scores.

A very few colleges make the intense effort it takes to interview multiple thousands of applicants, usually involving the alumni network. All colleges, however, like to interview prospective students when they can as it helps them distinguish between one student and another. That’s why you should angle for an interview, it’ll help the college know more of who you are and address some of the intangibles that goes into college admission decisions.

Whether you figure you’re a perfect match for the college or a more borderline student, an interview allows you to reveal more of your personality or to explain the extenuating circumstance behind your not so hot sophomore grades in high school. You’ll be doing interviews for the rest of your life for jobs, for scholarships and for a host of other reasons. Start now and arrange for a college interview.

Some broad guidelines to follow in preparing for a college interview follow.

Research First

Don’t go into an interview cold. Supposedly you’re already researched the colleges that ended up on your short list, but brush up now and delve into the college’s Web site again before heading off to meet with a college alumnus. You should know why you have chosen that college to apply to, what attracted you to it and reasons you’d like to go there, rather than another school. One question you’re sure to be asked is why you are interested in the college. Prepare an answer in advance, but don’t memorize anything. Just be ready to express why you got interested in the school in the first place.

Dress Well

Dress as if you’re giving a presentation at your school. You don’t have to wear a suit, or anything too stuffy, but neat, clean and what’s called business casual will work fine. If you’re pierced in multiple places, you might want to remove all the body jewelry before the interview. Abnormal hair colors might not convey the impression that you are a serious student embarking on adulthood.

Cover the Basics

Always show up on time and prepared. While you may be nervous, try your best to appear confident and comfortable. Be yourself during the interview by sharing some of your passions in life and what you’d like to accomplish during your college career. Thank the interviewer when you leave.

Have Questions Prepared

You should prepare some questions for the interviewer before you go. If your interview is with an alumnus or alumna, ask them how they enjoyed their college stint, or have them explain one of the school’s programs you’re interested in. Interviews work both ways; the college wants to give a good impression too. The best interviews are conversations between two people with information and impressions going both ways.

Practice

If you have a teacher, guidance counselor or mentor you’re comfortable with, ask them to interview you as a college rep might to help you prepare. It will help allay your nervousness when you go for the real thing.

Reveal Your Personality

Tell the interviewer about yourself but not by simply rattling off your high school accomplishments—all that information is in your application. Rather, express why something is important to you and its impact on your life. Talk about the horses you’ve known and why you want to be a veterinarian, or the summer you fell in love with the theatre. Relate your passions to the college and its wonderful mathematics or study abroad program. Tying your passion to something the school offers will make you come alive as a person to the interviewer.

Leave the Parents and Friends at Home

The interview is between you as an applicant and the college interviewer. While some parents have a tendency to hover over their college bound children, it doesn’t go over well with admissions or other school representatives. You’re the one going to college, not your parents.

Enjoy Yourself

The college interview isn’t the most important part of your application. Thousands of students apply to a college, and many of them can’t interview for one reason or another. So colleges only put so much weight on an interview. Relax and enjoy yourself and you’ll give a good impression that the college admissions counselor will remember.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.