College Interviews Do’s and Don’ts

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A woman interviewing a man in an office.

College Interviews Do’s and Don’ts

The application process can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to college interviews. These interviews provide colleges with a deeper glimpse into an applicant beyond academics and essays. Though one of many factors, a standout interview can enhance your application significantly. Recognizing their value can motivate students to prepare thoroughly and excel.

Do College Interviews Matter?

If you’re knee-deep in the college application process, you’ve likely heard about or even faced the college interview. Let’s take a closer look at various angles of the importance of college interviews.

The Holistic Admissions Process

Most colleges employ a holistic admissions process. This means they evaluate more than just your grades and test scores. They’re keen on understanding the person behind the application. Your essays, recommendation letters, extracurriculars, and interviews, all paint a picture of who you are and what you might bring to their campus.

a sociologist interviewing a couple

The college interview, in particular, provides a dynamic interaction, allowing the admissions committee to gauge aspects of your character and passion that may not be readily evident in written forms. It’s your opportunity to show them your enthusiasm, clarity of purpose, and personal values.

Making a Difference in Tight College Admissions Decisions

The interview can play a crucial role for students on the borderline, where the decision could swing either way. Imagine two applicants with near-identical profiles — stellar grades, an impressive list of extracurricular activities, and compelling essays.

a male student being supported by a female professor

However, one has a lackluster interview, while the other shines, demonstrating a deep interest in the college and showcasing qualities like resilience, authenticity, and adaptability. The interview can serve as a deciding factor.

Insights from Admissions Officers

Admissions officers often emphasize the significance of interviews. For many, the interview is not just a formality but an essential component that can influence decisions, especially for candidates who are on the borderline. The interview doesn’t only evaluate the student but also helps the admissions team visualize the applicant’s potential fit and contribution to the campus environment.

In essence, a solid interview can provide depth to an applicant’s story and showcase how they might thrive within the institution.

While the college interview might not drastically alter the trajectory for every applicant, it certainly has the power to enhance one’s application. Consider it an additional asset, one that brings your written application to life.

So, when you’re preparing for that interview, remember it’s more than just a formality. It’s an opportunity to present your authentic self and make a memorable impression.

How Do College Interviews Work?

How do college interviews work? With varied formats, durations, and interviewer types, it’s essential to uncover the interview process to help students approach this pivotal step with confidence and preparation.

Two women having a discussion

Let’s dive into how the college interview process works.

Types of College Interviews

  • Alumni Interviews: These interviews are often conducted by alumni who volunteer for the institution. They are typically informal and can take place in various settings, such as a local café, library, or even the interviewer’s home. The primary objective is to get a sense of the applicant’s fit for the college and to provide the applicant with an insider’s perspective on the institution.
  • On-Campus Interviews: As the name suggests, these interviews occur on the college or university grounds. They might be conducted by an admissions officer, a current student, or sometimes faculty. These interviews often have a dual purpose: to evaluate the applicant and to give the applicant a sense of the campus environment.
  • Virtual Interviews: With the rise of technology and especially in the wake of global events like the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual interviews have become common. Platforms like Zoom or Skype become the meeting grounds. These interviews, while remote, maintain the essence and purpose of face-to-face interactions.

What’s the Typical Format and Duration?

College interviews, irrespective of type, tend to be conversational. The goal is to understand the applicant better and to answer any queries they might have. Questions can range from “Why are you interested in this college?” to “Tell me about a challenge you faced and how you overcame it.”

In terms of duration, most interviews last between 20 to 45 minutes. However, this can vary based on the conversation’s flow and the interviewer’s style. It’s always a good idea to keep aside an hour in your schedule to account for any extended discussions or unforeseen delays.

How Are Candidates Selected for Interviews?

The process of selecting candidates for interviews varies among institutions:

  1. Random Selection: Some colleges might randomly select applicants for interviews. In such cases, not being chosen doesn’t reflect negatively on the applicant; it’s purely the luck of the draw.
  2. By Request: Certain colleges offer interviews to all applicants but on a request basis. If you’re keen on an interview, you’ll need to take the initiative and schedule one.
  3. Based on Application Strength: Here, the admissions committee selects candidates for interviews based on the strength of their application. Being chosen in this scenario is generally a positive indicator, hinting that the college has a keen interest in the applicant.

College interviews are more than just a Q&A session; they’re a mutual discovery process. For colleges, it’s about understanding the person behind the application, and for students, it’s an opportunity to learn more about the institution and cement their interest.

