How to Nail Your College Admissions Interview

Mike Pugh

June 03, 2008

How to Nail Your College Admissions Interview
Does the prospect of talking face-to-face with admissions officers give you fits? Before your nerves get the better of you, learn what to expect - and how to ace your college interview.

Understanding the Process

There's no doubt that the college admissions interview causes a lot of angst. And yet, it's rarely the deciding factor in admissions. Many schools don't even schedule interviews or, instead, treat them as "informational meetings."
So why interview? Sometimes, admissions officers are looking for qualities that can't be reflected in an application. "Loyola looks for something beyond the paper: interest in our programs or how well the student has researched our school," says Debbie Stieffel, Dean of Admissions and Enrollment Management at Loyola University of New Orleans. The interview also allows them to check whether the student is a good "fit" for the institution - and vice versa." Just because a student meets academic criteria to study at our college, it doesn't necessarily mean that he or she is a good match for the institution," Stieffel says.
The bottom line is that the college admissions interview is not meant to be an interrogation. "A great interview should proceed like a good conversation," says Dave Hamilton, college counselor for Our Lady of Good Counsel High School. In fact, your interview may even be fun. According to Dodge Johnson of College Planning in Malvern, PA, "Admissions folks want to like you, have you like them and like their school."


To make sure you're ready to give your best impression:
Know the basics. Scour the school's brochures and Web site. Learn as much about the institution as possible before you go in. You don't want to ask the dean of admissions about their MBA program only to find out that they don't have an MBA program. Review your application materials. The interviewers may use your application materials to strike up a conversation with you. Review your application essay so it's fresh in your mind when you interview. Practice some generic questions. There are a few basic questions you can probably count on hearing: Why do you want to go to this college? What do you expect to gain from college? What do you plan to major in and why? You don't need to memorize your answers, but think through the issues ahead of time so you'll have some ideas to discuss. Practice some specific questions. You'll also want to prepare for questions that ask you to identify key topics or experiences that are important to you. Think in advance about some of your favorite experiences, activities or plans. If you've identified your own "hit list," you'll find them easier to recall when asked. Prepare some questions to ask. Show your interest in the school by asking specific questions, such as How would you describe the student body? What are the most popular majors (and why)? What are the school's strengths? Where does the school need to improve? Don't ask questions that can be answered by reading the school's brochure. "You wouldn't want to ask if the college has fraternities and sororities, since their literature will tell you that," Johnson says. "But you might want to ask whether it's important to belong."

Interview Day

When the big day comes, it's important to set yourself up for success. Dress appropriately by choosing a more conservative outfit, with a minimum of accessories, make-up, jewelry and cologne. Make sure you know exactly where your interview is being held. Call in advance and ask for directions if you're unsure, and schedule enough time get there. You should also plan to arrive about 15 minutes early. The extra time may come in handy if you encounter delays, and arriving early will let you take a few moments to relax and prepare yourself mentally. Once you get in the interview room, introduce yourself and greet the interviewers with a handshake and smile. Remember that this is a conversation, and that the interview wants to know about you. Be yourself and be honest in your answers. And to score points: Provide more than a "yes" or "no" answer. Keep your answers as conversational as possible. Try to find specifics that back up your answers so you'll be able to enter the conversation. Be spontaneous. Though you should practice answering some basic questions, answer honestly, naturally and spontaneously in the interview. Don't memorize your answers, or you'll end up sounding like you're reading from a script. Be positive. Highlight the good things from your academic past and put a positive "spin" your background. Remember that problems can be viewed as challenges.


Send a thank-you note shortly after the interview. "The more interest you show in them and their institution, the more interest they may show in you," Hamilton says. Relax, prepare and get ready to enter into a great conversation with your interviewer. Take advantage of the chance to get to know your prospective college a little better.

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