Hitting the submit button on your college applications is a huge load off your shoulders. The waiting game officially begins! However, this is not the end of the admissions process – there is still work to be done. Firstly, it is essential to track each submitted application through the university’s portal to ensure that the colleges have received all of your materials and supporting documents. Depending on the list of colleges you are applying to, you may also find that you are extended the opportunity to interview with the college, adding another unique layer to your application process.

When?

Interviews usually take place in November for Early Decision / Early Action applications and January and February for those in the Regular Decision cycle. However, in some cases interviews are actually available all year round and can be scheduled by prospective students either online or during their visit to campus. Some colleges have interview request deadlines that can fall a few weeks before the actual application deadlines, while others will contact applicants directly to arrange an interview. Given the number of different interview processes at colleges around the US, research your prospective college’s policies in advance to avoid missing out on any opportunities to show your college what a great fit you would be for their institution.

Once you have requested an interview OR been invited for an interview through the admissions office, you will be put in touch with the interviewer to iron out the details of your meeting.

Why?

The first step to being prepared is to understand why your college is conducting interviews. There can be several reasons but the most common is to evaluate prospective students and determine if they are a good fit for the college. The interviewer will want to get to know you beyond the limits of the application and essays and will be expected to provide the admissions office with written feedback on the meeting afterward.

While some colleges offer interviews that are evaluative, others conduct interviews that are more informational in nature. In the latter case, the goal is for the student to learn more about the school rather than for the college to gauge the student’s fit at their institutions, and these interviews may be more informal.

Many specialized programs, such as those in the arts or accelerated medical degrees, will have interviews that are more formal, as they need to evaluate talent or potential in a given field. Aside from these cases, in the US it is unlikely that a student will be asked questions of an academic nature in an interview – so there’s no need to be prepared to solve equations or analyze a Shakespearean sonnet! Usually interviewers want to gauge fit, intellectual curiosity, and the student’s overall interest in the institution.

Who?

Once you understand why the college is conducting interviews, try to find out who you will be meeting. This could be an alumnus of the college, a practice favored by Ivy League schools. It could also be the regional admissions officer or a student admissions ambassador. At smaller colleges, like Claremont McKenna and Babson, it is commonplace to meet with the admissions officers due to the smaller volume of applicants. Knowing who you will be conversing with will change the way you approach the meeting. For instance, while an admissions officer will have read your application, it is unlikely that alumnus will have access to your complete admissions file. So if you are meeting an admissions officer, you will want to prepare more comprehensively, as your interviewer will know a lot about you already, and you will want them to have new content to consider. If your interviewer is an alumnus, it is fine to reuse topics and themes from your essays as talking points!

It is also worth noting that while interviews are usually not a core part of your application, whom you meet with does impact how heavily the interview will be weighted. It is safe to say that interviews with admissions officers are considered much more significant, as these people are actually the ones with the final say on your application.

Remember that regardless of who is conducting your interview, this is a valuable opportunity for you to showcase your personality, character and interest in the school. For those who prefer the verbal mode of communication over written, this is your chance to shine!

Where?

The location of your meeting will also affect your preparation. If you are meeting the interviewer in person, you need to plan the logistics to arrive before the allotted time. If you have never been to the meeting venue before, it may be worth traveling there once before your interview date to understand if there is traffic, how to find parking, etc. If the interview is online, ensure you have the correct software and you know how to use it. Also, find a quiet, professional looking space to be the backdrop of your online interview.

What…will they ask me?

While it is impossible to know exactly what you will be asked, there are a few common ice-breaking questions that college interviewers rely upon. These are:

  • Tell us a little about yourself. This is a popular starting point for interviews. Think of the response as your 30-second elevator pitch. Pick a few interesting things about yourself, whether it is personal qualities, hobbies or academic interests. But keep it concise, as you will have plenty of time to elaborate on these areas through the course of your conversation!
  • Why are you interested in our college? This is likely to come up especially if the main objective of this interview is to assess whether you are a good fit for the school. Highlight what, in your opinion, makes the school unique. Does the school have a unique educational philosophy? In the case of Georgetown or Boston College, this may be its Jesuit values. For Columbia, this may be the Core Curriculum. Use your research to help you show off your knowledge of the institution and what sets it apart
  • What do you plan to study at our college? Similar to the previous question, it is important to show you have done your homework here. Are there specific majors you would like to study, or a professor whose research you find interesting? Some programs have unique internship and co-op opportunities where you gain work experience alongside your studies. Make sure that you can speak to such features and how you plan to take advantage of them. Also, double check the major you would like to pursue is offered at the college!

The right places to start when preparing to answer these sorts of questions are:

1) The college’s website and social media. Look up the academic departments you are interested in and explore information pertaining to campus life. This research will help you add detail to your answers – it is sure to impress your interviewers if you can name specific classes you would like to take or clubs you would join! You will be asked if you have any questions, so use your research to craft discerning questions that are not answered on the college website.

2) Your own resume and application. If you are interviewing with an admissions officer, these materials will give you a snapshot of what they already know about you. This way you can elaborate on certain topics as well as identify if there are any important points the interviewer does not know about you yet. If you are interviewing with an alum, then you can use these materials to create talking points about who you are and what you value.

The remaining questions are likely to organically evolve from your responses to these. Expect to talk more about your interests and extracurricular activities and always assume that why is attached to the end of every question, even if the interviewer doesn’t say it out loud. For example, if you mention a particular hobby, you should also explain why you enjoy that hobby and how you have been pursuing it.

Seasoned interviewers may even throw you a curve-ball to test your intellectual curiosity. Some bring up topics associated with current affairs or discuss books that you have read and enjoyed. Be ready to think on your feet!

How…should I answer?

First and foremost, try not to ramble as this will convey a lack of confidence and organization. Take a few seconds to mentally map your answer so that you can keep it focused and structured. For example, with an open-ended question like “what are your hobbies?,” pick two or three things and elaborate on them in detail rather than making an endless list.

Pay attention to your body language during the interview. Ensure that you are smiling and maintaining eye contact with the interviewer. This is especially important during online interviews where it is harder to convey emotion and tempting to read off your screen. If anything, keep a page of notes by your side and avoid looking at them unless you are really stuck! Also avoid chewing gum, slouching and fidgeting during the meeting. Don’t forget to silence your phone and tuck it out of sight. Lastly, thank the person when the interview is over and consider sending them a follow-up email or note thanking them again for taking the time to meet with you.

When it comes to dress code, whether your interview is in person or online, try to find the right balance between neat and comfortable, sticking to an ironed shirt or a business casual dress to show that you are invested in this process. While dressing formally is not essential, what is important is that your clothing be respectful and not distracting during the course of your interview.

We understand that the college application process can be stressful and if you are feeling apprehensive about interviews, remember that admissions officers and alumni are interested in meeting you and want to ensure you have a positive experience while talking to them. Colleges always want the best-fit students, so mind your Ps and Qs to give them the right impression of you!

If you find yourself in need of an interview preparation or are looking for general advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch.