How to prepare for a college admissions interview?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A male student getting advice from an older adult

Why is the Ivy League admission interview important?

Ivy League universities take what’s known as a holistic approach to their admissions processes. What this means for students is that each and every part of the application process will be given weight in determining whether or not you get accepted and that includes the Ivy League admission interview.

Everything from your high school academic record and your standardized test scores to your college essays and – you guessed it! – your college admissions interview. Even if you have stellar grades and near-perfect standardized test scores, it’s not enough to try and slide by without preparing for your interview. Due to the holistic approach the Ivies take, each part of the process demands attention.

Group of students studying in a room.

It’s nice to understand why the Ivy League admissions interview is important in general, but it doesn’t answer any specifics about the purpose of the interview itself. Why have colleges decided to include this in their admissions processes and what’s the significance of these interviews?

Well, putting yourself in the shoes of the admissions officers for a few seconds can lead to some helpful revelations. Imagine you have to review thousands – or, in some cases, tens of thousands – of applications. You’ll take any piece of information that will help further distinguish applicants from each other, especially when so much data is dry.

That’s where admissions interviews come into play. These interviews are leveraged by universities to help admissions officers get to know applicants in greater depth. But, instead of having the admission officers themselves conduct the interviews, universities typically have an alumnus or some other representative for the school act as the face of the institution when meeting with applicants.

The impression this representative gains of the applicant during the interview will then be relayed to the admissions officers. Thus, providing them with some key information about applicants that wouldn’t be possible to glean from applications.

How do I prepare for an admissions interview?

You’ve heard about acing tests but what about interviews? How do you ace an Ivy League interview? Well, it’s actually a bit easier than you might think. All it takes is a few hours of preparation – best spread out over the course of a few weeks or days – practice, and some research. Here, we’ll provide you with some helpful tips to ensure your interview goes off without a hitch.

Do your research

Although there are some important distinctions between a job interview and a college admissions interview, both require you – the interviewee – to bring some knowledge to the table.

For example, when faced with equally qualified applicants, a business owner is going to take the individual who displayed more knowledge about the business. This ensures that the candidate is passionate about the work, practices learning more, and is invested in the position.

A man working with his classmates on a library.

The same is true when having an Ivy League admissions interview. Colleges want to know that you’re a good match for their school. After all, there are thousands of other applicants fighting for the same position as you.

Displaying knowledge about the university shows your initiative while also making it easier for admissions officers to connect the dots between you as an applicant and your potential future as a student at their school.

Of course, you don’t have to be able to rattle off the name of each dean since the school’s founding. Instead, it’s about knowing relevant information about the school as it pertains to you and your area of study.

Here are some things you should know when it comes time to conduct your college admissions interview:

  • The degree program to which you want to apply or the major you want to pursue.
  • Specific courses you’re interested in taking.
  • Professors or researchers, you’re excited to have the opportunity to learn from or work alongside.
  • Extracurriculars you plan on participating in whether it’s a club, sports team, or other activity.
  • Any other offering or opportunity provided by the university that you plan on taking advantage of if accepted.

Practice, practice, and practice

You all know the saying: practice makes perfect. Well, it’s the same when it comes to admissions interviews. Unfortunately, many students don’t even think about practicing in this context.

Many think they only get one shot at nailing the interview without the ability to really rehearse. But that’s certainly not the case! Creating a mock interview with a friend, fellow student, teacher, parent, or admissions expert is a great way to prepare yourself for the real deal.

Two woman talking in a table.

These mock interviews are incredibly handy when practicing how you’ll respond to certain questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your practice interviewer to press you a little bit to ramp up the heat. Not that the college admission interview will be tense, but you want to replicate the nerves you’ll have some way. The more practice you get, the more comfortable you’ll be by the time your real interview rolls around

Be yourself

It’s easy to get caught up in the importance and weight of an Ivy League admissions interview. This usually leads students to forget about the whole point of the process: you! That’s right. The whole point of a college admissions interview is to provide colleges with an opportunity to get to know applicants like you more personally.

This is your time to shine. Don’t be afraid to let your personality show. If you’ve been waiting for an opportunity to show Ivy League colleges why you’re an ideal student, this is one of your best chances. Don’t let it pass you by! The interviewer will try to get to know you, what goals you have, why you want to get into the university, and more.

Ask questions.

Like a standard interview, you’ll most certainly be asked questions about you, your academic history, why you want to attend this particular school, and more. However, many students are caught off guard when interviewers turn the tables and ask if they have any questions.

Although you’re not required to have some queries prepared, it definitely reflects poorly. These questions demonstrate your genuine interest in the university and show admissions officers that you’re invested in attending – not just half-heartedly interested.

This will be evident in the questions you ask and the way you ask them. Try to make your questions as specific as possible. For example, instead of asking “What’s the science department like at “X” school?” you could ask “I’ve heard about the exciting research being done by Dr. X, could you tell more about what they’re uncovering?” This shows you’ve done your research and are already engaged with what’s happening at the university.

Of course, your interviewer might not be able to answer all of these questions, but it’s more important how they’re received rather than if they can be answered. You can even sprinkle in some more personal questions to establish some rapport with the interviewer such as “We’re you nervous when your first applied? And how did you handle that stress?” or “What was your favorite part of attending “X” school when you look back.


