Introduction: How to Ace Your College Admissions Interview

About: * Pier 9 Public Programs Manager @ Autodesk. * L.A. transplant. * Preferred dog qualities: sturdy, big-headed, cow-printed.

A lot of people say that selecting a university is one of the most important choices a young person has to make. While it’s certainly not a matter of life or death, your university is (hopefully) where you’ll spend four years of your life, developing meaningful skills and relationships that you’ll rely on for years to come.

And sure, the written application is certainly the most essential component of your college admissions process, but what else can you do to the boost the odds of getting into your dream school? Schedule an admissions interview!

An admissions interview is a short meeting conducted either by a representative from a college’s Admissions Office, or an alum from the university. These interviews are almost always optional and, barring any completely catastrophic social faux pas (use your imagination here), they can only help your application. Think of the interview as a chance for the interviewer to really get to know you, your personality, and what a great fit you’d be for your school of choice.

Step 1: Schedule Your Interview

Start by calling the university’s Admissions office and asking about opportunities to interview. You may be able to establish an interview as early as the summer before your senior year of high school. You might have to travel to the school to complete your interview, but especially if you live far away, you may be able to schedule an off-site interview in your home city. If an admissions counselor is coming to your city, try to schedule an appointment with them then, and be prepared to cancel prior arrangements in order to prioritize the interview. Admissions counselors can have very busy travel and meeting schedules, and the high volume of applicants can often mean that counselors are not especially likely to go out of their way to accommodate you.

Step 2: Prepare for Your Interview

Now that you’ve scheduled your admissions interview, it’s time to prepare! But maybe not in the way you’d think. Sure, it can’t hurt to think about how you’d respond to standard admissions questions (Why do want to go to this school? What do you want to study? Where do you see yourself in ten years?), but you also don’t want to sound robotic and rehearsed. The interview is an opportunity to let your personality shine; don’t let your effort to “remember your lines” interfere.

However, one very helpful way of making sure you start your interview with your best foot forward is to create a video recording of yourself in a practice interview. If you have watched yourself on screen before, you might know that this can be a horrifically awkward and painful experience—but don’t worry, you’re your own harshest critic!

In order to record your practice interview, position a video recorder or webcam on a tripod or in another static position where you know you will be in the frame. Then, ask someone to ask you interview questions from off-camera. Just answer the questions like you would if you weren’t being recorded. The mock interview doesn’t need to be long, 10 or 15 minutes is more than enough.

Here’s the hard part. After you’re done recording the video, watch it closely. What are you noticing? How’s your posture? Are you touching your hair, clearing your throat, fiddling with a button, or doing anything else that might detract attention from all the brilliant things you have to say? How often do you say words like “like,” “um,” or “whatever?” While all these habits are both painful to notice, being conscious of them can help you create a mature and poised representation of yourself. And don’t expect yourself to entirely break yourself of these behaviors and definitely don’t get down on yourself for having them in the first place. Simple self-awareness goes a long way, and even the tiniest changes will work in your favor.

Step 3: The Morning of the Interview

Make sure to arrive at your interview well-rested so you can seem as sharp as you really are! And this may seem obvious, but please make an extra effort to appear clean and well groomed. Don’t forget to shower, brush your teeth, and use deodorant! Hygiene goes a LONG way.

Now, let’s talk attire. You should plan to wear “business casual.” Now, you probably don’t know what this means, because you are probably 17 years old, but also, most adults don’t know what it means, either. That’s okay! Ladies and gents, if you’ve got a suit, it’s okay (but not essential) to wear it. It’s also acceptable to wear clean, unripped pants (not jeans or corduroys) with a button-up shirt or blouse. If you’d like to wear a skirt or dress, go for it. Just make sure that you’re not showing any cleavage and that your hemlines are close to your knees or lower. Dress shoes, flats OR clean tennis shoes are okay, just make sure you can walk. You don’t want to tumble and take down a wall full of admissions brochures with you!

If the school you’re interviewing at has a more conservative religious affiliation, you may want to take that into consideration as well. If you’re someone who is interested in non-gender normative attire, it’s okay to arrive at your meeting in whatever professional attire that makes you feel good.

Step 4: Step 4: Arriving at Your Interview

Try to arrive at your interview site at least 30 minutes prior to your interview. You want to be able to account for getting lost, traffic, finding parking, and most importantly, giving yourself a moment to catch your breath and reaffirm your personal awesomeness before notifying Admissions staff of your arrival.

After you do this, make sure that your cellphone is OFF. You don’t want your interview to be interrupted by your goofy ringtone. If this DOES happen, DO NOT answer your phone in the interview, just silence your phone (by turning it off) and apologize for the interruption. Don’t look at your phone while waiting in the reception area, either. Holding a phone can make your hands sweaty (we’ll talk about handshakes in the next section) and can make you appear distracted.

Step 5: Step 5: Meeting Your Interviewer

When your interviewer introduces themselves, be sure to greet them with a smile, eye contact, and a firm handshake. Don’t crush the interviewer’s hands, but don’t do the limp fish thing, either. For more details on how to do a good handshake, you may want to visit this instructable. If you’re someone with sweaty hands, you may want to keep a wadded up paper towel to keep in your pockets to squeeze and hopefully de-sweatify.

Now it’s time to shine! Your interviewer will probably ask you a few easy warm-up questions while taking notes. It’s okay for you to take notes, too! Taking notes on a notepad shows that you’re paying attention, and can be a great way to indicate that you’re a studious person who would thrive in the classroom. After a couple preliminary questions, the interviewer will probably start to ask you the “hard” questions about your interest in the school, your future intentions, and other stuff like leadership and community service, all in the hopes of figuring out if you’d be a good fit for the school.

I know this sounds super hard to do after all this preparation, but try to have fun! Be yourself! Relax! You’ve prepared so much for this, and you’re awesome, so just enjoy your time and learn more about your potential alma mater.

If you have questions for the interviewer, definitely ask them! In fact, even if you don’t have questions, you should probably still ask one or two to show that you paid attention and that you’re interested in the school. You can’t go wrong asking about specific extra-curricular groups, the overall “feel” of student life, and perhaps most formally, the very specific classes necessary for a particular major or course of study.

At the end of your time together, be sure to thank your interviewer! End the way you started, with a handshake, eye contact, and a smile. It’s okay to ask for a business card to send a short and sweet “thank you” email after the fact.

Step 6: Step 6: Last But Not Least / Random Bits of Information

- This may seem obvious, but do not curse during your interview.

- Be yourself! If you have a weird hobby or interest, share it! Depending on what you do, you may even want to bring a sample of your work to your interview—whether it’s photographs, a video on an iPad, or a small 3D print you’ve made.

- Be ready to own your mistakes and talk about how you’ve learned from them. If you got an “F” in Algebra, talk about what you did to do better next time. If you got suspended, talk about what it meant to reflect on that, and how it’s changed your life.

- Don’t be afraid to talk about what makes you who you are! Is there someone who really inspires you? Is there a struggle you’ve overcome? Do you have BIG questions about life, the universe, or humankind? Sharing that kind of information helps you stand out amongst your fellow applicants.

- In the weeks prior to your interview, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on major world events by reading a few articles in a paper like the New York Times. It helps to show the interviewer that you’re interested in the world beyond your high school.

- Don’t bribe your interviewer. Not with money. Not with cookies. Not with anything. It’s insulting.

- Have fun! Be yourself! College is a BIG commitment of money and time. It’s okay for you to be just as selective with your potential colleges as they are with you!