College Interview Guide

Last updated on November 15, 2017

An interview will show your interest and enthusiasm and will provide the opportunity to have some of your questions answered. Also, interviews provide the opportunity to impress college representatives.

Overview

Be sure to schedule interviews with the colleges and universities you are going to apply to.

It shows your genuine interest in that college (a bonus factor for you) and will allow you to get answers to questions you may have. It is an opportunity to boost your chance of admission by talking positively about your interests, showing a great personality, and expressing enthusiasm about college and the possibility of attending the school you’re interviewing with.

College interviews are more like casual, one-on-one conversations than hardcore interrogations.

They won’t make or break admission officer’s decision to admit you, but interviews do allow colleges to look at some of your qualities that don’t come through on paper. Interviews are intended to find out WHO you are – WHAT you’ve done will come across in your application. Admission officers want to see if you and the college are a good fit, both academically and personally. Interviews are a way for you to impress admission officers as well as for the college admission officers to sell the college to you (think of it as a marketing tool that works both ways – for both you and the college).

A formal on-campus interview with an admissions officer or other college representative will typically occur in the admissions office.

The main purpose of a formal interview is for the interviewer to form an impression of you and to take notes for the admissions committee. An informal on-campus informational interview is intended to add a personal touch and to answer some of your questions.

However, beware that the interviewer in an informal interview likely will evaluate you and take notes even though you were told the meeting is only an informational, non-evaluative interview.

It’s better to interview with admission representatives on-campus than with local representatives, such as college alumni in home town.

It shows your interest in the college by making the effort to visit the school and take the additional time to interview while you’re there. Lots of colleges will have students conduct interviews at the homes of local alumni. However, you’re better off making a great impression with the admission officer because the admission officer will be the one making the decision on whether to admit you, not the alumni. However, no matter who you interview with (admission officers, alumni, or senior-year college student), be sure to make the best possible impression.

It is recommended to interview with professors who teach in the department offering your major.

You will be able to learn details about the department and, more importantly, create an advocate for you when you apply for admission.

Interviews last anywhere from 30-to-60 minutes.

You should schedule interviews with your favorite colleges and universities last. This way, by the time you interview at your favorite college you will have experienced interviewing several times and hopefully will have all the mistakes out of the way. You will feel more confident and should conduct a more impressive interview.

Planning Your Interviews

1. Schedule your interviews for the same day as your campus visit.

This will be an efficient use of your and your parents’ time (see Scheduling your campus visits and interviews).

Make an appointment for an interview with an admission officer and a professor who teaches in the department of your planned college major.

2. The admissions office will schedule an interview with an admissions officer.

Ask for the name of the admission officer and the time, date, and location of the interview. Be sure to write the information on your College Visit Itinerary.

3. Schedule an interview with a professor in the department of your major.

Ask the admissions office for the telephone number of the department you are planning to major in. Call the department and ask to speak with the professor you would like to interview with (find the best professor to interview with by researching the college department’s website – see below). If you don’t have a planned major and will enter college as an “undecided” student, it is not necessary to schedule an interview with a professor.

4. To find the best professor to interview with, go to the college’s website and research your major’s department faculty.

Select a professor that teaches the subject you are most interested in. For example, if you’re planning to major in biology, see if there is a special emphasis in biology you can express interest in (such as bioengineering, molecular biology, or genetics). The department may offer an emphasis and/or extra courses in such specialty subjects; see who teaches these classes. Call that professor and see if he/she is available to see you sometime on the day of your campus visit. If not, see if you can interview with the department chairperson.

Schedule to talk with anyone else you think will give you the best information about what is important to you (students in your major, students belonging to interesting on-campus clubs, a coach in your sport, etc.).

5. Maximum 1-on-1 time with admission officers and college professors

Avoid scheduling interviews during one of the college’s “Open House” or “Open Campus” days. Typically there are hundreds of students and families touring the campus during an “Open House” day so there’s not much opportunity for you to meet with college representatives and spend quality time. You’ll be able to make a better, stronger impression with college representatives on another day.

Preparing For Interviews

Educate yourself about the college you’re interviewing with and the department of your major and know what each offers.

