Tips for Mastering Your College Admissions Interview

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A woman is talking and impresses her interviewer.

Tips for Mastering Your College Admissions Interview

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the admissions process for students is the interview portion. Many top-tier schools have an interview component where students have a chance to meet a representative of the school. Learn how to master a college admissions interview to get into your chosen school.

Naturally, the idea of having your chances of getting accepted to your desired school rest on the outcome of an interview causes a lot of stress and anxiety for students. Although colleges take a wide variety of factors into account when determining who gets accepted and who doesn’t, this interview is definitely an important component, leading many students to wonder how to master a college admissions interview.

What’s the point of a college interview?

One of the first questions applicants have regarding college admissions interviews is their purpose. With all of the pieces of an application including essay prompts, letters of recommendation, high school transcripts, standardized test scores, and much, much more, why would universities have an extra portion? What more could they want to know about each applicant? Well, the primary reason behind these interviews is to give colleges more information about who you are.

A male student is being interviewed by an admissions officer.

Your application provides a lot of information but a face-to-face interview helps to fill in the gaps. Universities have to make incredibly tough decisions every time it’s decided who gets accepted into the school and who gets rejected.

By having a representative of the school speak with an applicant, the admissions officers can learn more about you, what you’re interested in, how you want to use the school’s resources, and how you can contribute to the overall community.

The other purpose of a college admissions interview which many students forget about is the chance to give applicants more information about the school. Universities want their incoming students to be well-versed in the ways of the school and have an understanding of what it means to be a student there before even getting accepted. The interview is a great chance for universities to give eager applicants some key information about the school while answering any questions they might have.

Which Ivy League schools require an admissions interview?

If you have your sights set on the Ivy League, you most likely know just how stringent their requirements are. Applicants are expected to have high GPAs, excellent standardized test scores, illustrious teacher recommendations, and robust extracurricular history.

College interviews are just another piece of the puzzle, and it’s important that all applicants do their due diligence when it comes to preparing for this piece of the admissions process.

All Ivy League schools have what’s known as an evaluative interview, except for Cornell and Brown. Evaluative simply means that the interviewer is supposed to gather information about each applicant and report back to the admissions committee of the respective school.

A female student being interviewed by the admission officers.

Cornell, on the other hand, holds an informational interview which is only designed to give students information about the school. It’s the only Ivy League school that doesn’t use the interview to determine who gets accepted and who doesn’t. Brown, on the other hand, has decided to opt for video portfolios in lieu of interviews.

Here’s a quick layout of each Ivy League university’s requirement along with links to their respective pages:

University Interview Requirement Type of Interview
Brown Recommended to submit video portfolio Evaluative Interview
Columbia Recommendation Evaluative Interview
Cornell Recommendation (Art Program)

Requirement (Architecture Program & School of Hotel Administration)

Informational Interview
Dartmouth Recommendation Evaluative Interview
Harvard Recommendation Evaluative Interview
Princeton Recommendation Evaluative Interview
University of Pennsylvania Recommendation Evaluative Interview
Yale Recommendation Evaluative Interview

Top tips for nailing your college interview

Now that you’re a bit more familiar with the purpose behind a college interview, it’s time to develop a strategy for increasing your chances of success.

Even if you’re confident in your people skills and have no trouble meeting new people, it’s not enough to simply wing your interview. Just like everything else in your application, you need to properly prepare beforehand to make sure it goes as successfully and smoothly as possible. Here, we’ll take a look at some top tips for nailing your college interview.

1. Understand the format of the interview.

The term “interview” throws a lot of students off when applying for college. Most applicants immediately think about an incredibly formal setting, suits and ties, a large desk, resumes, and tough questions like “what’s your biggest weakness?”

In reality, most college admissions interviews don’t match that description at all. Instead, universities intend these interviews to be more like informal conversations between a representative of the school and you – the applicant.

Admission officers conducting an interview for a university student.

It’s supposed to flow back and forth with both parties involved in the “interview” asking and answering questions. However, it’s important that you understand the format of the interview for the school you’re attending.

Universities typically provide applicants with general expectations and guidelines for the interview process along with some helpful tips. Reviewing this information can give you some great tips to start off with.

2. Show up on time.

There’s an old saying in business that “if you’re five minutes early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; and if you’re late, you’re soon forgotten.” It might not be this cut and dry but it’s a great way to remember the importance of punctuality.

Everything you do during the interview will be taken as a reflection of your application overall and will factor into your chances of getting admitted to the university to which you’re applying. Showing up on time not only demonstrates your respect for the interviewer’s time, but also shows time-management skills, responsibility, and determination.

Never underestimate how far these simple characteristics can lead when applying to college. It’s always safe to assume they’re paying more attention than you think.

We advise showing up at least 14 minutes early and determining your route at least a few days ahead of time to reduce the potential of getting lost. Of course, when doing virtual interviews, you only have to worry about showing up on time

3. Familiarize yourself with the university.

When going into an interview, you should already have above-average knowledge about the university you hope to gain admittance to. Admission interviews are intended to separate committed students who are serious about attending the schools from those who are just interested. Demonstrating knowledge about the school places you in the former category and one step closer to that coveted acceptance letter.

While knowing random facts about the school are great conversation starters, your knowledge about the university should pertain to you and what you intend to study and do there if accepted.

You should know what program you want to pursue, what classes you want to take, the extracurriculars you want to participate in, and more. The more detail you can provide the better.

This specificity demonstrates to the interviewer that you take attending the university seriously and that it’s a great fit for your personal interests, academic pursuits, and professional goals.

As mentioned before, college admission interviews aren’t intended to be one-sided like traditional job interviews. While this might sound easier and more relaxing, it actually requires more preparation on your part.