So, whether you’re conversing with an alumnus in your hometown, chatting with an admissions officer on campus, or logging into a virtual meeting room, approach the interview with curiosity, authenticity, and confidence.

What Are Some Do’s and Don’ts of College Interview Etiquette?

The college interview is often the first significant interaction you’ll have with the institution you’re hoping to attend. It’s a chance to put a face to the application, humanize your achievements, and to present yourself authentically.

A group of female students

On the other hand, this opportunity also comes with the pressure of making the right impression. While your credentials matter, so does your demeanor and the etiquette you exhibit during college interviews.

So, what are some dos and don’ts of college interview etiquette? Here’s a guide to help you present your best self during your college interview.

The Dos of College Interview Etiquette

Dress Appropriately for the Interview Setting

It’s essential to dress for success. While you don’t need to don a three-piece suit or an evening gown, it’s advisable to choose attire that’s professional yet comfortable. Consider the setting: if it’s an on-campus interview, opt for business casual.

For alumni interviews at a café, a neat, polished casual look would suffice. Even for virtual interviews, it’s advisable to dress professionally, even if only the upper half of your attire is visible.

Arrive with Plenty of Time to Spare

Punctuality is a reflection of your seriousness and respect for the interviewer’s time. Aim to arrive 10-15 minutes early. This allows you to gather your thoughts, take a deep breath, and even do a last-minute restroom check. If it’s a virtual interview, ensure you’re logged in a few minutes ahead, with all technical glitches ironed out.

Listen Actively and Maintain a Positive Demeanor

Active listening is about more than just hearing words. It’s about understanding, processing, and responding thoughtfully. Maintain eye contact, nod occasionally, and refrain from formulating your response while the interviewer is still speaking. Your body language should exude confidence and receptiveness.

Prepare Thoughtful Questions to Ask the Interviewer

Basic questions, like the student-to-faculty ratio, can be easily found on the institution’s website. To stand out, focus on in-depth inquiries about the school’s culture or unique learning experiences. This showcases genuine interest and indicates that you’ve gone beyond surface-level research.

The Don’ts of College Interview Etiquette

Avoid Controversial or Overly Personal Topics Unless Relevant

While it’s good to be conversant on various subjects, steer clear of controversial issues unless they directly relate to your academic interests or experiences. Discussions on personal hardships or issues should be broached with sensitivity and only if they’re pertinent to your college journey.

Don’t Interrupt the Interviewer

Even if you’re buzzing with excitement or believe you have the perfect answer to the question, wait your turn to speak. Interrupting is not only rude but also conveys impatience and a lack of respect.

Avoid Negative Language about Past Teachers, Schools, or Peers

We all have experiences with challenging individuals or situations. However, the interview isn’t the place to vent. Negative talk can cast you in an unfavorable light. Instead, focus on how you’ve grown or what you’ve learned from challenging situations.

Refrain from Being Overly Rehearsed or Giving Generic Answers

While preparation is vital, sounding like you’re reading off a script is off-putting. Authenticity matters. Tailor your responses to the specific college and interviewer, showcasing genuine enthusiasm and individuality.

A college interview is more than just a Q&A session. It’s an interaction, an exchange, a two-way street. Adhering to the dos and avoiding the don’ts sets the stage for a constructive conversation that leaves a lasting, positive impression.

Colleges aren’t just looking for stellar students but genuine individuals ready to contribute to their campus community. Proper etiquette combined with authenticity can go a long way in making you that desirable candidate.

Practice Your Responses for College Interviews

Practicing your responses for college interviews is crucial in the preparation process. While the college interview is a significant aspect of the application, it’s essential to strike a balance in your preparation. The challenge lies in being well-prepared without sounding overly rehearsed.

A woman talking to her child in a living room.


So, how can you effectively practice your responses without appearing scripted? Let’s delve into a balanced approach to this aspect of interview preparation.

Rehearse Without Sounding Robotic

Preparation is essential, but over-rehearsing can strip away the authenticity that interviewers value. The aim is to be familiar with potential questions and have a clear idea of your responses, but not to the point where it sounds like you’re reading from a script. The magic lies in mastering the content of your message while still allowing the natural flow of conversation.