Three Steps to Prepare your interview

1. To prepare for the interview with the admission officer, learn as much as you can about the college.

  • Read college brochures and review the college’s website (especially the “Prospective Students” section).
  • Go online to the college’s website and take the Virtual Campus Tour.
  • Learn some of the general statistics about the college (number of undergraduate students, special rules the college expects students to know, kinds of available on-campus student social activities, etc.).

If you have already submitted an admission application, review what you wrote on the application and re-read your essay. Admission officers may use the information on your application as a starting point for conversation, so be familiar with what you wrote.

Be able to convincingly demonstrate to the admission officer that you are interviewing because you’re very interested in that college, not because you just want to tour the college for the fun of it.

2. To prepare for the interview with the college professor, learn as much as you can about them and their department.

Go online and research the department and professor you hope to interview with. With the information learned, you will be able to share knowledge about the professor’s department; this demonstrates your seriousness.

Some students have been very successful with professor interviews:

One student was interested in bioengineering so she reviewed all the résumés of the biology professors at one of the colleges she was going to visit. She found that one professor in particular had a real interest in bioengineering (the professor taught the lectures, labs, and was doing research using undergraduate students). She scheduled an interview with that professor and gave a very strong impression. As a result, the professor became an advocate for admitting her to that college and undoubtedly dropped a note to the admission officer recommending her.

If you have earned impressive grades and your student résumé looks great, make photocopies of your grade transcripts and your student résumé to give to each college representative who interviews you. Providing these documents will be very impressive and you will be viewed as a prepared student who is serious about attending college.

3. Hold practice interviews with your parents, relatives, or other adults. Practice interviewing and rehearse the following.

  • Several reasons why you’re considering going to this college.
  • Several things you want admission officers to know about you.
  • Questions you should (or want to) ask admission officers during the interview.

Be ready to be asked by admission officers the most common question, “Why do you want to come to this college?”

PARENTS!

Help your student by coaching them in a mock college interview. Your student may be embarrassed to conduct a mock interview, but encourage them to do it. Give your student constructive feedback and help them identify their strengths that should be brought out. In addition, you (the parent) should not go with your student to the interview; college representatives want to interview the student, not you. If you insist on going to the interview, the interviewer will think the student is not ready for college because they are too dependent on you.

Interview Manners and Etiquette

Be Polite

Be sure to be show your good manners and courtesy to everyone you speak with, including secretaries, student workers, and any other person. The admission officer may ask other people in the admissions office their opinion about you as a potential college student. If you’re rude to anyone, you can bet they will tell the admission officer and your chances of getting accepted to that school will be dramatically reduced.

You want to appear courteous and poised, confident, and well-spoken to everyone you meet during the interview process. Speak using clear and mature language.

Interview Outfit

Select an appropriate interview outfit. Dress nicely.

  • Men – Shirts must have collars and pants should be slacks or khakis (in the northeast part of the U.S., blazers and neckties are a good idea). Socks are an absolute must and hats are a definite NO. Don’t wear jeans and a T-shirt.
  • Women – A dress, blouse and skirt, or blouse and pants are fine (a jacket may be appropriate with blouse and pants).

Interview Do’s

1. Remember your manners

Show up a little early (10 to 15 minutes early is ideal, there may be forms to fill out so give yourself extra minutes by arriving early), shake hands, make eye contact, be well manner and poised, and give complete answers to questions (don’t answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no”). Be sure to turn off your cell phone.

2. This is no time to be shy

The interview is an opportunity to convince college representatives that you would be a valuable addition to their college’s student body. Remember to be yourself; admission officers want to get to know who you really are. Be mature, honest, confident, friendly, and outgoing. Show interest in the college and talk freely and passionately about your accomplishments – try to be yourself. If you try to be someone you’re not, interviewers will detect you’re faking it and won’t be able to accurately assess if you’re a good match for the college and may assume you’re trying to hide something.

If you have some negative experiences that will be obvious from your application (like a semester of poor grades), you should bring them up and explain them during the interview, BUT ONLY IF THE NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES ARE NOT OVERLY PERSONAL (don’t discuss problems with drug addiction, eating disorders, mental illness, etc.). Remember to turn every part of the interview into something positive! Never present yourself in a bad light.

