Tips for Acing the College Interview

CollegeCampusWhat’s that smell in the air? Not chestnuts roasting on an open fire … No, it’s the smell of college angst creeping up and swirling around high school juniors and seniors (and their parents!). Wise Woman Susan wrote today’s post to help quell the anxiety of students facing the dreaded college interview.

As a follow-up to Anne’s recent posts regarding the college admissions process, I wanted to share some thoughts regarding the admissions interview. For the past 8 years, I’ve conducted over 50 admissions interviews on behalf of Georgetown University. Admittedly, not every college uses the interview in the same way, but I do feel that there are some basic concepts that can be applied to the process.

Too often, I meet with students who don’t seem to have a clear understanding of the goal of the interview, and so arrive unprepared (and very anxious). While everyone understands the importance of the other elements in the admissions process (grades, SAT scores, extracurricular activities, etc.), I often feel that the admissions interview is not given as much focus. (I’m actually not sure why this is – if anyone has any thoughts on this, I would love to hear them!)

Put simply, an admissions interview can be equated to a job interview. As adults, we’ve learned just how much preparation is required. But since high school students generally haven’t had the opportunity to experience this type of interview, we need to clue them in.

First, it is important to understand the goals of the admissions interview:

  1. Help the college to make a personal connection with the applicant
  2. Provide the school with an opportunity to gather additional insights into the student’s background, motivations and goals, and assess how well they would fit with the school’s academic environment and culture
  3. Provide the student with an opportunity to gather additional information about the school that they were not able to learn through the website (i.e., school culture, student experience), so that they can better determine if the school is right for them

While it is true that the admissions interview is used to evaluate a student, I try to convey to the student that it should be viewed as a “friendly” process – that the goal is not to find faults, but to assess fit.

In preparation for the interview, the student should take some time to think about the following (it may be helpful for the student to write down their answers, in order to clarify their thoughts):

  • What are their educational goals?
  • What are their career goals (these can be specific goals if known, or just general thoughts if the student is still undecided)
  • What do they want to communicate:  strengths, accomplishments, unique aspects of their background, etc.

Basically, they should come to the interview with a “point of view” about who they are, and where they would like to go in the future.

I also suggest that the student learn as much about the school as possible beforehand through the school’s website. This will show the interviewer that they have a serious interest in the school, and are not just applying on a whim, or because their parents want them to (this may actually be the case, but there is no need to shout it out). I confess that when a student doesn’t have at least a basic understanding of the school, a red flag is raised, and this does factor into my overall assessment.

Finally, the student should put together a list of any questions that they may have. As I mentioned earlier, this is also their chance to collect as much information as possible about the school so that they can decide if it would be the right choice for them. I encourage students to ask about anything — and I’ve gotten some REALLY interesting questions – but I appreciate curiosity, and am always happy to answer them.

When it comes time for the actual interview, the best advice that I can give the applicant is the following:

  1. RELAX!
  2. “Be Yourself” (i.e., don’t try to be who you think the interview wants you to be).
  3. This is your chance to shine – so don’t be afraid to talk up your strengths and accomplishments (I actually tell the students I interview that it’s okay to brag).
  4. Remember that a good interview will be a 2-sided conversation, so be ready to participate:
  • Elaborate on answers
  • Give examples when possible
  • Ask questions

When a student has prepared for their interview, the conversation flows more easily and ultimately I am able to get a much better understanding of their background, qualifications and goals. They also reflect a positive attitude, interest in the school, and most importantly, confidence. As you can imagine, this tends to translate to a better assessment. And while I won’t necessarily take points off when a student is unprepared, I always come away feeling that it was unfortunate they did not receive guidance and insight into the process ahead of time.

Hope this helps!


  • Cindy L. Says:
    12-3-2009 10:11:43

    My son graduated from U of Notre Dame in 2008, but I remember how agonized he was over the whole college admissions thing — applications, interviews, college tours, etc — in his last 2 years of high school. It was quite a process, and the high school offered special workshops to help students — and parents — get through it all. Amazingly, when I applied to college, it was SO much easier and I am not sure why. I don’t think my parents did anything but give me stamps and checks for the application fees! Back then, we (students) just applied to our schools of choice, paid the application fees, and then got accepted … or not.

    I like your suggestions in the last half of this post. The first one — “RELAX” is the absolute best.
    It all works out…

  • Anne Says:
    12-4-2009 08:45:08

    Great post Susan. Lots of good advice. I’m reminded of my naivety when I was interviewing. In one interview when I was asked what my first choice school was, I replied, “well it’s either College A, College B or College C. It never would have occurred to me to maybe stretch the truth a bit and just tell the man that the college I was currently interviewing was definitely my first choice!

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