Effective Strategies for Practicing Responses

  • Mock Interviews: Ask help from a teacher, counselor, friend, or family member to conduct a mock interview. This simulates the interview environment and offers invaluable feedback on your answers, tone, and body language. Remember to encourage honest feedback; it’s the key to improvement.
  • Bullet Point Answers: Instead of writing out entire answers, jot down bullet points. These serve as prompts or guidelines. For instance, if asked about your greatest achievement, your bullets might read: “Robotics competition, teamwork challenges, leadership role, final win.” This strategy ensures you touch on key points without restricting the flow of your answer.
  • Self-reflection Exercises: Take quiet moments to introspect. Why do you want to attend this college? What are your long-term goals? Delving deep into these questions ensures that when you articulate them during an interview, they come from a place of genuine understanding and personal truth.

Addressing Common Questions with Structure

Most interviews will have a set of common questions: “Why this college?”, “Tell us about a challenge you faced”, or “What are your future aspirations?” To answer effectively:

  • Start with a Clear, Concise Statement: Initiate with a distinct point, setting a clear direction for your response. This ensures your message is straightforward and understood.
  • Elaborate with a Personal Story or Example: Personal anecdotes make your answers stand out and relatable. Sharing a brief experience adds depth, offering a glimpse into your personal journey.
  • Conclude by Tying It Back to the College or Course: After sharing, relate your story back to the institution or course. This step emphasizes your alignment and genuine interest in the college’s offerings.

Preparing for a college interview doesn’t mean memorizing lines; it’s about understanding yourself, your goals, and the institution you’re aiming for. By practicing with a balanced approach, you can ensure your answers are both structured and genuine, leaving a lasting impression on your interviewers.

Understanding the Role of the Interviewer

College interviews stand out as a unique opportunity to add dimension to your application profile. But who sits across the table (or screen) often varies: it could be an alumnus, an admissions officer, or even a student. Understanding the role of the interviewer can arm you with the right approach to make a strong connection.

Alumni Interviewers

Alumni interviewers have walked the very halls you aspire to tread. They’ve experienced college life first-hand and have since ventured out into the world, armed with their education and experiences.

Alumni are interested in gauging if you’ll be a good fit for the institution and if the institution will be beneficial for you. They provide insights about campus life, academic rigors, and extracurricular opportunities.

Share genuine enthusiasm for the college and ask about their personal experiences to connect with alumni interviewers. Discuss how you envision contributing to the legacy of the institution. Alumni love seeing prospective students who are keen to embrace and enrich the college culture.

Admissions Staff

Admissions staff are professionals trained to assess how prospective students align with the institution’s values, goals, and standards. They have a clear understanding of the admissions criteria and the college’s offerings.

Beyond academic accomplishments, admissions officers seek students who will thrive in and contribute to the college community. They want to ensure you’re a good match both academically and culturally.

In interviews with the admissions staff, make sure to demonstrate thorough research about the college. Highlight aspects of the college that resonate with your goals and values. Remember, admissions staff appreciate authenticity, so be yourself and showcase genuine interest.

Student Interviewers

Some colleges involve current students in the interview process. These student interviewers offer a fresh, relatable perspective.

Being closer in age, student interviewers are particularly attuned to how you might fit into the current student body. They’re keen on understanding your potential contributions to the campus and how you might adapt to college life.

When interviewing with student interviewers, foster an authentic peer-to-peer dialogue. Inquire about their individual experiences, hurdles, and memorable times. This approach offers insights into campus life and aids in establishing a connection.

Each interviewer, whether an alumnus, admissions officer, or student, offers a unique lens through which they view potential candidates. By understanding their roles and perspectives, you can tailor your approach to resonate better.

The ultimate goal is mutual understanding: they’re trying to understand if you’re the right fit for the college, just as you’re assessing if the college is the right fit for you. Approach the conversation with an open mind, genuine interest, and a desire to connect, and you’ll be on the path to a successful college interview.

In college admissions, interviews serve as a pivotal moment where applicants can truly shine beyond their written submissions. While it’s essential to come prepared, it’s equally important to remain authentic, engaged, and open during the process.

By adhering to these college interviews do’s and don’ts, prospective students can navigate the interview confidently, leaving a lasting impression that resonates with their chosen institution.

AdmissionSight specializes in guiding students through the often overwhelming college admissions process. With a team of experts well-versed in interview dynamics, they offer tailored strategies and mock interview sessions to bolster confidence and hone communication skills.

By understanding individual strengths and areas for improvement, AdmissionSight ensures that each student presents their best self during interviews. Trust in their expertise to transform your nervous energy into a compelling conversation.



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