How to prepare for a college interview is something countless high school students and undergraduate applicants wonder about. College interviews, although not too common, are prime opportunities to increase your chances of acceptance and learn how to prepare for any professional interview. The college interview is an evaluative tool schools use on top of items like the common app essay to learn more about you. In this blog, we’ll learn what college interviews are, how common they are, what formats they take, and expert tips and advice on how to best prepare for them.
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What is the college interview?
A college interview is conducted by the admissions committees to gauge an applicant’s character, professional comportment and personality. The college interview plays a significant factor in admission decisions, so it is key to present a good interview and prepare well ahead of time.
Schools conduct college interviews usually to gather further information from applicants than was included in the common app activities section or college essay. Interviews tell admission bodies more about prospective students’ personalities, motivations, and passions. They are a convenient way for evaluators to see how students carry a conversation, comport themselves, too.
How common are college interviews for undergrad studies
Few colleges offer interviews to all their applicants, simply because of the sheer number of students who apply each year. College interviews are not common, but the schools who do still tend to use them are usually top-ranked colleges or private schools. Highly competitive schools, such as universities in California (UC), will usually offer optional or recommended college interviews. Private institutions are more likely to offer interviews to select candidates.
If you are offered an interview at any school, it is critical to prepare for it. This is your chance to distinguish yourself as an applicant and demonstrate to the admissions board that you are a good choice. College interviews aren’t weighted as heavily by the admissions committee when it comes to your overall application, but they are still considered. The fact that certain Ivy League schools still take the time and resources to conduct interviews means they are taken seriously and only candidates who are seriously being considered for admission will be invited to interview. The interviews are usually listed as ‘recommended’, but you should consider these ‘required’ as they can increase your chances of getting into very competitive programs. So, make sure to take your chance to showcase that you are a great candidate by accepting their invitation.
Not only that, but a college interview is likely to be the first foray into professional interviewing for undergraduate students, so it can be an excellent learning opportunity. Preparing for your college interview is a great opportunity to learn what professional interviews are like, what to expect, how to comport yourself and how to answer interview questions.
Even if the school you’re applying to only recommends that you interview, or the college interview is listed as optional, it’s still a good idea to opt in and be interviewed if you can. If you can add just a little bit extra to your application through your interview, or you can practice preparing and attending a professional interview, it’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss.
How college interviews work
Whether your chosen schools have a required interview, an optional one or no interview at all will depend on the university’s resources and admission requirements.
If an interview is extended to you, absolutely accept the invitation and begin preparing yourself. Even if interviews are optional, ask to be interviewed and put your best foot forward. Some schools will not require an interview at all or they will choose to interview only select applicants.
If you’re not chosen for an interview, you won’t be penalized in your application, and you may still be accepted. Chances are the university simply doesn’t have time to interview all the applicants, and they learned all they needed to from your application. Although, you can still ask for an interview if the program offers them.
College interviews are usually conducted by an admissions board or panel, but some colleges offer a different type of interview altogether. Applicants can conduct an interview of their own with one of the college’s alumni. These types of interviews are for the benefit of the student, to ask questions about the school, the program, campus life and more. Interviews like these are always a good idea, since there’s no one better to ask about your prospective college experience than someone who’s been through it before. Sometimes colleges will offer this through an informational interview with school staff, too.
College interview formats
College interviews are almost always evaluative, as we mentioned above. They are conducted to learn more about you and your candidacy for a certain school or program. College interviews are usually traditional style, with one interviewer or a panel of interviewers asking questions. Some colleges may prefer video interviews instead of in person, or they will ask students to submit a short video answering questions instead of attending a formal interview. While the interview formats may vary a bit depending on the school, you can expect your college interview to be structured, unstructured, or behavioral. Sometimes, a mixture of these three.
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Common college interview questions
No matter the type or format of interview you’ll undergo, it’s important to know the kind of questions you’ll likely face, and how to prepare your answers for them. Colleges typically ask many of the same questions from a general list. These questions are designed to get to know you better, and help the interviewers evaluate your character, interests, experiences, and motivations.
