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How to Nail Your College Interview

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After countless hours of SAT and ACT prep courses, endless drafts of personal essays and tackling the monster that is the Common App, you think you have it all down when it comes to the college admissions process. But then you receive a notice about your admissions interview—now you have to impress someone in person enough to make him or her let you into college.

Never fear, collegiettes! We’ve talked to students all around the country as well as Michelle Podbelsek, a college admissions counselor and co-owner of College Counseling Associates, to answer all of your questions about college interviews.

What are college interviews and why are they important?

College interviews are, unsurprisingly, interviews that you go on to help colleges and universities decide your admission status. They give the colleges another opportunity besides your personal essay and other application supplements to get to know you for you and not just the bullet points on your resume.

Interviews are crucial to making your application sparkle when admissions officers are deciding whether or not to admit you to the school. Make sure you seize this opportunity to show the school your true self!

Where will the interview take place?

Answering this question can be pretty tough because these interviews can happen anywhere from the college’s admissions office to someplace local, like Starbucks or Panera.

“The interview I went on in the admissions house was way scarier than the one I did at the coffee shop,” says Chrissy Brenstein, a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I ended up getting into the school that was in the admissions house, though, and waitlisted at the other school, probably because I was almost too relaxed in the coffee shop.”

If your interview is scheduled to take place in an office on the college’s campus, remember to relax and be genuine. If your interview is going to take place someplace local or more casual, remember: You might feel more relaxed and at home, but don’t let that make you forget that you’re having a professional conversation!

Schools typically reach out to you to schedule your interview; once the interview is scheduled, they will let you know where it will be taking place. Some colleges even advertise where they hold their interviews.

Most of the time, the person who will actually interview you depends on the location. Admissions representatives or people who are on location for the school usually hold interviews conducted in admissions offices; interviews that take place at local coffee shops and the like are usually conducted by alumni or regional representatives of the college.

Remember that not all interviews are the same: While one might take place at one location in one fashion, another might be completely different. Make sure you go by what the college tells you and roll with the punches to be successful!

Whom will I be talking to?

Like the location of your interview, the person you’ll be talking to depends on the interview. Some colleges have prospective students talk to admissions representatives; others have prospective students talk to alumni of the school. “Sometimes even a senior in college does the interview,” Podbelsek says. Your interview could be with anyone, so be prepared for anything!

Although your interview can be with anyone, know that the university you’re interviewing with will let you know in advance who your interviewer will be. They will also let you know how to sign up for an interview; this is something you can find on the college’s website or through their application.

“I had one interview with a student and another with an adult representative in admissions,” Chrissy says. “The one with the admissions person was a little bit easier, to be honest, because I knew for sure that I should be sort of formal. With the student I didn’t really know where I stood [in] regards to being formal and being relaxed.”

When a student admissions ambassador conducts your interview, remember not to go over the top while trying to impress him or her—these people are only a few years older than you and could potentially be your peers. You want to make sure that while you’re being formal and presenting yourself in a positive light, you’re also being genuine in order to make a connection with someone your age.

This is also your chance to ask someone for firsthand information about what the college is like. By striking up conversation about the culture on campus or about specific clubs, you will make a more sincere connection.

Remember: As a young adult, you can smell a brown-noser from a mile away. Although you definitely want to be respectful and personable with a student admissions ambassador, know that they will be able to recognize disingenuous students the same way you would be able to.

No matter whom your interview is with, make sure you are putting your best foot forward. Mind your manners, but most importantly, be yourself.

What do I wear?

Ah, one of the most important questions for girls when attending any event: What do I wear? College interviews can be particularly tricky because it can be tough to tell what’s too formal and what’s not formal enough.

“[Dress in] business casual—what you would wear to your grandmother’s birthday party or to a decent restaurant,” says Podbelsek.

Shira Kipnees, a senior at Franklin & Marshall College, did exactly what Podbelsek suggested for her interviews. “I usually wore a dress or really nice shirt and skirt with heels,” she says. “However, I kept everything appropriate, like something I would wear if I were going to services in any place of worship.”

Try to sense the tone of the interview based off of where the interview is going to take place or whom you’re going to be interviewed by. If you’re going to the admissions office, try to keep it dressy; if you’re going to Panera, still keep it classy, but maybe leave your dress pants in the closet and opt for a cute dress instead.

“One [interview of mine] took place at a local Starbucks,” says Gabrielle Hughes, a freshman at Syracuse University. “I seemed way too overdressed, because the young female alum was in a green Free People jacket and jeans.”

Wherever your interview takes place, make sure you make an impression not only with your personality, but with how you look, too. Show your interviewer that you’re a confident and put-together collegiette who will definitely excel at his or her college.

What should I bring?

