The Do’s and Don’ts of College Interview Preparation

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Two women talking while sitting near a table.

The Do’s and Don’ts of College Interview Preparation

College interviews are a commonly misunderstood part of the college admissions process. Many students don’t even realize they exist while others completely misunderstand their significance. This is partially due to the lack of emphasis that college interviews receive in relation to other parts of the application process such as academic performance.

In reality, college interviews are an integral part of securing a spot in the school of your choice. To help increase your chances of getting accepted, we’ll show you what to do and what not to do when preparing for college interviews.

What to do when preparing for college interviews

Do conduct a mock interview.

Mock interviews are an excellent way to prepare yourself for the real thing. Just like you’d replicate competition settings to practice for a game or a testing environment to prepare for an exam, or you can do the same for your college interview.

Friends are probably the easiest people to ask but don’t always provide the best setting because of how comfortable you feel with them. It’s better to ask a teacher, tutor, school counselor, or even a relative to conduct the interview. This way, you can trust they’re not making it easy on you.

Councillor talking to a female student.

Of course, it takes some preparation on their part. For the best mock interviews, you’ll want to work with a college admissions specialist. These experts know exactly what to expect and can help you prepare fully. By the time the real interview rolls around, you’ll know how to respond, what to say, and how to act. You’ll be less likely to be surprised, decreasing your chances of messing up.

Do consult an expert

This is a big one that many students miss out on when preparing for their admissions interview. Unfortunately, most don’t even know the option exists. There are college admissions specialists with in-depth knowledge of the admissions process overall. These experts can ensure you’re well-prepared for the interview by:

  • Telling you how to conduct yourself
  • Providing you with questions that might be asked
  • Giving you tips on how to interact with the interviewer
  • Offering some helpful tips to calm your nerves
  • Helping you understand the purpose of the interview
  • And much, much more

How do we know these experts are so helpful? Well, we’re one of them! AdmissionSight has been helping students nail their college interviews for over a decade. Click here to learn more about our interview preparation services.

Do research the university

One of the most important reasons colleges hold interviews is to accurately gauge how invested a student is in attending. With so many applicants and a limited number of spots, these schools want to ensure that only genuinely interested applicants are accepted. After all, low response rates to acceptance can end up hurting a school’s reputation.

College councillor talking to a student.

The best way to show that you’re committed to attending the school if accepted is to display specific knowledge about the university and how it pertains to your academic goals. That’s a bit of a mouthful so let’s unpack it.

Let’s say you’re interested in attending Harvard because of their prestigious business school. Before the interview you should research all of Harvard’s unique offerings that you would take advantage of to further your education. These offerings could come in the form of:

  • Classes
  • Degree Programs
  • Extracurriculars
  • Study Abroad Programs
  • Research Programs
  • Other Opportunities

Displaying knowledge of these opportunities and applying it to your academic goals helps prove a few important things to admissions officers during the college interview. First and foremost, you’ve put in the time and effort to research the school. You’re not just applying to apply. Secondly, you know what path you’ll take if accepted, making the admissions offices feel comfortable that you’ll make the most of the opportunity if accepted.

Do ask questions

In a traditional interview setting, you’re used to fielding the vast majority of the questions. Sure, an employer may ask you if you have any questions at the end of an interview but it’s usually perfunctory instead of a core part of the process. College interviews, on the other hand, are two-way conversations more than interviews.

As a result, you should be prepared to ask nearly just as many questions as you anticipate being asked. If you’re genuinely interested in attending the school, this portion of the preparation process should be the easiest. You probably already have dozens of questions you’re dying to have answered. It’s important to note that most of these questions should be specific to your field of study and your planned trajectory within the university if accepted.

Two people talking to a student for a letter of recommendation.

For example, if you’re planning to study Business Administration, you’re not going to ask about a physics course. You’ll also want to avoid overly generalized questions such as “What makes this school unique?” or “What does this school look for in a student?” You should already know the answers to those questions through your research.

Asking these questions makes it seem like you didn’t do your homework. Although you should let the interviewer lead the interview, don’t be afraid to interject with your own questions when it’s relevant. You don’t have to wait to be asked if you have any questions.

Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask more personalized questions such as “What was your favorite part of the university?” or “What did you find was the most challenging aspect and how did you overcome it?” These questions are a great way to establish rapport with the interviewer while also gaining some insight into another aspect of the university and the student experience. Make sure not to get too personal though. It’s still a semi-formal setting.

Do prepare answers to commonly asked questions.

College interviews will typically have a natural, free-flowing feel, but there are some key questions that you can expect to come up each time. It’s vital to practice your response to these commonly asked questions beforehand to make sure you don’t get caught off guard.

Young woman using a laptop in a bench.

You’ll notice that many of these questions are open-ended and seemingly basic. However, you shouldn’t get deceived by their apparent simplicity. It’s actually the open-endedness that trips most people up. Here are a few fundamental questions you should prepare to answer before your interview along with some handy tips.

Some of the fundamental questions commonly asked during college interviews include:

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Many interviewers will kick things off by asking you to speak about yourself. It’s important to prepare your answer beforehand so you know exactly what highlights you’ll mention because you obviously can’t give a whole autobiographical narration in this short time span. When prepping your answer, stick to information about yourself that’s pertinent to the interview itself. For example:

  • What was life like growing up and how did it impact your academic trajectory?
  • How did you get interested in the subject you’re pursuing?
  • What are some characteristics that make you unique?
  • How does this all relate to you wanting to apply to this school?

