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The Interview

Updated 5/29/2024

College interviews come in various shapes and sizes. Some colleges offer on-campus interviews with an admissions officer to students who visit the college. Others use current undergraduates to conduct on-campus interviews, and many colleges, including many elite institutions, use regional alumnae to conduct off-campus interviews in the applicant’s home town. Regardless of who is conducting the interview, however, or where it happens, a student should assume that the interviewer will be completing an evaluation of her that will become part of her application. While that may not be true in all cases, it’s better to err on the side of caution. So to help your teen put his/her best foot forward, review these suggestions. 

Dress Nicely

First impressions count, so a student should take care to look like he's made an effort with his appearance. This sends a message that he respects the interviewer and is seriously interested in the college. That said, the interview outfit should be appropriate to the setting. If it's the admissions office at a college, it might be appropriate for a young man to wear a jacket, polo shirt, and khakis. For an alumnae interview at a local Starbucks, however, a more casual outfit would be appropriate, as long as it's clean, neat, and attractive.

Arrive on Time

Arriving late would not only be rude to the interviewer, but would magnify the anxiety your daughter is already experiencing as she imagines her upcoming inquisition. It might be tempting for you to drive her there yourself to make sure she arrives on time, but think twice before doing so; It might suggest to the interviewer that you regard her as helpless or unreliable. A better strategy is to have her make a test drive a day or two beforehand to make sure she knows where she's going. That way, if the gps in your car leads her on a wild goose chase, or there's an unexpected construction detour along the way, she can find out on the test drive and adjust her route and timing accordingly.

Be Prepared

Run through a mock interview with your son. Better still, ask another adult to do so. Have your son practice greeting the interviewer, shaking hands firmly, and speaking clearly. Further, have him think about answers to predictable questions, like what his favorite courses and extracurricular activities are, why he is interested in the college, and what he plans to study. He might also be asked to talk about a book he has read recently or a time he exhibited leadership. Just as important as formulating answers in advance, however, is thinking up questions about the college - and not the kind - like whether the school has a certain major - that could easily be found on its website. When in doubt, he can always ask the interviewer what she studied in college and what her favorite activities were. 

Be Enthusiastic

If a local alumnus is spending his Saturday afternoon conducting interviews for his alma mater, it's a good bet he's pretty devoted to his school, so an interviewee should convey as much enthusiasm as she can muster. If  she's visited the campus, she should say so, and find positive things to say about it. Whatever attributes caused her to decide to apply should be enthusiastically recounted. Moreover, if the college is her first choice and she would definitely attend if accepted, she should state that in no uncertain terms.

Be Polite

When the interview's over, the applicant should thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with him and should, ideally, follow that up quickly with a brief written note. Opinions on whether an e-mail will do differ. In my view, it's better than nothing, but hand-written notes are rare these days and get people's attention.

How Important is the Interview, Anyway?

If your daughter is still nervous about her interview, here’s reassuring news; it’s not one of the most important factors in the college admission process, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s 2023 State of College Admission, which contains data from a survey of member institutions, only 4.3% of colleges rated the interview as having considerable importance and another 8.6% accorded it moderate importance.

That said, in applying to colleges, especially the highly competitive ones, every little bit helps. In choosing among large numbers of kids who will all excel in the classroom, top colleges look for students who will also make considerate and interesting roommates, dinner companions, and friends, and the interview is one of the measures they employ to find them.

Next Article:  Go back to the Pay for College section to read the final articles, Apply for Aid and Academic Strategies to Cut College Costs or go on to Decide on College.


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