For admissions interviews, the most important things for you to bring are yourself and your sparkling personality. It’s important to make a good impression using your personality and nothing else; you should show that you have a lot to contribute to the college or university just by being you! That said, pre-collegiettes should also remember a few other things to put in their purses before the meeting.

It’s important to have a resume to give to your interviewer if he or she asks, but don’t shove it down his or her throat! Remember, the college has all of that stuff in your application, so only pull it out if your interviewer asks for it.

“[Students] could also bring a notecard with a few main accomplishments [and] points they want to make,” Podbelsek says. You could also write down a few questions you know you want to ask as well. “When the interviewer asks if they have questions, [the prospective student] can pull out the card with their own questions written down and also see if they forgot to say something they wanted to mention,” Podbelsek says.

Just like giving an oral presentation, it’s not a bad thing to have a few notecards to give you cues. Just need to remember that the interview will be stronger if it’s more like a conversation between yourself and the interviewer, so don’t read directly off of your notecards!

What will the interviewer ask me?

You guessed it: In your interview, you’re going to be asked questions. But what should you expect?

Most interviews are used to find out if you are a good fit for that specific college, so don’t be surprised if they ask you specific questions about you in relation to the college. Many interviewers even ask what they can tell you about the college (see “What should I ask?” below!).

“I remember the hardest question I had to answer was what I wanted to major in,” says Callie Johansson, a junior at Florida State University. “I had literally no idea at the time, so I just started spouting off different academic interests I had. I think the interviewer appreciated that I was still able to come up with something that I was interested in.”

To prepare for the interview, start looking at the different programs and activities the school has to offer and start imagining yourself taking part in them. By prepping yourself with that, you’ll be ready to answer any of the questions your interviewer throws your way.

What should I ask?

You might’ve thought that your interviewer would be asking you all the questions and you’d be giving the answers, right? Wrong. Asking good questions is just as important as giving good answers!

“The best [questions] are ones that are particular to that student in relation to that college,” Podbelsek says. “They should never ask something they can just find on the website, but instead put things into context. Also, if the interviewer went to the school, [the prospective student] should ask about his/her own experiences [and] pros and cons they noticed.”

Make sure that you ask questions that not only show that you’re interested in the school, but also show parts of your personality, too.

“I asked my interviewer very specific questions about clubs, theatre, whether or not to join a sorority and the communications programs,” Gabrielle says.

Should I be nervous?

It’s completely natural to be feeling nervous about an admissions interview—applying to college is a big deal! But is it something to preoccupy your mind day in and day out? Probably not.

Out of the collegiettes we talked to, many got accepted to schools they thought they had great interviews at and rejected from some they thought they nailed, so do your best, but don’t stress!

“I ended up getting rejected from a school where I had a great interview,” says Katherine Varga, a senior at the University of Rochester. “I currently attend (and love!) a school with a humdrum interview. I don't think the interview will make or break your admissions decision, but it's a good way to show that you're interested in the school.”

While the interview process is definitely part of the picture you’re painting for an admissions team, it’s not the whole thing. Don’t let your interview loom over your head—just relax and take this as a chance to supplement the application you’ve already sent in.

How do I make a positive impression?

Even if your interview isn’t the whole thing you’re being judged on, you still want to do your best. Make sure you’re leaving a great impression on your interviewer by being your genuine self. Podbelsek suggests three simple things to concentrate on to make a great and lasting impression; this way, your brain won’t be on overload and you won’t be stressing throughout the whole conversation.

“Look the interviewer in the eyes when talking, sound confident and passionate about [your] answers and always elaborate enough on the answers you give so that you show what an interesting person you really are,” Podbelsek says.

Between those tips and your already awesome personality, you’ll be sure to leave a positive impression on your interviewer!

Should I follow up afterwards?

Between Facebook, LinkedIn and thank-you notes, pre-collegiettes can be a little confused about the best next step to take following an interview.

“Send[ing] an email or written thank-you note within a week or two I think is the best,” Podbelsek says.

When you write your thank-you note (whether it’s handwritten or by email), don’t thank the interviewer only for his or her time. Let him or her know that you had a pleasant time meeting him or her, that you really appreciated a specific nugget of information you learned and that you’re excited to hear from the school again.

We recommend that you do not connect with your interviewer via social media. For starters, LinkedIn is for job networking, and if you even use it as a pre-collegiette, it isn’t quite appropriate for college admissions. Don’t friend your interviewer either; Facebook is too casual of a platform to communicate with someone from a prospective college. Even if your interviewer was a student at the school, social media is still a tad inappropriate at this stage in the game. Stick to email or handwritten thank-you notes!

It seems intuitive that admissions interviews, being a part of the college application process, would be extremely stressful, but they don’t have to be! Focus on relaxing and being the best version of yourself, and you’ll be sure to find the perfect school for you.


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