As parents and students refine college lists and choose which institutions to visit, one area that is often confusing is the college interview. At which colleges should you interview? When should the interviews take place? What role do these interviews serve?
Role of College Interviews
Admissions have become more competitive and selective and, as a result, colleges have been giving more weight than ever before to application components in which students can personalize and differentiate themselves. While grades, rigor of curriculum, and test scores remain the most important factors in admissions decisions, 22% of colleges attribute considerable or moderate importance to the role of interviews. This is especially true for smaller and private institutions.
To that end, interviews are particularly valuable, as they provide colleges with one-on-one interaction with the applicant. Colleges view the interview as a way to get to know you outside your grades and scores, and get a feel for your personality and passions. Will you be a good fit for their culture and values?
Interviews are also an excellent opportunity to discuss your interests in more detail than on your application. For the nearly 1,000 colleges that accept the Common Application, the Activity Sheet restricts descriptions of your responsibilities to 150 characters of explanation, and only about one-third of colleges allow you to include a resume.
Interviews can be held on-campus or with a regional alumni interviewer in your community. Before the pandemic, colleges already had been reducing the availability of on-campus interviews, due to the increased numbers of students applying, the lack of available staff, and the desire not to disadvantage students who cannot afford the travel. The impact of Covid reinforced this trend even more. Alumni interviews are an excellent alternative. Take advantage of ALL opportunities, because interviews are a critical way to demonstrate interest in your colleges.
The best time to interview is in the late summer or fall, after you have completed most of your college visits. You will then have a better idea of the features that are important to you in colleges. In addition, you will be able to discuss your junior year accomplishments and your summer activities.
Research the policy of each college on their website to find out whether they offer on-site interviews and how you can register. Schedule and participate in interviews for your most preferred colleges as well as the colleges that are located close by.
Nearly all colleges offer alumni interviews, and they are initiated when the student submits their application, so students do not need to undertake any action at this point. The regional admissions officer will contact the student either by email or phone call to schedule the interview. The interviews typically occur in public places, such as Starbucks or the local library, or by telephone or Zoom.
Examples of College Interview Policies for Several Selective Schools:
Schools that offer a two-minute video introduction, and no longer offer alumni interviews:
Schools that offer a short video submission and/or virtual interview:
- Wake Forest (student requests interview)
- Washington University in St. Louis (school contacts student)
Schools that offer interviews with current students and/or alumni (student requests interview):
Schools that conduct virtual interviews after your application is submitted (school contacts student):
- University of Pennsylvania
Schools that conduct alumni interviews after your application is submitted (students schedule through school website):
Schools that only require interviews for admissions to certain programs:
Schools that do not offer any interviews as part of the admissions process:
- Boston College
- Johns Hopkins
- University of Michigan
- University of Notre Dame
- University of Virginia
- Williams College
*For your college list, please read through each school’s interview policy on their website. For example, if Duke does not offer you an alumni interview after your application is submitted, you are welcome to send them an additional recommendation in place of the interview. It is important to demonstrate your interest to the schools of your choice by showing you have thoroughly researched their admissions policies.
How to Prepare for the Interview
Research, research, research! The most important preparation you can do is to thoroughly research the college. What academic programs interest you and why? What clubs and organizations would you join? What aspects of the college culture appeal to you? It is helpful to prepare a succinct way of describing the features of each particular college that are a good fit for you.
Reflect on yourself—who are you now and who do you wish to become? What courses have you enjoyed the most? What are your passions? How have you chosen to spend your time outside of academics? What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses? Who has influenced you the most? What are your values? What are your goals for college and beyond? Reflecting on these questions now will help you answer them thoughtfully and substantively on the day of your interview.
Most importantly, include specifics about both yourself and the college. To do this, it is especially important to bring your points to life through anecdotes and examples.
Arrange for a mock interview with an experienced interviewer and ask for constructive critique.
Tips for Interview Day
- Dress neatly, comfortably, and professionally.
- Plan to arrive a few minutes early to make sure that you will be on time.
- Treat everyone you meet during the interview and application process with respect.
- Use your interviewer’s name at the beginning and end of the interview.
- Make eye contact.
- Think before you speak. It’s fine to pause.
- Be an active participant in your interview. Demonstrate your listening skills, flexibility, and knowledge.
- Use your powers of observation. Do your interviewers look bored or interested? Assess whether you should speak more or less.
- Be yourself, but be your BEST self.
After the Interview
- Take some notes immediately following the meeting. Note the names and positions of your interviewers. Take a business card, if possible.
- Reflect on the experience. Remember what you did well and learn from your mistakes. Take this knowledge with you to your next interview.
- Email a thank-you note to all who interviewed you. Be concise and professional. Include a specific reference to topics discussed during your meeting.
At Collegiate Gateway, we are well-versed in college interview preparation. Our mock interviews prepare the student to answer specific questions about yourself and the college, and clients receive extensive feedback about interviewing skills. Feel free to contact us. We’re always happy to help!