In the summer of my senior year, I interviewed over 60 applicants to one of the top liberal arts colleges in the US. At selective schools, the interview can really mean the difference between an acceptance, waitlist or rejection. I enjoyed meeting with candidates and getting to know them in 20 or 30 minute conversations, but what separates an outstanding interview from a mediocre one? In this article, I will explain the DOs and DON'Ts of the college interview from my perspective as an interviewer. Still, keep in mind that there is NO perfect formula or step-by-step plan of what you should do or not do during an interview.
When I'm interviewing, my questions aim to hit 3 main areas: What you're interested in or passionate about, your background/family/community, and what you want from your college experience. If you read articles online about how to master the interview, chances are it will say things like "dress for success" or "master the handshake" and I PROMISE YOU, I can't remember, nor do I care about, what anyone is wearing or how you shook my hand. Unless you show up wearing something completely absurd or inappropriate, I won't even notice. I've had students wear suits or blazers, and others who wear jeans and a t-shirt and I have never once wrote in my interview report "this person was really well dressed" or "not the best outfit". Don't overthink what you wear!
1. Don't over-prepare
I get it, interviews can be stressful and intimidating, and everyone tells you to think of questions that they will ask you and think of answers. While it's great to have a general idea of what you might want to touch on during the interview (think of examples and anecdotes that you can pull on), it's really easy to tell when a candidate has over-prepared. When preparing, don't try to memorize exactly what you want to say. Instead, think of some general stories, points, and topics that you can pull on that fall into the categories outlined above: 1) Passions/ interests, 2) Background/ community/ family, and 3) What you want from your college experience. There were some students who I interviewed who were great candidates, but who I felt were not the right fit for the school. I was interviewing for a small liberal arts college, so if a student seemed to not have an interest in intellectual and interdisciplinary exploration, or gave me an inkling that they would prefer a larger school, I would state in my interview report that the fit wasn't the best.
2. Do Your Research
Before the interview, you should become a semi-expert on the college you're interviewing for. Don't mention that you want to major in Business, if there is no Business major. Name a professor whose research you're interested in, specific resources that intrigue you, and what makes this school stand out for you. Lots of colleges start to look similar over the course of applying, but during the interview, your focus should be on the school you're applying to and what makes it unique. Be genuine in your responses, and connect the college to your current passions/ interests.
3. Make it A Conversation
As an Admissions Interviewer, the best interviews were those that I left thinking "wow that was a great conversation". Yes, the focus should be on you as the interviewee, but if your interviewer begins to talk about his/her experiences, show that you're genuinely interested. Be interesting, funny, witty and ask follow up questions. If your interviewer does not seem interested in having a two-way conversation, and prefers keeping it as a Q&A style interview, then run with it. Follow your interviewer's lead.
4. Don't Brag!
I know this is hard, you're trying to sell yourself, right? But remember, the interview is an opportunity to discuss aspects that won't come up in other aspects of your application. Do not discuss grades, GPA, test scores, etc unless asked (and chances are, you won't be asked). Your interviewer might be able to see these already, and if not then the admissions committee surely will. It's fine to discuss activities, interests and passions, but be humble with it. Don't say "I'm an amazing pianist", and instead say "I really have a passion for playing the piano, and I have been since I was six years old". You can definitely find ways to be impressive without bragging.
5. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS Ask Questions
Specifically, you should ask questions that you can't easily find the answers to online. Do not ask about acceptance rates, or whether the college offers X major, of if you can double major etc...because the information can easily be found online. Instead ask things like "What do you love the most about X university?", or "If you could change one thing about X university, what would it be?. Use this opportunity to learn more about their experience, about campus culture, the location the college is in, etc! If a student had no questions for me at the end of the interview, I noted that in the interview report. It could be a way of measuring interest. So always ask questions. If a question that you wanted to ask came up in the interview already, then think of something else.
6. Add Another Dimension to your Application
You don't want the interview to simply repeat the exact same topics that are discussed in other parts of your application. If you are writing your essay on your fascination with astronomy, mention your passion, but don't let it be the focus of the entire conversation. Discuss parts of who you are that aren't already highlighted extensively on your application - your family, friends, life experience, quirks, hobbies etc.
7. Be a High School Student!
You might be thinking "ok captain obvious, that one I can't help", but hear me out. Don't try to be super impressive and make it seem like you've never failed at anything. Colleges want to admit REAL students. Don't talk about skipping class all the time, or coming to school late everyday. But you can mention how you struggled with a class or a test (and also what you did to overcome it), or how you forgot your lines in the school play. Don't be afraid to get a little vulnerable.
I hope these tips will help you all with your upcoming interviews. Be yourself, be genuine, and let your personality shine. Happy interviewing!
College Quo Founder