You have a lot of flexibility with how you answer this question, but make sure to keep it succinct and only mention things related to your academic trajectory.

Why do you want to attend this university out of all your other options?

The infamous “why” question! It has stumped the best of us. So, how can you best prepare to answer it? Well, the most obvious answer is to be honest. Talk about how you ended up wanting to attend this university in the first place.

Maybe you’ve been dreaming of attending ever since you saw it in a movie or read about it in a book. Perhaps you’re following in a relative’s footsteps. Regardless, your unique, personal reason for striving to attend this school will be a million times more interesting than the regurgitated spiel about it being the most prestigious school in the country.

What major do you want to pursue?

If you already know what you want to study, this question is fairly easy to answer. You can prepare your answer by thinking about what motivated you to pursue this field and how you want to use your education in the future.

However, if you still haven’t made up your mind, this question is a bit more of a struggle which is why we’re preparing! If you don’t have a chosen major yet, tell the interviewer about two or three (no more!) subjects you’re considering. And provide a reason for each.

Two students talking in a desk with a laptop.

Next, and most students forget this important part, talk about how you plan to narrow down your choice in the future. Having an outlined course of action to determine what you want to study will come across just as strong as knowing what you want to study.

What are your academic weaknesses and strengths?

This is a tough question for many students to handle, making it imperative that you prepare an answer before the interview. When speaking of your strengths, be honest without embellishing to make sure you don’t come across as arrogant. When mentioning your academic weaknesses, it’s strategic to choose something that could actually be perceived as a positive.

For example, overachieving or studying too much are actually academic downsides since they can negatively impact other parts of your life. However, they still illustrate your dedication to your academics. Try your best to come up with something because saying you don’t have any academic weaknesses simply isn’t believable and can come across poorly.

What not to do when preparing for college interviews

Don’t think of it as a job interview.

When people think of an interview, their minds automatically go to a job interview. Naturally, many students associate everything they know about professional interviews with the college admissions version.

Although there are some overlaps, it’s not helpful to compare the two since preparation looks completely different for each. Here are some important differences between job interviews and college interviews to keep in mind:

  • Job interviews are typically very formal, requiring fancy attire and formal language. College interviews while still formal are generally more laid back.
  • Professional interviews are designed to help employers determine whether the candidate is a good match. College interviews are designed to help admissions officers determine whether an applicant is a good fit for the school and to help applicants determine if the school is a good match for them.
  • Job interviews are one-sided as the employer is there to get more information about you. That’s it. With a college interview, students have a chance to learn more about the school in question.

Given these critical differences, we advise our students not to prepare for a college interview like they would a job interview. This strategy might seem smart at first but the discrepancy between the two styles of interviews could cause some problems. It’s best to treat the college interview as its own thing.

Don’t stress too much.

It’s easier said than done but trying not to stress too much about your college interview can save you a lot of time and energy. The most common source of this anxiety is actually a misconception. Many applicants assume all of their chances of getting into the school of their choice hang in the balance during the interview.

In reality, it’s only one component of your overall application. Admissions officers take a holistic approach to their application review. That means your interview will be considered alongside a host of other factors including your GPA, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, summer program participation, and much more.

It’s not going to make or break your entire application process. So you don’t have to worry too much. Understand what you can do to make an excellent first impression and try your absolute best. That’s all you can do. Besides, you’ll need your energy to focus on other parts of your application.

Don’t assume it will be easy.

When you hear about the specifics of a college interview, you might be tempted to take it easy on this part of your application. Between requesting transcripts and letters of recommendation and preparing your application, you have a lot on your plate. Hearing that the college interview is slightly informal and more of a conversation than an actual interview might make it sound like a breeze.

However, under-preparing is a major mistake that can reflect poorly on your application overall. The representatives that hold these interviews know what to look for and will relay all of their impressions – both positive and negative – to the school’s admissions officers. Taking the time to prepare will make you feel more confident and will be evident to the interviewer.

Don’t feel the need to embellish.

When preparing for your college admissions interview, you might be tempted to exaggerate some things to come off as more impressive or qualified. You want to present yourself in the best light possible to leave a lasting impression on the interviewer in the hopes that it will increase your chances of getting into your school of choice.

However, it’s important to avoid any embellishments when speaking of your accomplishments or successes in the past. The individuals conducting these interviews have years of experience and dozens of interviews under their belts. They’ll notice right away when something seems too good to be true or doesn’t match up with other things they know about you.

As with all things college-admission-related, honesty is truly the best policy. Trust in everything you’ve accomplished thus far. Confidence will come across much stronger than insecurity.

Get the help you need to succeed

AdmissionSight is a leading provider of college-admissions related services specifically designed to help students navigate the application process. We offer a wide array of assistance intended to cover all facets of college admissions ranging from interview preparation and essay editing to academic and extracurricular planning.

We work with students one-on-one instead of taking a cookie-cutter approach to ensure each individual we work with gets closer to their dreams of attending their chosen university.

After 10 years of providing unrivaled college admissions assistance, we’ve developed an impressive track record of success with three-fourths of the students we work with getting into the Top 10 or Ivy League universities.

That could be you! We’ve mastered the college application process and can provide insight that students won’t be able to find elsewhere. No matter where you’re at in your path towards college, Admission Sight can help put you on the right path towards success.

Feel free to contact us to set up a complimentary consultation to discuss the opportunities we can offer.




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