For example, if you have a semester of poor grades due to a serious family illness, explain that you were distracted by the serious nature of the illness (perhaps someone in your family was undergoing chemotherapy), but nonetheless you continued with your difficult coursework and successfully completed the semester. The following semester’s grades improved to the level that shows your true capability and enthusiasm as a student. Overcoming setbacks are learning opportunities that provide for student personal growth. Again, remember to turn every part of the interview into something positive that you have done.

Subjects you SHOULD discuss during interviews:

  • Your academic record and accomplishments.
  • Activities outside of school (community service, hobbies, jobs, and internships).

Be sure to give examples that support your statements about accomplishments. For example, if you say you have a lot of leadership experience, provide specific experience such as, “I have been class Vice President, helped organize the regional Junior Statesmen of America convention, led the swim team as a co-captain, etc.)

  • Give admission officers reasons to admit you to their college. Tie together your strengths as a person, student, and community volunteer – show how much of a value you will bring to that college if admitted.

If you have earned impressive grades and your student résumé looks great, at the end of the interview, give copies of your grade transcripts and your student résumé to the person interviewing you. Tell them you would like to provide a copy of your transcript and student résumé in consideration of you as a future college applicant. This will leave a strong, positive impression.

Dress and etiquette Do’s:

  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early.
  • Put your sunglasses away, don’t wear them on top of your head or around your neck.
  • Turn off and put away all electronic devices (cell phones, iPods, video games, etc.).
  • Wait to be offered a chair before sitting.
  • Make sure your shoes are not scuffed and your clothes aren’t wrinkled.
  • Dress conservatively. Don’t wear any ripped clothing or low-cut tops.
  • Prepare and practice answers for the common most interview questions.
  • Make eye contact with your interviewers.
  • Shake hands with your interviewer when you meet him/her and when your interview is finished (and you’re leaving the room).
  • Address your interviewer by their title and name (Mr. or Ms. Jones or Dr. Jones).
  • Finish the interview by expressing your interest in the school.

Interview Don’ts

Things NOT to do:

  • Be late to the interview (you’ll appear irresponsible and disorganized) and don’t be too early (you could inconvenience the interviewer).
  • Be rude to the receptionist or other school staff. They could be part of the interview team and you just don’t know it.
  • Forget the interviewer’s name.
  • Chew gum or wear lots of perfume or cologne.
  • Slouch in your chair, sit up straight.
  • Offer negative information about yourself.
  • Ask questions covered by brochures or the school catalog. (Aren’t you smart enough to read school publications to figure this out? Are you too lazy to read the brochures?)
  • Memorize a presentation – sound as natural as you can.
  • Be egotistical – instead, be confident, not boastful.
  • Lie – it will catch up to you.
  • Bring a parent to the actual interview itself. Parents will most likely go with you to meet the college admission officer (after all, you and your parents are on-campus together for a campus visit and guided tour) but the actual interview will be conducted in a separate room. You must go alone to the actual, one-on-one interview with the admission officer.
  • Tell the college that they aren’t your top choice.
  • Turn down an interview if you’re contacted by the college to see if you’re interested in conducting an interview.

Subjects of discussion you should NOT bring up:

  • Eating and sleeping disorders you may have.
  • Radical or potentially offensive personal, religious, political beliefs.
  • Ambitions or dreams of accomplishments that are unrealistic (like climbing Mt. Everest during Spring Break or the solving world hunger problem). You’ll look foolish if you make these types of statements – they may be great ideas, but making such statements during the interview will not help you.
  • Your enjoyment of alcohol or drugs.
  • Sexual history and experiences.
  • Any illegal acts you may have been involved in.
  • Examples of or discussion of your family’s dysfunctional behavior.

The Most Common Interview Mistakes

The most common mistakes made by students during admission interviews are:

1. Not being prepared.

There’s no excuse for not being ready to answer basic questions you know will be asked, such as, “Why do you want to come to this college?” and “Tell me about yourself.”

