College Prep: Acing the College Interview

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“Tell me about yourself.”  Tough questions like these await nervous high school seniors in a college admissions interview—one of the last hurdles in the application process.  The interviews are conducted by admission officers, student interns, or local alumni, either on the college’s campus or in the student’s home town.  Although very few colleges require interviews, many recommend them and it’s usually in a student’s best interest to participate, because these face-to-face meetings are often the only opportunity for colleges to associate a living, breathing human being with the words on a paper application.

A few years ago, the website for the College of William & Mary advised students that college interviews are “one of the rare opportunities in your life when you are expected to brag about yourself; take advantage of it.  Be prepared to talk about yourself.”  Interviewers are not mind-readers, so students must become comfortable volunteering details about their accomplishments without sounding arrogant.  Honesty is essential, however, and lying or exaggerating will always backfire.

A successful college interview requires preparation and practice.  The fundamental principles involved are actually similar to those for job interviews.  Students often don’t realize that good manners, attitude, and behavior are critical—those who show up chewing gum, wearing torn jeans, or listening to their iPods appear immature and disrespectful.  Because they only have a short time in which to make a favorable impression, students should follow some basic interview guidelines:

  • Arrive 10-15 minutes early.  Allow plenty of time for traffic, parking, and finding the location.
  • Dress appropriately.  Formal attire is not necessary, but clothes should be clean and presentable.
  • Use a firm handshake and maintain eye contact.
  • Don’t mumble, curse, slouch, or fidget.
  • Don’t give one-word answers, but don’t monopolize the conversation, either.
  • Ask for the interviewer’s business card and send a thank you note.
  • If possible, try not to schedule the first interview at your top-choice school.  You will be more confident after you’ve had some experience.
  • Smile, relax, and remember to breathe!

Without actually memorizing their responses, students should be prepared to answer typical interview questions (which are often comparable to the prompts for college essays), such as “Why are you interested in attending this college?” “What would you change about your high school?” or “How would your best friend describe you?”  Participating in mock interviews with family and friends is a great way to get feedback and overcome pre-interview jitters.

Interviews are a two-way street—they are not only a chance for colleges to learn more about an applicant, but also for the student to explore whether the college is a good match.  The first step is research; students must become familiar with the college prior to the interview so that they can ask meaningful, pertinent questions, such as “What are the most distinctive things about your school?” “What new buildings, facilities, or programs are planned for the campus?” or “What kinds of students are most successful and happy here?”  Avoid asking questions whose answers can easily be found in the college’s catalog or website, such as “How many students are enrolled?”

College interviews don’t have to involve sweaty palms and a pounding heart.  Practice and preparation will allow students to calmly share their opinions about books, movies, and current events, how they spend their free time, and especially their academic motivations and aspirations.  Both students and colleges should embrace the opportunity to get to know each other as more than just a set of statistics and facts.

Marilyn C. Morrison is an independent college consultant who guides students and families through the college planning and application process.  Visit Morrison Educational Consulting’s website at, or contact Marilyn at (818) 781-3476 or

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.