You’ll need to come prepared with a series of questions about the university you hope to attend. Although you should already be familiar with the university, its offerings, and your plan if admitted, you won’t have all of the information you need. Since the person conducting the interview on behalf of the school is typically an alumnus, they’re an excellent source of information.

Here are some potential questions you could ask. Keep in mind that some of these are only suitable if the interviewer is an alumnus.

  • Was there anything that surprised you about the university?
  • What’s the biggest misconception about the school?
  • What was your experience attending the university like?
  • Is there anything you wished you would have done differently?
  • How did the university help you reach the position you’re at today?
  • What kind of students attend this university?

Keep in mind that these questions aren’t only intended to get information you didn’t already have. They’re also designed to reflect your genuine interest in attending the university. Having enough of the right questions shows the school representative that you’re committed to making the most of the university if accepted – an important factor that will definitely help you stand out from the competition

4. Conduct yourself appropriately.

As we discussed earlier, admissions interviews aren’t as formal as job interviews. However, that sometimes leaves students with more questions regarding how to act, what to wear, how to speak, what to say, and how to behave overall. Here are some quick tips:

  • Make eye contact when speaking.
  • Don’t speak when eating or drinking if the interview takes place at a restaurant.
  • Allow the interviewer to lead the conversation but don’t be afraid to interject.
  • Use formula titles such as Mr./Ms.Mrs. Smith unless the interviewer says otherwise.
  • Offer to pay for your food or drinks.
  • Pro Tip: if you don’t want to deal with the awkward process of determining who pays, you can show up with plenty of time before the interview begins and order and pay ahead of time.
  • Dress appropriately. Don’t overdo it or underdo it. Business casual is usually a safe bet but be sure to check the specific recommendations of the university regarding attire.

5. Prepare to Answer Common Interview Questions

Although most college interviews are meant to be organic conversations between applicants and representatives of the university, there are still some common questions that pop up during these exchanges.

Of course, you won’t be able to predict all of the questions asked during the interview, but preparing for even a few common ones can put your mind at ease while ensuring you provide an excellent response. After all, there’s nothing worse than stumbling over your words and feeling frozen during an interview.

Here’s a list of common interview questions that might come up during your admissions interview:

  • What makes you interested in attending this university?
  • What would you say are your academic strong points?
  • Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
  • If you were to get accepted, what would be your plan?
  • What can you bring to the school community?
  • Why do you want to attend this college over other options?

The staple questions that are commonly asked during these interviews are typically casting a wide net. In other words, they’re not too specific or involved.

While you might not have any issues answering these questions on the fly during the interview, thinking through your responses beforehand can make for a stronger interview overall.

You don’t want to prepare your responses verbatim as this can come off robotic and awkward. Instead, it’s about gathering your thoughts and being confident in the response if the question does come up.

6. Follow up after the college interview.

College admissions interviews are different from standard job interviews in several ways. However, there are some common practices that are advisable in each situation. If you’ve ever heard about the importance of following up after interviewing for a job, the same is true with admissions interviews.

A man being interviewed by two female college employees.

While a phone call or email would work just fine, these forms of communication might come across a little informal. Traditionally, students follow-up by writing a thank-you letter to the interviewer. Taking the time to pen a letter demonstrates a high level of respect and professionalism.

The letter doesn’t have to be long, but it should be specific. A generic sentence or two isn’t going to stand out. Instead, you should reference specific parts of the interview that stood out to you.

Maybe the interviewer shared a handy piece of advice or let you in on an inside-secret only students know. Either way, these details not only show your appreciation but it helps jog the memory of your interviewer. In many cases, these representatives interview dozens of students. Including any detail that can help you stand out is a great strategy.

Here’s a sample prompt to get your mind going:

Dear. Mr. Doe:

I wanted to thank you for the interview. I appreciate your time and advice. It was particularly helpful for me to learn more about Harvard’s business school. I wish you the best moving forward.

Kind regards,

Jane Smith

7. Relax

That doesn’t really sound like a helpful tip for nailing your college admissions interview, does it? Well, you don’t want your nerves to get the best of you when the day of the interview rolls around.

Sometimes, applicants get it in their heads that the admissions interview is the make or break moment in the overall application process.

Although these interviews are important and are considered by admissions officers, they’re not the final decision. If the rest of your application is strong, you don’t have too much to worry about. But that’s not a reason to throw caution to the wind.

It’s still imperative that you prepare carefully and take it seriously. Just try not to let your stress get out of control. When in doubt, keep in mind that the interview is more like a conversation between a school representative and you.

The college to which you’re applying just wants to get to know you a little better. And you’re an expert about yourself! Take a deep breath, relax, and you’ll do just fine. Answer the questions posed to you, come up with some on your own, and behave cordially. Everything will go well.

8. Gain a competitive edge during your college interview

No discussion about how to master a college admissions interview is complete without mentioning the help an admissions expert can provide. AdmissionSight is a leading college entrance specialist with over a decade of experience helping students improve their chances of getting into the school of their dreams.

One of the areas we focus our attention on is interview preparation. We’ll tell you what you should expect during a college interview, what to ask, how to behave, and, most importantly, how you can stand out from the crowd of applicants. Our interview preparation services are specifically catered to your desired university.

Two people doing a handshake.

While nailing your college admissions interview is important, that’s not all you have to worry about. That’s why we offer a wide range of services designed specifically to help applicants get into some of the best schools in the country.

In fact, around 75% of our students either get into an Ivy League or Top 10 university. Whether you need a hand choosing the best courses, signing up for the right extracurriculars, participating in the most prestigious summer programs, editing your college essay prompts, or anything else involved in the college admissions process, AdmissionSight can help.

If you’re interested in learning more about what we offer, feel free to contact us. We’ll set up a free consultation to answer any questions you might have.



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