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, 27% of colleges attribute considerable or moderate importance to the role of interviews.

To that end, interviews are particularly valuable, as they are the college’s only way to have in-person, 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 colleges that accept the Common Application, each activity is restricted to 150 characters of explanation. Princeton’s Director of Undergraduate Admissions Logan Powell said that after academic rigor, the next most important admissions criterion is commitment to extracurricular activities, and that the alumni interview would be an effective forum for discussing “’outside-the-box’ passions … that may not translate well to a resume.”

On-Campus versus Alumni Interviews

Interviews can be held on-campus or with a regional alumni interviewer in your community. In general, colleges are reducing the availability of on-campus interviews, due to the increased numbers of students applying, lack of available staff, and the desire not to disadvantage students who cannot afford the travel. As a result, alumni interviews are an excellent alternative. Take advantage of all opportunities, because interviews are a critical way to demonstrate interest in your colleges. Make sure to check your colleges’ interview policies on their websites.

On-Campus Interviews

Students should research the policy of each college 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.

Alumni Interviews

Nearly all colleges offer alumni interviews, and they are triggered 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, but occasionally occur by telephone or Skype. Some colleges, like MIT, have a cut-off application submission date for receiving alumni interviews; in the case of MIT, the admissions chances drop dramatically for students who have not interviewed.

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 you are now and who 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.

Try to do a mock interview with someone who has conducted interviews before, 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, so that you can send a follow-up thank you note. Take a business card, if possible.
  • Reflect on what happened. 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!