The best way to differentiate yourself during the college application process is to show who you are during your interview. The college interview allows you to display your personality, elaborate on your academic performance, share your passions, and demonstrate your interest in the school. Spending time one-on-one with an admission staff member or alumni representative grants you the ability to ask your questions and see if it’s the right fit for you.

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What Is a College Interview?

The college interview is one of the many steps in the college application process. While many universities don’t utilize this admission method, it’s still something a student can request as a valuable supplement to their application. If an interview is optional, make sure you have something critical to share since the answers you share will be noted in your application record.

Since many students interview on-campus, it’s recommended to take this opportunity to schedule your interview during a previously scheduled campus visit. It’s unlikely interviews will be available on a walk-in basis or during large events, such as Open House, so it’s important to plan your interview accordingly.

On your interview day, it’s important that you eat properly, dress appropriately, and give yourself plenty of time for traveling. Ideally, you should arrive 10-15 minutes early to give yourself ample time to locate a parking space, find the interview location, and check-in. Once you meet your interviewer, proudly introduce yourself and conduct your interview solo. According to Patturelli you need to be prepared to interview independently of a parent or guardian.

What Is the Purpose of a College Interview?

While the college application process has multiple ways of getting to know you, the interview gives admission evaluators the opportunity to get to know you as a person. Therefore, it’s critical that you be yourself during the interview. Don’t try to say what you think an admission office wants to hear, but rather be boldly authentic. Much like writing your college essay, it’s essential to spend the duration of your interview sharing your story.

“Interviews are a time to explain anything that you feel you can't explain on the application. They’re a time for students to either give context to, or explain something that’s on the application,” says Alex Patturelli, director for undergraduate admission at Regis College.

While you might feel overwhelmed and nervous about the interview, it’s important to remember that both parties have the same goal: Identifying if you’d be a good fit at the school and if the school is a good fit for you. This should alleviate some of the stresses that come with the anticipation before a college interview.

5 Things You Can Do to Prepare For Your College Interview

While college interviews are an important step in the admission process, they are a bit more relaxed than a job interview. There are no right or wrong answers in a college interview but there are ways you can ensure you stand-out. Here are five things you should consider while preparing for your college interview.

1. Plan your attire appropriately.

It’s important to think about what you are going to wear to your interview. It is recommended to follow business casual dress norms as a general rule of thumb. This means you should avoid casual or inappropriate clothing, including:

  • Graphic tees
  • Ripped pants
  • Sportswear
  • Leggings
  • Cropped clothing.

If you are touring the campus during your visit, you should also be mindful of your footwear choices. While wearing business casual shoes is a good idea, make sure you are comfortable walking long distances in them.

2. Practice common questions.

There are many common questions you should be prepared to answer. Common questions include:

  • Why do you want to attend this college/university?
  • What’s your favorite subject?
  • What do you want to major in?
  • What extracurricular activities are you involved in?
  • What’s an example of a mistake you’ve learned from?

While it’s impossible to anticipate every question you’ll encounter in your interview, these questions cover the general topics you will be asked to elaborate on.

3. Practice interviewing.

Practice answering questions aloud with a parent, teacher, school counselor, or friend. This exercise will help you get more comfortable with your responses and practice crucial elements of public speaking including tone, demeanor, and pacing. Be sure to ask for feedback and make adjustments where needed.

4. Be prepared to ask questions.

Like most interviews, your college interview should be a two-way conversation. To ensure this back and forth, it’s essential to prepare a few questions to ask your interviewer. If you’re struggling to think of what to ask, consider reviewing the school’s website and prepare a list of questions specific to their programs. This effort demonstrates your interest in the school and provides an additional opportunity for you to learn more about the institution you’re applying to. “Being prepared with some questions shows that students actually care about the interview and the school overall,” says Patturelli.

5. Think about the story you want to tell.

Before your interview, think about what you want the college to learn about you. What are you most proud of? What are you most excited about? What do you hope the school learns about you? This narrative should expand upon what your other application materials share.

How to Be an Effective Storyteller in an Interview

Each question asked during an interview grants you the opportunity to tell an admission officer your story. Effective storytelling entails being direct, meaningful, and authentic. One of the most successful approaches to storytelling in an interview is using the STAR method.

This method provides a template for well thought out responses by listening to the question intently, thinking of an instance you’d like to share, and organizing your thoughts according to the following standards:

  • Situation: Provide content and context to what you’re about to share
  • Task: Describe the problem and challenges you faced
  • Action: Explain what you did and how you solved the problem
  • Results: Reflect on the results of this situation

“I think it’s a huge mistake when students are too brief in their answers,” says Patturelli. The STAR method not only prevents short responses, but also provides more value in answers that could have otherwise been surface level. Considering and sharing these factors ensures a thorough and structured response.

Ace Your Next College Interview

Preparing for your college interview is only one part of the larger interview process. After shaking hands with your interviewer and returning home, there are additional steps you need to take to ensure your interview is remembered.

For example, after your interview, take notes of your campus visit and the school’s responses to your most important questions. This information should live in a spreadsheet, a note on your phone, or in a notebook to keep all of your findings and opinions organized.

It’s also recommended that you send a thank you note or email to your interviewer immediately following your interview. Your thank you should be personalized and try to solidify a connection made with your interview (e.g., common hobby and favorite sports teams).

There are many factors before, during, and after your interview for you to consider, but perhaps the most important is to relax and be yourself.

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