Last Updated: Mar 9, 2020
Preparing for any interview can be challenging, but what about an interview at your dream college or university?
In today’s competitive environment, institutions of higher learning are promoting more and more what makes them unique—what they can offer that no other school can and thus give students an advantage. That’s a boon to graduating students from those institutions. But in the application process, students must demonstrate what makes them unique as well.
The admission interview
Before a student can walk across that stage in cap and gown, they must first navigate the (often multi-step) application process. Many schools require similar application components such as a writing sample, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and official transcripts. Most of these are benign and so similar in nature that the student’s personality rarely comes through. That’s where admission interviews come in.
Even if your schools don’t require an interview, schedule one. Even if a possible interview terrifies you, schedule one. Even if you can’t be there in person—you guessed it—schedule one! An interview offers you an invaluable chance to truly distinguish yourself from your peers simply by being an individual.
So how should you prepare for your admission interview? There isn’t any one tactic to ensure a quality one. Instead you should prepare for a dynamic college interview, because the conversation’s focus will shift from the prospective student (you) to the institution and back again. Think strategically about the interview from your perspective and from that of the person conducting the interview, usually an admission representative.
Remember, you are an individual, and you want your unique identity to leave a positive impression with the admission representative. Here are some things to consider before stepping foot into the admission interview so you can.
Simply put, this is an important strategy and worth reiterating, because an interview is your chance to present yourself to an admission representative beyond the application and its limits. Again, many college applications are similar and lack personality. But in an admission interview, your identity can shine through. Take some time to consider your character and attributes; then try to highlight the qualities you embrace and value in your interview answers.
We are all uniquely talented, and it is those talents, that individuality, that strikes through paper applications. Once a student reveals their individuality, an admission representative creates a connection to the student that may not have been present—or even possible—prior to the personal interaction of the interview.
Confidence and practice are also powerful ways to improve your performance during an interview. Sit down with family or friends to conduct mock interviews. Ask mentors to interview you and provide constructive criticism. Be responsive to what those helping you observe and take their feedback to heart. Think of every tip or tidbit as a block that can help you build confidence, address warnings, and anticipate areas of concern.
If you plan to interview with a parent, guardian, or other individual by your side, remember this is your interview, and you should be the one primarily engaging with the interviewer. Though they mean well, parents do more harm than good by dominating an admission interview. One way to comfortably address this issue is to practice with the individuals who might want to sit in on the interview and take their suggestions seriously. Then, while the interview is being conducted, there won’t be such a temptation to interrupt the conversation to state a concern or question. In fact, by creating a list of questions with your family ahead of time, you might uncover issues you hadn’t considered before. Involving the people closest to you may be difficult, but you’ll also have the benefit of working with those likely to be the most honest with you.
Be deliberate about the questions you ask, and come prepared with a thoughtful list regarding areas like student retention, details of any scholarship you may be eligible for, and how the school determines employment and/or graduation rates. Research these areas so you are familiar with both the school’s statistics and national averages. Quick and accurate comparisons between those figures will convey a truly prepared student who is both concerned about the future and aware of the present.
Know what to expect
Ultimately you should research how the interview is used by each institution you visit. Generally admission departments use an interview to gain insight into the character and personality of a prospective student. With preparation, practice, and self-confidence, these interviews can be a meaningful way to elevate an institution’s desire to recruit you and work with you toward becoming accepted and, perhaps, being awarded a scholarship.
Additionally, consider the interview from the interviewer’s perspective. There are all kinds of institutions out there, and interviews are conducted differently at each one. It’s also important to realize that the admission representative wants the interview to go well too! Try to determine the specifics of the interview in advance: How much time is allocated for the interview? Or is time not a constraint at all? Knowing you have 30 minutes opposed to 60 helps you prepare to be more concise and stay on topic.
Reaching out after your interview strengthens the impact of that interaction and demonstrates your maturity. Writing a quick thank-you note to your interviewer will positively reinforce their memories of the interview and help distinguish you from other interviewees. Following up can also help reinforce the relationship between you and the admission department at the school(s) you want to attend. These relationships are some of the greatest assets a prospective student has when it comes to getting answers quickly or receiving help on the application process in a timely fashion. Cultivate them and become “noteworthy.”
So the next time you are walking into an admission interview, remember all the preparation you have done to get to this point. Let your personality shine. Practice good conversational skills. Engage the interviewer. Ask pointed questions. The more prepared you are for your interview, the more relaxed you’ll be—and the better your chances of making a positive impression. Don’t sweat it. You're going to do great!