You walk into a dark, stuffy room. Your college interviewer stares at you silently from the other side of an imposing mahogany desk.
You pluck at your shirt and worry if your hair looks okay. You sit down–oh wait, did she say I could sit? Maybe I should stand back up… no, probably should stay sitting…
The interviewer looks at you solemnly and says:
“If you could invite any three people, living or dead, over to dinner, who would it be, what would you cook and why, and WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE?!
You have 30 seconds. Go.”
Okay, so maybe that’s a tad overly dramatic. But stress can make the imagination run wild. We promise you, unless you’re interviewing for Hogwarts Academy, your college interview will look nothing like this.
Demystifying the college interview
First, let’s demystify this whole college interview thing: The college interview exists simply to help the admissions committee get to know you better. Not all schools offer them, and it’s not always possible you’ll get an interview even if you want one, as there are way more applicants than hours in the day.
Basically: it’s the delicious buttercream icing on top of your application cake–the cake part is comprised of your grades, essays, and recommendations.
But it’s still totally normal to get stressed about college interviews. You want to do a good job, you’re talking to a stranger who you think is constantly judging you… so we’re here to help you make sure you ace your interview.
Here are 7 surefire steps to wow your interviewer:
What To Do Pre-Interview
1) How to Prepare: Do your research. Come up with a list of questions that you can’t find the answers to in the ‘FAQ’ section of the website or college brochure–get specific about things you’re interested in. Classes, clubs, research opportunities. Show that you’re serious about learning here.
2) What to Bring: Pen/pencil and a notebook (that has your awesome list of questions in it). You may want to write down notes, too–the interviewer may give YOU some great information about aspects of the college that you’re interested in.
3) What to Wear: You don’t need a 3-piece suit, but you want to look neat and professional. No wrinkly t-shirts and no plunging necklines.
That’s the prep work. Now, jump ahead to the interview itself. The reality is, college interviews are supposed to be challenging. A college admissions officer can only learn so much about you if you just talk about easy stuff, like how many siblings you have. They’re going to ask deeper questions that don’t have one right answer, and can sometimes trip you up. Here are some go-to fixes for the bigger ‘during the interview’ snafus:
What To Do During The Interview
4) What to do if you get nervous during the interview: Are you rambling about your pet hamster? Has realizing that made you incredibly anxious? Here’s the answer: it’s okay! If you’re rambling: Stop. Take a breath. And say, “I’m a little off-topic here….” and get back on track. No big deal.
5) Be honest: That’s the college interview advice as old as time. Don’t pretend to be interested in things you aren’t. If you’re interviewing for a college with a woodsy campus, don’t say you love the outdoors—when you actually hate the outdoors because mosquitoes freak you out—just because you think it will make you seem like a better candidate. Admissions officers can see through it, and it won’t help them know you better. And we should mention, this rule applies elsewhere too.
6) Answering those Tough Questions: You’re allowed to ask questions too! Let’s compare two separate answers to the question “Where do you think you’ll be in ten years?”
“I’m going to be a biologist.”
Okay, cool…but now we’ve stopped the conversation short! How about:
“I’m not positive yet, but I think biotechnology is really cool and I want to explore this in college. Are there opportunities to assist professors with research as an undergrad?”
See that? You introduced a subject you’re excited to learn more about and you managed to turn your interest into a dialogue with your interviewer. Nice job!
Jump ahead, and the interview is complete. You did it! You gave them a nice, firm handshake, said thanks and walked out. But wait! You’re not quite done. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do this, so make sure you really stand out by doing the following:
What To Do After The Interview
7) Show your gratitude: Handwrite a note thanking your interviewer for his/her time and adding a personal detail about something you two discussed. Admissions officers are people too.
Owning your college interview boils down to one thing: Be Yourself. But consider these steps your buffer and polish to present the brightest version of you. We know you’re gonna ace it.
Need some help with a college application? That’s what we’re here for!