College Interview Tips: How to Present Your Best Self

Padya Paramita

College Interview Tips: How to Present Your Best Self

The college interview is an important part of the college application process at many US colleges and universities. Although it is rarely the deciding factor in whether you get admitted to or rejected from a specific school, the college admissions interview is a great opportunity for candidates to showcase themselves, share information that is not available elsewhere in their application, discuss their expectations about the school and the program, and talk about their future career plans and goals. To help guide you through this step, we’ve prepared some college interview tips so that you can best prepare.

Dress Appropriately

First impressions are extremely important in situations such as interviews. So, we start off our college interview tips by saying you should dress for the occasion. While you don't necessarily have to put on a suit and tie, it’s important that you look somewhat professional, wearing a nice sweater, button-down shirt, or blouse on top (admissions officers will only be able to see your top half through the screen!)  Do not wear overly casual clothes such as band T-shirts or pajamas. 

Check Everything is in Place for a Virtual Interview

Due to the travel constraints and mask mandates, almost every college has transitioned to virtual interviews. Virtual college interviews can be tricky, as there are new factors to consider. These are changes that you wouldn’t necessarily consider when interviewing on campus. As you prepare for your online interview, remember to follow the following virtual college interview tips

  • Check that your Zoom username isn’t anything inappropriate — make sure it displays your full name only
  • Check and recheck whether your internet connection is stable, and that you don’t anticipate any technical difficulties
  • Use a computer that isn’t too slow, and one that you’re familiar with
  • Keep your cell phone on silent mode, but close by, in case something does go wrong with your Internet connection
  • Make sure you’re in a spot with good lighting, minimal distractions, and no external noises
  • Maintain eye contact with the camera
  • Make sure you have the correct link

Conduct School Research

This is especially important for a school-specific or alumni interview. You’ve written the “why school” essay—now, it’s time to talk about it. Make sure you have an idea of what you would like to major in, and more specifically, a few professors or classes you would be interested in working with or taking. Specifics are key here. For example, don’t say you want to major in business if you’re interviewing at Stanford—this school (as well as many other top colleges) doesn’t actually have a business major!

Understanding what makes this school different or unique compared to other college campuses is important. Whether it’s a specific piece of curriculum, undergraduate research opportunities, student organizations, or campus history, make sure you have done your research!

Another piece of this is making sure you explain why you would be a good fit at this school! Show that you would contribute to this campus in a meaningful way. Indicate the sort of experience you’re looking to have at this school both academically and extracurricularly. Again, specifics (have I overused this word yet?) are important!

Prepare for Frequently Asked Questions

Perhaps most important among the college interview tips, don’t forget to anticipate common questions that might be thrown your way during the interview. Some of these might be:

  • Tell us a bit about yourself
  • Why are you considering our college?
  • What makes you think that this college would be a good match?
  • Where else are you applying and why?
  • What do you hope to major in?
  • What do you expect to be doing ten years from now?
  • How do you define “success?”
  • What have you liked or disliked about your school?
  • How would you describe yourself to someone who did not know you?
  • What newspapers and magazines do you read?
  • What books not required for school have you read recently?
  • What television shows do you watch?
  • Tell us about your family.
  • How do you spend a typical afternoon after school? Evening? Weekend?
  • What extracurricular activities have you found most satisfying?
  • What are your strengths? Weaknesses?

Again, you definitely shouldn’t show up to the interview without making sure your interest in the college comes through. Conduct research! At the same time, write down some points about yourself and your application profile that you want the college to know about you. You can find a more complete list of the most frequently asked college interview questions here.

Know How to Answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” Question

Up next on our list of college interview tips: The “tell me about yourself” question, which is an incredibly typical conversation opener. While this question is not necessarily the most important one in the interview, it does set the stage for what you will talk about.

This is an opportunity for you to explain your background or how you grew up. Giving your interviewer some context is helpful as they move forward with the interview.

You do want to emphasize where you’re from and how you have grown up there—“I’ve lived in Boston my whole life, and I’ve attended the same school since I was three. It’s pretty interesting being able to develop such close, intimate relationships with the same peers, teachers, and administration at one school” OR “My dad’s work has allowed me to live in different parts of the country, such as New York and Ohio and Tennessee. This upbringing has definitely taught me how to interact with different people.”

But you don’t want to dive into too much detail—“I have a mom, a dad, two older sisters, and a younger brother. My brother and I fight all the time because he’s very immature. My dog, Zoe, is about to turn 11, and so we’re thinking about getting another puppy…” this is too much information that isn’t adding anything to your profile.

To be safe, it’s good to stick with briefly explaining how long you’ve lived in your area, and either introducing a bit about your family, your school, an academic interest, or an activity you’re particularly involved or interested in. Use this question to provide a foundation of who you are, and to guide the rest of the interview.

The Key is to Care!

No matter you’re asked—and you will be asked questions about who you are and where your interests lie—remember that what’s important is that you show genuine care and enthusiasm in whatever you’re talking about. 

One of the most important things interviewers look for is “intellectual vitality.” They’re trying to learn why you do what you do—to discover what drives or motivates you. When it comes down to it, the top universities want to admit interesting people. And what makes someone interesting? Enthusiasm and passion. Bored people are boring, and interested people are interesting. If you have something you care about, then you have something that gets you excited, and excited people are fun to talk to! Your interest could be pretty much anything. Loving pasta, being a cat person, anime, professional wrestling, you name it. As long as you actually care about that thing, your passion will come through and your interviewer will be impressed. 

Prepare Questions to Ask Your Interviewer

While it’s definitely important to prepare talking points, remember that at the end of the day, this is still a conversation that can boost your application. So, don’t forget to take it seriously, and ask questions that demonstrate your genuine interest in the school. Some good questions to ask your interviewer—particularly for an alumni interview—are:

  • What was a typical day like for you on campus?
  • How do you think your perspective has been shaped by this particular college?
  • What did attending this particular school offer you that nobody else could have?
  • What was your favorite class that you took in this school?
  • What extracurricular activities were you involved in college?
  • What would I be missing out on if I didn’t attend this school?

The college application process is a two-way one in some ways, in the sense that the school wants you to be interested in it as well. This interview is a chance for you to understand whether you would truly be a good fit at this campus—and get a sense of former student experiences. 

Send a Thank You Note

Last but not least, don’t forget to send a note via email to your interviewer, thanking them for taking the time to talk to you. You can add a couple of sentences of things that stood out to you from your conversation and emphasize your interest in the college. 

It might seem intimidating, but often students find college interviews to be enlightening and a wonderful conversation. Prepare using our college interview tips beforehand and you should be all set to present your best self. Good luck! 

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