College interviews can be a vital part of the college admissions process; they can help students differentiate themselves from other applicants and they allow students to learn more about prospective schools. Although a formal interview may not be required, many colleges recommend one as part of the admissions process. Students should seriously consider scheduling one during the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year, if possible. Interviews may be scheduled separately from or during a campus tour, held at the campus or the student’s home, or even over Skype. During the interview, students will have an opportunity to express their interest in the school and demonstrate why they belong on the campus, but that may not be enough to seal the deal. Leaving the interviewer (and college) with the right impression takes more than a pretty smile and a desire to attend. Those who truly want to impress may find success following these five steps.
Students should research the college prior to the interview, paying close attention to specific programs or professors that have drawn them to the college. Any recent news, including recognition for research programs or national awards, should be noted. Students should also make a point of following prospective colleges on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest, as these forums provide a wealth of information from current students, alumni and staff. This will help students prepare for possible questions related to the college and provide potential material for conversation. Students should also be aware that while they are researching colleges on social media, those colleges may be researching them, as well. It’s a good idea for students to keep inappropriate things off of social media and/or set their accounts to private.
Prior to attending the interview, students should also brush up on their high school statistics, as they may be asked about the number of students in their class, their ranking, classes or special programs offered, and other aspects of their high school experience. Updating their high school résumé is also recommended, adding new information on grades, test scores, extra-curricular activities, community service or anything else that may be of importance. Students should plan to bring at least two copies of their most recent résumé with them to the interview, even if it is not required.
Bringing a pen and notepad is recommended. Students should have several prepared questions for the interviewer and can use the paper to take notes during the interview. The notes may be helpful in referring back to a comment during the interview and can often provide inspiration for the college admission essay. It is important, however, that students do not spend the majority of their time scribbling notes, as this may give the impression that students are unprepared or disconnected.
If the interview is required as part of the admission process, students should prepare for an evaluative interview. Although the interviewer will include his/her notes, comments and/or impressions as part of the admission application file, students should not feel like they are about to enter a firing squad. The interview is simply another avenue for students to set themselves apart from other applicants. Students should expect to answer a wide variety of questions about their academics, activities and future goals. There will also be an opportunity for them to ask questions about the college, as well.
Students may also participate in an informative interview, which is typical when a college does not require one as part of the admission process. These informal meetings are generally driven by students and not the interviewers, as the purpose of the meeting is to address any questions students may have about the college. Another difference in this type of interview is that it is not included in the application file. Knowing which type of interview is being offered will help students better prepare for their time with the interviewer.
Making a good impression often starts with what students wear to the interview. Although they should dress comfortably, wearing torn or worn clothing, exposing too much skin or sporting a t-shirt with offensive language are definitely not recommended; business casual is a good rule of thumb. Students should also pay close attention to their body language and speech. Slouching, fidgeting and engaging in other distracting habits can be detrimental. Students should also avoid using slang, curse words or injecting too many ‘delay’ words, such as ‘um’ and ‘like.’ During the interview, students should make an effort to engage the interviewer and keep eye contact, instead of looking at their feet or around the room. It’s also a good idea for students to leave their cell phones in the car or place them on silent mode during the interview. Above all else, students should never enter the interview chewing gum or eating food.
It’s important that students be honest during their interview; they should not embellish or exaggerate their accomplishments, nor should they be dishonest about what they are looking for in a college. The interviewer is interested in learning about the students, both the good and the bad. Lying about their grades, extra-curricular activities or community service will not help students gain acceptance. Students should also be careful about rattling off a list of awards and/or recognitions, as it can sometimes seem a bit pretentious. Those who have an impressive transcript may wish to take a more humble approach, pointing out that they could not have done so much without the help of others, such as teachers, mentors and family members.
Students should send a hand-written ‘Thank You’ note to their interviewer within a few days after meeting with him/her. Specific points that stood out during the interview, or anything they may have learned during the process, should be included in the letter. It’s also a good time for students to share any exciting news, such as a new award or scholarship offer. Students may also want to include any follow-up questions that may have come up since the interview. Although an email is acceptable, a letter is more personal.
Interviews may seem like just another opportunity for colleges to weed out potential students, but it’s really an opportunity for both sides to learn more about one another. Students should ask questions about the things that are most important to them, as this may help them decide which colleges are a good fit. This also demonstrates to the colleges how interested they are in being accepted. Having a positive attitude, dressing the part, and following these simple steps will help students feel confident that they have left the college (and the interviewer) with the right impression and one step closer to being accepted.