2. Not having school-specific questions or interests.

You need to show real demonstrated interest in each school you interview with. College admission officers are placing more and more importance on the interest students demonstrate in interviews and on their applications. Do research before you interview to be able to express your school-specific knowledge and interest to admission officers and professors. During interviews, show you are trying to envision yourself as a full-time student at that college or university.

3. Being overconfident.

It’s good to be confident and well-spoken, but overconfidence conveys the message that you’re “too good” for a certain college or university and that you don’t have to work hard to be accepted.

4. Appearing disinterested or bored.

Again, college admission officers want to see demonstrated interest and enthusiasm from students. If you look bored and ready to leave the interview, the admission officer will think you’re not interested in attending that school.

5. Showing a sloppy, neglected appearance.

Take the time to look neat and well-groomed. Plan ahead and choose the clothes you will wear; even if you wear casual clothes, there’s no excuse for looking sloppy.

Strategy for Admissions Interviews

  • Be prepared for your interviews.
  • Demonstrate the appropriate manners and etiquette
  • Follow the Do’s and Don’ts outlined in other sections.
  • Be confident, poised, and well spoken.

Organize your answers to questions you’ll likely be asked by college admission representatives. Think of all questions in only two ways:

  • What do I offer the college or university? How will I contribute to the college community? Will I contribute through academics, on-campus organizations and leadership, sports, theater, or in some other way?
  • What does the college or university have to offer me? Will the school provide the academic, social, and cultural opportunities I seek?

Three parts to admissions interviews:

FIRST, there is the general meet and greet phase. The admissions officer will make you feel comfortable by asking you to sit down and then asking easy questions, such as, “How are you?”, “Are you enjoying your visit?”, or “Tell me about yourself.” As an opening discussion, some admission officers ask you something casual about a current event or something you wrote on your college application.

SECOND, the admission officer will ask you open-ended questions to find out your character and interests. There will be questions about your extracurricular activities and what you do outside of high school. Other questions will be about your personality and character and what others think of you.

THIRD, there will be a wrap-up. Most interviews end with college admission officers asking if you would like to add anything or if you have any questions for them.

Interviews are designed to have the college admission officer determine if your personality will be a good fit for the college.

Opening Questions

This is usually the FIRST part of the interview. Keep up on current events or at least read the newspaper the day of the interview. Discuss major stories with your parents so if the interviewer casually asks you about a major national story, you will likely know something about it.

Many interviewers will ask a basic question about current events; they don’t expect you to be an expert on the subject but how can you even appear somewhat knowledgeable if don’t know a single fact about the event?

Open-ended Questions

This is usually the SECOND part of the interview. After the opening questions, the interviewer will try to access your values and beliefs by asking open-ended questions. Admission officers want to know what’s important to you – friends, family, helping others, striving for success, etc.

Admission officers want to understand your character as well – your curiosity, maturity, leadership, humility, ability to overcome difficult situations, etc.

Don’t focus on events or your successes, focus on why things are important to you. For example, if you were a volunteer on a community project, say you wanted to be involved for the personal satisfaction of helping others. Or, if you were a high school class officer, say you wanted to help with making decisions that would better your school and provide what the student body wanted as a whole. Or, if you were captain of the swim team, say it was important to you to be captain so you could guide the team and help to inspire the other swimmers. It’s the WHY admissions officers are interested in, not the WHAT.

Some open-ended questions include:

  • What are the college factors or characteristics you are looking for in choosing a school?
  • How would you describe your high school?
  • If you could change one thing about your high school, what would it be?
  • Tell me about a typical day at your high school.
  • Have you worked up to your greatest potential in high school?
  • What’s been your most significant accomplishment?
  • What is the most challenging thing you’ve done?
  • What are your plans after you graduate from college?
  • Have you ever thought on not going to college?
  • What would you like to talk about?

Final Questions and Impressions

In the THIRD and final part of the interview, you will be asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. If you have genuine questions, by all means, ask. But DON’T ask any “dumb” questions that you should already know (such as, “What GPA do I need to get accepted here?”). If you ask about things that can easily be found in college brochures, catalogs, and on the college’s website, it will show you haven’t done your homework about the college and you’re either (1) not serious about applying, or (2) not a top applicant.

