The college applications are in, transcripts are sent and now it’s time to wait. Or, you could go the extra mile and do an interview with an admissions counselor or alumnus!
College interviews are a chance for admissions officers to get to know you on a more personal level; after all, they can only learn so much from your GPA! In order to shine during your interview, avoid these eight common college interview mistakes.
1. Don’t memorize your responses
If you’re nervous, it can be tempting to try to prepare your answers before an important interview. And while it’s always good to prepare, you want to make sure your responses don’t sound memorized and robotic. You may think of the interview as an intimidating Q&A in which an admissions counselor is peppering you with scary questions, but it’s meant to be more of a conversation.
“I never approach an interview with a laundry list of questions, but [I] try to tailor each discussion to be just that, a conversation that focuses on the student,” says Emily Anding, the assistant director of admission at Colorado College. Instead of memorizing answers to questions you think the interviewer will ask, do some light preparation and be ready to have a discussion about yourself and your goals.
Do a little research and some brainstorming for what might come up in the interview. Take a look at the college’s website and refresh your memory on the school and why you’re interested in it. Come prepared with some topics or questions you have, but there’s no need to prepare your answers in full!
2. Don’t underdress
We know this isn’t a job interview, but dressing nicely is just as important in a professional college interview! Just because this interview may not seem as “real” as a job interview doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be dressing up for it. Switch out those jeans and sneakers for a pencil skirt and flats.
Make sure you’re dressing appropriately. If your favorite blouse shows a little skin, you may want to skip it and go with a more conservative sweater. You want to impress the interviewer with your knowledge and achievements, so don’t distract them with your casual or inappropriate clothing choices!
As pre-collegiettes, it’s understandable that your closet may not be fully equipped with professional work wear, but have no fear! It’s most important to look clean, crisp and appropriate – even if that means skipping a blazer and pumps. Pair some dress pants with a nice, ironed blouse or a pencil skirt with a fancier cardigan. As long as you make the effort to look appropriate and professional, you’ll fit right in!
3. Don’t bring your parents in
Again, interviews can be a pretty intimidating experience, but we promise that sitting down with an admissions counselor isn’t scary enough to warrant bringing your parents in. College is the time to be completely independent, and dragging your mom into the room with you shows that you’re anything but ready for the freedom that comes with a college experience.
“Leave your parents in the waiting room, and make sure your parents know they will not be joining you in the interview,” says Mike Perron, dean of admissions at Becker College. “There will be plenty of time for the counselor to meet with the family after the interview, but the interview is a time for the prospective student and counselor to meet privately.”
4. Don't leave your cell on
We’re all using technology these days, but there’s a time and place for everything. Teenagers are notorious for being glued to their devices, so don’t give yourself a bad rap by leaving your cell on during the interview.
Switch your cell off and stick it in your bag for the interview so that it doesn’t interrupt you. Or, even better, hand it off to your parents.
5. Don’t ask obvious questions
The college application process can be a learning experience of sorts, but a college interview isn’t exactly the time to be asking what majors the school offers. It’s important to have a back-and-forth conversation with the interviewer, so don’t be afraid to ask questions – just make sure they aren’t the ones you should already know the answer to.
“Do your research,” Perron says. “You should not come to an interview asking basic questions, [like the] size of college, what majors do you have, [etc.]. This research should have [been] done beforehand.”
Do your basic research before the interview and think of some thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer that you wouldn’t be able to find out online or in a brochure. Ask about the experiences of students that are in the field you’re looking to go into or what sort of opportunities the college offers outside of academics. Try to tailor the questions to your interests and goals – it shows that you’ve done your research and that you’re truly interested in the school.
6. Don’t be shy
If the interviewer just wanted a yes or no answer, he or she could’ve sent you the questions over email! While you shouldn’t blab on to the point at which your answers become irrelevant, it’s important not to refrain from sharing. The interviewer doesn’t just want one-word answers to his or her questions; he or she is trying to get to know you.
Keep the conversation going by elaborating on your answer. For example, if the interviewer asks you about a position you held in an extracurricular group, talk about why you liked your role, what you did and what you learned from it. The interviewer can only know so much about you from your application, so this is your time to elaborate and impress him or her.
Janine, a collegiette who interviewed with a representative from Cornell, says that it’s important to participate in the conversation. “Just be yourself, and don’t be afraid to brag a little bit!” she says. If you start feeling shy, remember that this meeting exists so the interviewer can get to know you, so you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable about talking about yourself!
7. Don’t be apathetic
Even if the school you’re interviewing at isn’t your top choice, you should be enthusiastic about speaking with your interviewer. Just because the college may not be your favorite doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it your all. If you show your interviewer that you’re excited about the school, he or she will be more inclined to keep the discussion going. You never know – you might learn something that changes your impression of the college entirely and realize it’s a great fit for you!
Be enthusiastic about your answers and show that you’re interested in the prospect of attending the school you’re interviewing for. Answer the questions with authority and a smile, and prepare some questions for your interviewer that will show your interest. Consider bringing up tidbits about the school that really impress you, and ask your interviewer to elaborate on them. It shows that you’re interested in the qualities that are unique to this school!
8. Don’t forget to follow up
As with any interview, it’s extremely important to follow up after a meeting with a college admissions rep. Interviewers probably visit with multiple students per day, so stand out as one of the good ones by following up with a thoughtful thank-you letter.
Within the next week after the interview (the sooner the better!) either handwrite a note or send an email thanking your interviewer for their time. Say that you appreciate him or her taking time out of his or her day to talk with you and educate you about the school. Be sure to show your interest in the college and your gratitude for their consideration. The more tailored and genuine your letter, the better!
The college interview is another step in the application process that lets admissions counselors get to know you better. And since it’s just you and your interviewer, it’s your time to shine! Make sure to avoid these common college interview mistakes and make the best of your one-on-one time!