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Knewton College Admissions Tip: Acing the College Interview

Posted in Test Prep on March 31, 2010 by

Emily Holleman is a Content Developer at Knewton, where she helps students with their SAT prep. She also gives great advice about getting into college.

Surviving the college interview

Many colleges don’t require an interview, but it’s generally a good idea to have one if you can manage it. For one thing, it gives you a chance to talk to a representative of the college, usually an admissions officer or an alumnus, in person. Your interview won’t make or break your application, assuming you don’t come in dressed like a call-girl and swearing like a sailor (in which case, unless you come up against an interviewer with a particularly bizarre sense of humor, you’re probably out). On the other hand, the interview does help you put a face on what can otherwise be a long and relatively impersonal college admissions process.

How to set up an interview

When deciding whether to interview at a school, check the application to see whether interviews are required, recommended, optional, or not offered. Typically, college interviews take place before the application process is complete, so expect to set up any interviews for the summer before or the fall of your senior year. That means that you should start thinking about where you want to interview toward the end of your junior year.

If you’re unsure about whether a particular college offers interviews,  give the admissions office a call. They’ll be happy to answer your questions and help you set up an interview if possible.

Colleges may offer on-campus interviews, off-campus interviews, or both. On-campus interviews tend to be somewhat more formal and typically take place with an admissions officer or current student. These types of interviews are set up directly through the admissions office. It makes sense to plan college visits to coincide with  your on-campus interview.

Off-campus interviews are usually with a graduate from the college who lives in your area and has volunteered to meet with applicants. In this case, the interview may take place in a local coffee shop or at your interviewer’s office. Often, the college will have an alum contact you to schedule the time and place of the interview.

How to prepare

Don’t worry, your interviewer isn’t going to test your knowledge on any specific subject. Basically, they just want to get a better sense of you. That said, there are some things that you’re nearly guaranteed to be asked, such as why you’re interested in the particular school, what academic interests you have, and what extracurricular activities you participate in.

So, you should have a good idea about how you’re going answer these questions.

Remember to focus on what you’re passionate about. For example, when you’re asked about your extracurricular activities, spend time talking about the one that you love the most instead of flying through a list of every non-academic thing you’ve done in the last four years. If you’re feeling nervous about the process, do a mock interview with a friend or family member.

Come up with some questions of your own to ask the interviewer. Remember, this is a great time to learn more about a place where you might spend the next four years of your life. After looking through some promotional material, think of questions you still have. If you’re meeting with an admissions officer or current student, you might want to ask about study abroad opportunities, or when you have to declare a major, or what a particular course of study is like. If you’re meeting with an alum, you might want to ask them what they enjoyed most about the school or what their overall experience was like.

How to dress

Even though alumni interviews tend to be somewhat more casual, you should dress pretty much the same for either type of meeting. Basically, you’re looking for stuff that’s so-called “business casual.” For guys, a collared or button-down shirt with khaki-type pants is perfect. You can wear a jacket if you like, but a full suit is probably too dressy. For girls, a blouse with slacks is the right idea. You can also wear a skirt, but nothing too short (as a general rule, a skirt should reach your knees to be interview appropriate). Don’t wear anything that makes you uncomfortable! For example, if you never wear heels or feel awkward wearing a tie, don’t decide that this is the time to get used to it.

Remember: No jeans, t-shirts, flip-flops, or sneakers. No matter how laid-back the school seems, you should still dress up a bit for your interview. (If you get in, you’ll have plenty of time to lounge around on the quad in bare feet and ripped jeans). Girls should not to wear clothes that are tight or revealing. In this case, err on the side of caution. If you think it might be too sexy, don’t push it. Dress conservatively.

At the interview

Make sure to get to your interview on time. Nothing gives a bad impression like showing up late. If you’re not sure how to get to the campus building or designated meeting place, check it out on Google Maps beforehand. Plan on getting there fifteen minutes early to give yourself plenty of extra time. That way, you’ll have a bit of leeway and a few minutes to collect your thoughts before getting into the interview.

Be polite and respectful to your interviewer and anyone else you might meet at the admissions office (or wherever you end up meeting an alumni interviewer). Make sure to answer questions thoughtfully—not just with one word, yes or no answers. Aside from that (and avoiding curse words and excessive slang), you should just relax and be yourself.

At the end of the interview, remember to get the name and contact information of the person you spoke to.

After the interview

It’s a good idea send a quick thank you note or email to the person who interviewed you. The note doesn’t have to be very long, just three or four sentences saying that it was nice to meet them and thanking them for taking the time to meet with you.