Some questions to show your genuine interest in the college:

  • What do you like about living here and working at this college? (This is a good question if you are stuck and can’t think of anything to ask).
  • Do students usually get the all the classes that they need when they register?
  • What makes this college unique?
  • How competitive is admission to the study abroad programs?
  • Will my financial aid travel with me when I study abroad?
  • How involved is the career center with helping students find internships and job?

If you have earned impressive grades and your student résumé looks great, at the end of the interview, give copies of your grade transcripts and your student résumé to the admissions officer. Tell him/her you would like to provide a copy of your transcript and student résumé in consideration of you as a future college applicant. This will leave a strong, positive impression.

When your interview is finished and you stand up to leave, thank the interviewer for the opportunity to learn more about the school and for their time, be sure to shake hands and make eye contact. Get a business card from him/her so you will have the address to which you will send your “thank you” letter.

Additional Possible Questions

Other common questions college admissions officers may ask you:

  • What about this school impresses you the most?
  • What unique quality or skill do you possess that would add to this school?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Is there any course you are taking or project that you’ve completed that you are particularly proud of?
  • What’s the most important lesson you learned in high school?
  • If you could redo the last four years, what would you do differently?
  • How would your teachers describe you?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • How would you describe yourself to someone that doesn’t know you?
  • Who is your role model?
  • Who are your heroes and why?
  • Who has influenced you the most in life?
  • What have you done to prepare for college?
  • What organizations do you see yourself becoming involved with at this school?
  • What leadership roles do you see yourself pursuing at this school?
  • What do you hope to gain from the college experience?
  • What do you see yourself doing after college?
  • Of the books you read this year, what was your favorite and why?
  • Who is your favorite author?
  • What’s your worst fault?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • What other colleges are you considering?
  • If you could meet any important person in the past or present, who would it be and what would you talk about?

Other questions you may think about asking admissions officers:

NOTE: Remember, don’t ask questions that can easily be answered by reading school brochures and the college’s website (such as, “How many students go to this school?” or “What SAT scores do I need to get accepted here?”) If you ask such questions, you’ll appear to be uninformed and a poor candidate for admission.

  • How does the student advising system work?
  • What are this school’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • I’m looking at other colleges (name 2 or 3 similar colleges). What makes your school stand out from these other schools?
  • What are student’s largest complaint and what is being done to resolve the problem?
  • What services does the career center provide?
  • Does this college or the career center help students find summer internships?
  • I’m considering majoring in xxxx. How is this school’s xxxx department?
  • What services are offered by the student health center? Is there a doctor or nurse on-call on weekends?
  • Are on-campus jobs available and is it difficult to get one?
  • What facilities are available for social or cultural events?
  • Once I send in my application, how can I improve my chances for admittance?
  • What financial aid is available? What percentage are loans vs. scholarships and grants?

Strategy and Questions for Professor Interviews

The purpose of interviewing with a professor who teaches in the department of your major is twofold:

  1. for you to ask questions and become more informed about the department
  2. for you to create an advocate for your admission to that college.

Collect information about the department and professors.

The more informed you are, the more specific and informative the questions you ask the professor will be. Try to better understand the direction, strengths and weaknesses of the department.

Create an advocate for your admittance to college.

From you completed research about the department, you should try to demonstrate you knowledge in a few fields. Also, read the professor’s résumé on the school’s website or LinkedIn profile.

Remember, be prepared for interviews. Demonstrate the appropriate manners and etiquette and follow the guidelines in the Do’s and Don’ts sections. Be confident, poised, and well spoken.

Final Impressions

If you have earned impressive grades and your student résumé looks great, at the end of the interview, give copies of your grade transcripts and your student résumé to the professor. Tell him/her you would like to provide a copy of your transcript and student résumé in consideration of you as a future student in their department. This will leave a strong, positive impression.

When your interview is finished and you stand up to leave, be sure to shake hands with the professor and make eye contact. Get a business card from him/her for future contact information and for the address to which you will send your thank you letter.