How to Handle the College Interview

How to handle the college interviewHigh school seniors, have you scheduled interviews at any of the colleges you’re applying to? If so, great. If not, you should consider doing so. College interviews are a good way to learn more about a school and for the school to learn more about you. It’s a really a chance for you to shine.

If any of the schools on your list offer interviews, don’t pass up the opportunity. Check out their websites to get the details. Then tell them you’d like to sign up. If the college is far from your home, don’t worry. Many schools will connect you with an alumni interviewer living nearby.

Once you’ve scheduled an interview, prepare, but don’t be nervous. Remember, this is not a test—it should be an enjoyable experience. Every interview will be different, of course, depending on the college and the person who’s interviewing you. Some colleges use it mostly as a meet-and-greet opportunity, while others, like Harvard, may take a more academic approach.

Either way, most interviews will include some common elements. They’ll offer you the opportunity to talk about yourself and also to ask questions. Here are some tips on how to prepare ahead of time and how to handle the college interview.

Research the college

Research the college thoroughly before your interview. Spend time on the website, reading about the school: its available majors, course offerings, graduation requirements, housing options, student organizations. Most importantly, be sure you understand the school’s overall philosophy. You’ll usually find this explained on the website, listed as the mission statement.  Your research will help you demonstrate you’re seriously interested in the school, and it will enable you to ask well-focused questions.

Mind your manners

Always be on time for your interviews. It would be inconsiderate to keep an interviewer waiting. If your parents want to drop you off in front of the interview location, that’s fine. But they shouldn’t come into the room. The interview is for you, not mom or dad.

Wear “business casual” clothes (not shorts, sweats or workout wear). Be sure you are clean and well-groomed. It’s one way of showing respect. Turn off your phone and other electronic devices before the interview starts. Most importantly, shake hands when you greet the interviewer, maintain eye contact and listen carefully to what he or she says.

Be prepared to talk about yourself

Your interviewer may ask you an open-ended question such as, “Tell me something about yourself.” This is an opportunity for you to speak about who you are, what you are interested in, and why you want to attend this particular college.

It’s smart to think through this question before the interview. When considering how to present yourself, focus on what makes you different from other students your age. If you have a special talent or an interesting hobby, tell the interviewer about it. Maybe you were born in another country or have led an unusual life that helped to shape your character. If so, you might want to mention that. Don’t try to narrate your whole biography. Do chose a few of the most important facts that help explain who you are today.

Explain why you love the college

Most interviewers will ask you why you want to attend their school. If they don’t, raise the issue yourself. But first, before the interview, give the question serious thought. What is it about this particular college that made you put in on your list? Don’t offer generalities or clichés such as, “This school has an excellent reputation,” or “I just love the friendly people and the beautiful campus.” Do talk about what makes this college different from the others and why it seems like a good place for you.

Talk about your intended major

Most colleges want to get a sense of your academic interests and probable major. Even if you’re not 100% sure yet, it’s wise to make your best guess. You might say that you love the sciences and hope to major in biology or chemistry, then elaborate on some of the aspects of those fields you love best. Or you might talk about your affinity for the humanities and your plans to double-major in English and art history. (Make sure the college offers these options!) This is your chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the academic offerings at the college. Take advantage of it.

Be ready to speak about books

Your interviewer might ask you whether you enjoy reading, or what your favorite book is. Consider this question ahead of time, so you won’t be stumped, keeping in mind that reading is an important part of any college education. A strong candidate should be well-read and able to speak about a number of books with understanding and insight.

Share your dreams for the future

Interviewers want to hear where you think you’re headed in life. Many teenagers aren’t sure of their career plans, but everyone has hopes and dreams. If your interviewer asks what you see yourself doing in 10 years, you don’t have to name a profession. It’s okay, for example, to say you don’t know exactly what you’ll be doing, but you hope it will contribute to a greener environment or a more peaceful world or greater equality between the sexes. Of course, if you’re planning to become a scientist, teacher, writer, doctor, lawyer or artist, now’s your chance to talk about it.

Be prepared with questions

One of the reasons colleges offer interviews is to give applicants the chance to ask questions. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste. Before your interview, think of some questions about the school that you’re curious about. You can, of course, find answers to basic things (like the number of freshmen) on the internet. Your interview is a chance to ask about more complicated things.

Express your appreciation

Your interviewer took time out of their busy life to meet with you. Let them know you appreciate that. Thank them for their time before you leave. Then follow up by sending a thank-you note.

For more information, contact The College Strategist

About the Author: Mona Molarsky

Mona Molarsky is a private college counselor who offers advice and assistance to students and their families at every stage of the college preparation and application process. She also offers tutoring in English, social studies and language arts.