As you refine your college list and consider which institutions to visit, you might wonder about the college interview: At which colleges should you interview? When should the interviews take place? What role do these interviews serve? In this post, we’ll detail the role of and process of undergoing interviews for undergraduate academic programs. (This does not include honors programs or combined undergraduate/graduate programs, like a BS/MD.)
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, according to the most recent NACAC State of College Admission Report, which came out in 2019. This is especially true for smaller and private institutions.
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Colleges value interviews because they provide one-on-one interaction with applicants. As a result, interviews are a way for colleges to get to know you outside your grades and scores—to understand you, that is, more holistically. What is your personality like? What are your passions? Will you be a good fit for their culture and values?
Interviews are an excellent opportunity to discuss your interests in more detail than on your application. For the more than 1,000 colleges that accept the Common Application, the Activity Sheet restricts descriptions of your responsibilities to 150 characters of explanation, and not all 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 could not afford the travel. The impact of Covid reinforced this trend even more. Alumni interviews are an excellent alternative. Take advantage of all opportunities that you can (financially and logistically), 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, as well as the aspects of each school that appeal most to you. Mention these in your interview! The more specific you are, the more you’ll justify your assertion that a particular school is a great fit for you. In addition, if you interview in the late summer or fall, you will be able to discuss your junior year accomplishments and your summer activities.
If a college offers an on-campus interview, take advantage of this excellent way to demonstrate interest—if it’s feasible for you to visit. Register in advance if the school requires that. We advise that you participate in interviews for your most preferred colleges as well as the colleges that are located close by.
Many colleges offer alumni interviews, and they are initiated when students submit their application, so applicants 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.
It’s possible that a school you’re applying to will not have enough alumni interviewers to arrange conversations with every applicant, but don’t worry about this! Harvard, for example, states on its website that “If an interview cannot be arranged, you will not be at a disadvantage during the application process”; Columbia, Dartmouth, UPenn, Duke, and many other schools say the same.
Once your college list is finalized, take the initiative to do the following:
- Check all of your colleges’ websites for current interview policies
- Keep track of the interview policies in a Word or Excel document
- Schedule interviews, if applicable
Pay careful attention to the fine print! 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.
Examples of College Interview Policies for Selected Schools:
Interviews BEFORE Application is Submitted
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 (optional video submission occurs before application is submitted; applicant can request interview with current student; and school contacts student for virtual interview after submission)
Schools that offer in-person and virtual interviews
Schools that offer interviews with current students and/or alumni (student requests interview):
Interviews AFTER Application is Submitted
Schools that conduct virtual interviews (school contacts student):
Schools that conduct alumni interviews (students schedule through school website):
Schools that only require interviews for admission to certain programs:
- Cornell (required only for College of Architecture, Art and Planning; not offered for all other schools)
NO Interviews Offered
Schools that do not offer any interviews as part of the admissions process:
College Accepts Interviews from Outside Services of InitialView or Vericant for international applicants:
- Barnard College
- Bates College
- Colgate University (encourages applicants from China to submit an interview via InitialView or Vericant)
- Georgia Tech
- Syracuse University
- Villanova University (the university does not provide admissions interviews, but accepts interviews from InitialView or Vericant for international applicants)
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? Be prepared to discuss specific 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.
In sum, 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. You can also look up common interview questions and practice saying the answers out loud to yourself, and/or to a trusted friend. Come prepared with questions to ask your interviewer when you’re invited to do so.
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!