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Smart Strategies You Need to Know Before You're Admission Interview

Stressed about an upcoming college admission interview? These top strategies will help you rock the meeting and impress admission officers at any school.

The college admission interview is about getting to know you as a person, not just as a collection of test scores and extracurricular activities. Of course, that sounds nice, but it doesn’t make admission interviews any less nerve-wracking. As if applying to college wasn’t stressful enough, now you’re supposed to sit down with a stranger and sell them on why you’re a good fit for their school too? It's a lot to handle at once—but before you start panicking, think of admission interviews this way: they’re your chance to show colleges how excited you are to attend their school—and that can even give your application a boost. When you send in a college application, admission representatives are only seeing you on paper. Giving them a look at your flesh-and-blood self will provide them a better opportunity to see why you're a good fit for their school. So if you want to rock your college admission interviews (and you probably do), follow this advice…

Practice, practice, practice!

The more you practice, the easier your college interview will be. You can start by reading sample interview questions and writing some notes down. Then say your answers out loud. If you want to level up, try practicing in front of a mirror and/or with a recording device. Make sure you also rehearse for unconventional and difficult interview questions so you’re ready for anything. Perhaps the best practice of all is with another person, especially someone with admission interview experience. That could be a parent or school counselor, or it could be an older sibling or friend who’s already had a college interview. Here are some common—and a few not so common—admission interview questions to practice with:

  • The BIG one: Why do you want to go to [insert college name here]? Is it because the college is home to a professor you’re dying to learn from? A mind-blowing performance space? An entrepreneurial student body? A winning lacrosse team? Really put some time, thought, and research into your answer for the "why us?" question—for every school you’re interviewing with. Show them why you’re a match made in college heaven!
  • How have you contributed to your high school/what will you contribute to this college? With this question, admission folk want to know what you've done to make the world a better place—and how you plan to do so in the future.
  • What are your academic interests? Even if you're undecided about your major, you should be able to discuss the academic subjects you’re most passionate about—key word being “passionate.”
  • What’s your favorite book and why? This question is about more than rattling off an impressive title and author; it’s a great opportunity to highlight both your personality and values through the book you pick.
  • What’s your biggest weakness? This question is really about showing how you overcome those weaknesses. Being willing to show vulnerability and a desire to grow and improve are clutch too.
  • If you could be any crayon in the Crayola 64 pack, which would you be and why? Admission officers ask offbeat questions like this to get a sense of your creativity. There are no wrong answers, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box!
  • How would you get a round peg through a square hole? This is just an example of a potential "brainteaser" question. Similar to the “Crayola” question above, brainteaser questions like this are trying to gauge your critical-thinking and analytical skills. So if you get asked one, take your time and be as thoughtful as possible in your response. Again, there are no wrong answers, so just do your best.

Write down your talking points in advance

You’ll be expected to talk about your strengths and accomplishments during your college admission interviews, so you’ll want to have some specific ideas and anecdotes ready to go. Make a list of five to 10 personality traits you want to highlight in your interview; for example, are you particularly determined, empathetic, and creative? Then try to come up with a couple of specific examples from your life that illustrate those traits. These interview talking points can get you started:

  • Your proudest moment
  • Your favorite memories
  • Your biggest challenges
  • Times you overcame adversity
  • People you admire
  • New experiences you want to have in college

Maybe you showed great determination by spearheading a high school cleanup club. Or you demonstrated your empathy by knitting scarves and hats for deployed soldiers. Or you spent weeks painting a picture that now hangs in your high school counselor's office. These are the things that admission committee wants to hear about.

Related: What to Expect From College Admission Interviews

Do your homework

During an interview, admission officers are trying to figure out if you’re a good fit for their school—and you can’t show you’re a good fit unless you know what the school is all about. So do your research to get a sense of what the college values as well as its strengths and weaknesses. Try to make connections between those things and your own interests, goals, and experiences. You should also do your homework on the logistics of the admission interview itself. Will your interview be one-on-one with an admission rep or alumnus? Will you be in a small group? How long should it last? Gather as much info about the interview as you can so you can go in feeling prepared.

Develop a calming routine

This is the kind of life hack you can use way after your college admission interviews. The gist is to develop a calming routine around something you look forward to and do regularly—maybe it’s seeing your best friend on the weekend or going to baseball practice. Before you head out to those activities, do the same routine every single time: for example, you might take a shower, stretch for two minutes, listen to your favorite song, and eat an apple. Then, the next time you have to do something stressful (like a college admission interview), go through your same calming routine as if you were about to do that thing you enjoy. It will trick your brain, and it works like magic.

Related: 7 Easy Ways to Make Your Semester More Mindful

Dress appropriately

Two words: business casual. If you’re not sure what that means, there are oodles of outfit guides online. But in general, we’re talking dress pants, sweaters, button-down shirts, nice shoes, etc. No jeans, no graphic T-shirts, no sneakers, and no ripped, wrinkled, or stained clothing. If you’re going to be touring the campus or just walking around a lot before or after your interview, you may want to pack a change of clothes.

Ask insightful questions

At the end of your admission interview, you will almost certainly hear this: “Do you have any questions for me?” Do not say “no” to this question! After researching this college, try to come up with three to five meaningful questions for your admission interviewer. (Pro tip: write your questions down on paper, just in case your phone dies.) For example, “What does student-faculty mentoring look like here?” or “What kinds of students are happiest here?” Whatever you do, don’t ask basic questions that you could easily answer with a Google search. Your admission interviewer will not appreciate hearing “How much is tuition?” Trust us.

Be genuine

Be yourself. Sure, it’s cliché, but it’s also your best bet and a good mantra. After all, you’ve been you your whole life—so you’re ready for whatever the interviewer throws at you! 

Bonus: Rapid-fire interview tips

  • Take a deep breath before you go in.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Have a firm (but not crushing) handshake.
  • Strike a tone that’s friendly but professional.
  • Speak slowly and thoughtfully. (Remember: we talk fast when we're nervous!)
  • Try to avoid saying "umm," "ah," "like," etc.
  • If it’s your first interview ever, it’s okay to say so.
  • Bring paper copies of your résumé, transcript, and test scores, just in case.
  • Say thank you when you’re done and send a thank-you email or note later on.
  • Chew gum while you're waiting for the interview to begin if you’re nervous. (No, seriously, it helps.)
  • But don’t forget to spit out your gum before your interview!

Related: How Should I Prepare for a Virtual Admission Interview? 

The college admission interview is easily one of the more stressful parts of the college search. Not all colleges require them, and not partaking in them won’t bar you from being accepted to college—but they significantly improve your chances of getting in by giving the school a face to put to your application. Just take a deep breath and prepare ahead of time, and you’ll impress those college representatives and have them offering you acceptances before you know it.

This article originally appeared on the Magoosh website; check them out! And if you have other questions about college interviews, you can find more helpful advice in our College Admission section.

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