It’s courteous to follow up with your interviewer following the meeting. You can do this in a few ways. Verbally thanking him or her immediately after the interview is a great place to start. This demonstrates your thoughtfulness and appreciation of the meeting. It also shows that you viewed the interview as an opportunity, not just an obligation.

Secondly, you could ask for an email, business card, or some other form of contact to maintain an ongoing conversation or to follow up with any questions you might have forgotten. This shows the interviewer that you took their advice and help seriously. Perhaps the most important follow-up step that most students ignore is the “thank you” letter. You can do this via email but a hand-written letter is the most effective.

Of course, you’d need the address of the interviewer which you might not have. When writing the letter, make sure to mention some specific things about the interview you appreciated. Maybe you found a specific piece of advice especially helpful or you learned something specific about the school you weren’t able to glean off the web. This follow-up demonstrates your initiative, appreciation, and genuine interest in the school.

Dress and act appropriately

It goes without saying that you should conduct yourself appropriately when attending your Ivy League admissions interview. However, it begs the question: what is appropriate in this setting? Should you show up in a suit and tie or dress? Or is a t-shirt and pants fine? How formal of a meeting will it be? Do you need to refer to the interviewer as “sir” or “ma’am”? All of these questions will probably be running through your head leading up to the interview. Let’s get some hassle and headache out of the way by answering them now.

Female student holding her books while smiling for the camera.

You can think of a college admissions interview about one notch below the level of formality of a job interview. A suit and tie or formal dress might be a bit too over-the-top but a normal tee is going to make you stick out like a sore thumb too. A buttoned-up shirt and a nice pair of pants should be just fine.

When it comes to referring to your interviewer, it’s advisable to stick to Mr. or Mrs./Ms. and “yes/no sir/ma’am”. Of course, if your interviewer says it’s fine to refer to them on a first-name basis, you can. But it’s a good idea to start out formal as it conveys respect.

Most interviews – unless they’re virtual – take place at a coffee shop or restaurant. Since the main purpose of the meeting is to discuss your potential attendance at the university in question, you shouldn’t order a ton of food. A small snack is fine but doesn’t go overboard as it can come off as rude. If you’re not sure what to do, mirroring your interviewer is always a good rule of thumb. For example, if he or she just orders a drink, you should too. If they order an entire meal, you have the green light.

Questions you should be prepared to answer during your admissions interview

The “why” question

Ah, the classic “why” question. Despite having one of the simplest formations, this question throws many students off. It usually comes in one of these forms or something similar:

  • What made you choose X university over other colleges?
  • Why do you want to attend X university?

It seems pretty straightforward, right? But it’s the open-endedness that throws many people off. This is where your research will come in handy. Instead of speaking generically about the prestige and esteem of the school, you’ll need to provide specific offerings and opportunities that draw you to the school and why you want to take advantage of them.

The interest question

Another land-mine question that many students hope never comes up is:

  • What field of study are you interested in pursuing in college?

One of the main reasons students dread this question is because so many aren’t sure about what they want to study in college. But don’t worry. We’ll show you how to still knock this question out of the park. Instead of hemming and hawing about how you’re not quite sure what you want to study yet, lay out a clear action plan for how you plan to narrow down your options if accepted to the university. What classes will you take? What extracurriculars will you join? What professors will you talk to?

Outlining a clear plan for determining what you want to study is nearly just as effective as already knowing for sure what field you want to pursue. Admissions officers know that not all applicants will have this information.

The main thing they’re looking for is dedication, thoughtfulness, and a plan. As long as your answer fulfills these requirements, it doesn’t matter if you’ve known what you’ve wanted to study since you were five or you’re still exploring. Whatever your situation, prepare a well-thought-out answer to this question and provide it confidently.

The background question

There’s a good chance your interviewer will also ask a broad question regarding your background growing up. Of course, you only need to provide as much detail as you feel comfortable. However, opening up during this portion is a great way to reveal more about yourself and allow the school representative to see what makes you truly unique. Make sure to tie in your background with something related to your education.

For example, maybe your experience growing up on a farm-inspired you to study Agricultural Engineering. Or maybe seeing your aunt participate in political campaigns got you inspired to pursue political science. Bringing your background story full circle to something relating directly to your studies is an excellent strategy.

Take your college admissions preparation to the next level

Preparing for your admissions interview is a critical part of the college admissions process. However, as we discussed, Ivy League schools take a holistic approach to their admissions processes.

Young woman interviewing a student in a room.

This means that it’s equally important to focus on perfecting all aspects of your application clued in the admissions interview preparation, your academic performance, your college essays, your extracurriculars, and much much more. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and even stressed when preparing to send out applications to some of the best schools in the country. Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone.

AdmissionSight is a leading provider of college admissions preparation services. We’re committed to helping students just like you perfect their applications to greatly increase their chances of getting into some of the best schools in the world, including the Ivy League. We have a decade of experience with a proven track record of success.

In fact, 75% of our students end up getting accepted to Ivy League or Top 10 universities. Whether you need a hand perfecting an essay, planning your academics or extracurriculars, choosing a summer program, preparing for your college interview, or anything related to the college admissions process, we can help!

If you’re interested in learning more about our services and how you can benefit, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.




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