Stress No More: How to Prepare for a Successful College Interview

Although the admissions officers themselves can’t meet thousands of applicants for coffee every year, they can send dedicated alumni interviewers to do so. This process requires incredible coordination among an enormous group of volunteers. Take this dedication as a sign that the admissions office really wants to get to know you. 

The interview is an opportunity to showcase your interests, goals, and personality. College interviewers aren’t trying to trick you or trip you up. They want you to succeed, and they’re hoping to get a sense of who you are and how you’ll fit into the college community. 

For many applicants, the college interview is the most nerve-racking part of the entire admissions process.  Those nerves are understandable, but they’re also completely avoidable. With preparation and practice, you can conquer the interview.  Calm your nerves and boost your confidence with these tips for a successful college interview.

1. Arrive early. 

There’s nothing worse (and more unnecessary) than the frantic feeling of running late for an important meeting. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early to your interview location. Give yourself that extra time to scope out a good seat, collect your thoughts, and take deep breaths before your interviewer arrives.  

2. Dress for success.

While there’s no firm dress code when it comes to college interviews, it’s good practice to dress the part of a future college student. Professional attire demonstrates to the interviewer that you take the interview seriously. In practice, professional attire means slacks, button-down shirts, and business-casual blouses and dresses. Choose an outfit that makes you feel comfortable, but ix-nay on the jeans, old T-shirts, and crop tops.

3. Introduce yourself with confidence.

Here’s what to do when your interviewer arrives: stand up, make eye contact, smile, shake hands, and offer a pleasant introduction (e.g. “Hi, I’m Sally Student. It’s so nice to meet you”). A confident introduction demonstrates maturity and poise. It also suggests to your interviewer that you’re prepared to succeed in an elite university environment – an environment that includes a lot of hand-shaking, networking, and yes, more interviews.

If you don’t have much prior interview experience, these gestures may feel stiff or overly formal, so don’t be shy about practicing them with friends or family until you feel totally suave and professional.

4. Be ready to talk about your interests and goals.

In your application, you showcased your interests and goals on paper. The interview is an opportunity to discuss them in greater depth.  Before your interview, practice describing your interests and goals: what experiences sparked your interest? How have you cultivated that interest?  How will you pursue that interest in college? Can you link that interest to specific opportunities available at the university?

While it’s not necessary to memorize lengthy answers or anecdotes, it’s a good idea to write down some bullet points or key ideas and practice explaining them with confidence. Show the interviewer that you’re enthusiastic and that you’ll take advantage of all the resources available at the university to pursue your goals and interests.

5. Know the answer to “Why did you apply?”

Your response should be a personal and thoughtful expression of your interests. It shouldn’t sound like a 250-word essay, but rather a true desire to attend the college based on a considerable amount of research.

Avoid generic answers like “great academics” or “prestigious institution.” Instead, offer a more personal answer. Perhaps a key fact you heard on a tour piqued your interest. Maybe an inspiring teacher at your school who graduated from the university motivated you to apply. Perhaps the college has a special tradition that exemplifies a broader college culture that appeals to you. You can also link your interests and goals to university-specific opportunities, such as unique organizations, research programs, or academic departments.

6. Be prepared with thoughtful questions.

Your interviewer will likely give you the opportunity to ask them questions. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your interest in the university and your personal curiosity, so you should absolutely, positively take them up on this offer. Some of our favorite questions focus on the interviewer’s own college experience:

  1. What was your favorite college class/tradition/experience?  
  2. I've heard so much about _______ (class/tradition/organization/event). Did you ever take part in it? What was your experience like?
  3. What surprised you about your college experience? What advice would you give to an incoming freshman?

7. Know that you don’t have to be perfect.  

College interviewers wants you to succeed. They remember their own college application experiences, and they empathize with your nerves. If the interviewer asks an out-of-left-field question, don’t be afraid to acknowledge your own uncertainty – “That’s a good question. I haven’t thought about that before” – and take a moment to gather your thoughts before responding.

It’s OK to be human. Colleges want to admit thoughtful, well-rounded students who will make positive contributions to the school community. Owning your unsureness, and even your nerves, demonstrates authenticity and emotional maturity – two signs that you’ll be a positive presence on campus.

8. Send a thank you note.

Nothing shows your maturity and thoughtfulness more than a written expression of thanks. Send a short and sweet thank you note via email within a day of your interview. Alumni interviewers are volunteers, so let them know that you appreciate the time they took to meet you. Thank them for their time, their insights into the university, and any specific advice or tips they gave you. Feel free to reference something specific from the interview, but don’t worry about writing a long or descriptive message – the act of sending a follow-up note is valuable in itself.  

Conclusion

Preparation puts you on the path to a successful interview. Taking the time to prepare – by, for example, making a list of your interests and goals, reflecting on your answer to "why did you apply?", and formulating questions to ask the interviewer – ensures that you'll feel confident and comfortable on the day of the interview. 

Looking for one-on-one support in the college interview preparation process? Our personalized college interview prep services equip you with the essential skills and confidence to present your best self in any interview setting. Work one-on-one with an experienced interviewer to build your interview skills through personalized coaching and mock interview sessions.