Some common college interview questions include:
This list is by no means exhaustive, but these are some of the most commonly asked college admissions interview questions. They will tend to be open-ended and up for interpretation, so learning how to prepare to answer them can be tricky. Fortunately, you can prepare some responses ahead of time so you don’t completely blank when one of these questions comes up in your interview.
Tips for college interview preparation
If you’ve never faced a professional interview before, it can be intimidating to attend a college interview. To prepare yourself, remember these tips and take the time to practice your responses.
What to do in a college interview
There’s plenty of advice on what to do to ace your college interview. But this advice usually doesn’t cover what not to do in a college interview—or any interview. There are some important things to remember as you prepare for your college interview, and some bad habits to curb before you enter the room. Some of these bad habits or blunders are enough to cost you the interview and subsequently your chance at being admitted. But you can work to eliminate them from your life.
Interview etiquette explained
As the college interview may be one of the first—or first—experience a student has in a professional interview setting, they may not be familiar with interview etiquette. Especially if you’re an international student, international student interview questions and etiquette may be different from your home country.
To simplify things, interview etiquette generally includes things like keeping a friendly tone of voice, keeping to formal address, being alert and attentive, and dressing professionally. College advisors or admissions consultants can be excellent coaches for interview comportment and etiquette. Practicing your comportment is just as important as practicing your responses, so mock interviews can be a great tool to practice as well!
Before your interview, decide on what you will wear and practice wearing those clothes, either around the house or in a mock interview. Your clothes shouldn’t be a distraction to you or anyone else, so keep it neutral, clean and professional. Wear something that fits and is comfortable so you can feel relaxed in the interview room. Make sure you have everything you will need for your interview prepared ahead of time and map out your route to the interview. That way, on the day of your interview you’re less likely to be delayed by bad traffic or forgetting something at home.
At the start of your interview, give a firm but relaxed handshake and greet your interviewers upon your arrival. If your interview is virtual, be sure to make eye contact and introduce yourself. Keep a friendly and polite tone of voice, erring on the side of formal.
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During the interview, be aware of your posture and body language. Sit up straight and avoid fidgeting or shifting. Keep relaxed, though and don’t tense up or show your nerves. When answering questions, treat it as a conversation you’re having, but remember to keep a professional air as well. Gestures are fine for when you’re answering questions, just remember you can practice these too and make sure they aren’t distracting. Mock interviews are a good time to take notice of your body language and body movements, and correct any nervous tics or restless habits.
After the interview, thank your interviewers and let them know to contact you with any questions. If you can, ask for a business card or offer your contact information if they do not have it. The day after your interview, compose a thank you letter and send it to your interviewers as well. Sending a thank you note and these other small considerations are good marks of character, and will reflect well in any interview you attend. Interviewers will appreciate your thoughtfulness and attention to detail, too.
Preparing for a college interview can be intimidating, but it can be done. Using the tips and advice we’ve outlined above, or seeking some professional interview prep help, you can prepare yourself for the challenge.
1. What is a college interview?
A college interview is sometimes conducted during college admissions. It is a way for admissions committees to evaluate a student’s character, interests and motivation for applying to post-secondary.
2. Do all schools require a college interview?
Not all colleges require a college interview, but the ones that do tend to be highly competitive programs, or private schools with a rigorous selection process.
3. Should I still interview if its optional or recommended?
Absolutely. A college interview is your chance to shine and add something to your application. It’s also a great opportunity to practice preparing for professional interviews overall.
4. What are informational college interviews?
Informational college interviews are offered to students so they can learn more about a college or program. They are sometimes conducted by admissions agents or alumni of a particular college to allow prospective students to get their questions answered.
5. What format are college interviews?
College interviews are usually one-on-one or panel interviews, in-person or virtual.
6. How do I prepare for my college interview?
The best way to prepare for a college interview is to research the school, practice your answers ahead of time and organize mock interviews to practice your technique and delivery.
7. What are the most common questions in a college interview?
Common questions in college interviews include “tell us about yourself”, “why do you want to study at our school?” and “what are your interests outside of school?”, among others.
8. What should you not say in a college interview?
Avoid going off topic, talking too long on one subject or question, and always speak respectfully and politely.
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