Through much of the college application process you are defined by your hard numbers—GPA, class rank, ACT or SAT score, number of rigorous courses taken, performance on Subject Tests, APs, and so on. The college interview presents an opportunity to show off your less tangible attributes, that certain je ne sais quoi unique to you; your verve, your emotional intelligence, your older-than-your-years presence, your real-life equivalent of a Q Score. Of course, in order to let these one-of-a-kind qualities shine through, you’ll need to have all of the basics covered first.

For many applicants, the prospect of meeting face-to-face with an admissions officer can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. With good preparation and a sound understanding of the process, you can ace your interview and leave a positive, lasting impression with your potential colleges. Here’s what you should know about the college interview:

1. Schedule your interview early. Since appointments tend to fill up quickly, especially during the height of application season, you should schedule an interview with your prospective school’s admissions office at least four weeks prior to your planned date of arrival.

2. Meet with your rep. If offered an admissions interview, request to meet with the representative who is assigned to your high school or region, as he or she will most likely be the one evaluating your application.

3. Know your school. Peruse your prospective school’s website, particularly the pages of the site that focus upon your areas of interest. Learn about the courses, professors, and extracurricular activities from which you would benefit if offered admission. If you can demonstrate knowledge of the college’s offerings, your admissions officer is more likely to regard you as a serious and genuinely interested candidate.

4. Questions you should be prepared to answer. Before the interview, make sure to obtain a copy of your transcript, your resume or student activities sheet, and a list of any standardized test scores. This information will allow your admissions representative to realistically assess your chances of admission, as well as offer any advice that he or she may have on how to improve your application.

During the interview, be prepared to discuss your courses, your extracurricular experiences, and your reasons for applying to the college (and be specific!). Here are some questions that you may encounter on interview day:

  • So, what sparked your interest in our college?
  • What classes, programs, or activities at our college excite you the most?
  • Any particular major you’re interested in pursuing at our college? Why is that
  • What’s been the most important extracurricular activity to you in high school? Why
  • What have you liked most about your high school?
  • If you could change one thing about your high school what would it be?
  • What subject do you enjoy most?
  • What has been your most challenging course during high school? How did you cope with/overcome the challenges associated with this course?
  • What do you consider your proudest achievement so far?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • How would you friends describe you?
  • What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?

5. Questions you should be prepared to ask. You should also come with several questions of your own that will help you to learn more about the college and simultaneously demonstrate to your rep that you have done your college research.  Here are some questions that you might consider asking:

  • How does the college help students secure employment and/or prepare for graduate school?
  • Could you talk about the advantages associated with being part of the college’s alumni network?
  • If you could offer one piece of advice to an incoming student, what would that be?
  • How does your college differ from other comparable colleges?

6. Practice makes perfect. If possible, attempt to simulate the conditions that you will encounter on interview day.  Solicit help from a friend or relative who is willing to play the role of interviewer and who is also comfortable enough to critique your performance. Finding a good practice partner will enable you to discover and subsequently improve upon weaknesses in your interview technique.

As you practice responding to the above questions, avoid the temptation to memorize or script your answers. The best interviews proceed like a good conversation, so be yourself and be sincere.

7. Remember etiquette. When the big day arrives, make sure you’re on time. Dress appropriately (business casual), shake hands, and maintain eye contact throughout the meeting; as presentation is also key to a successful interview.

Finally, it’s important to realize that your admissions rep is just as anxious to impress you as you are to impress her. So, relax and use your college interview as an opportunity to enter into great conversation, learn a bit more about your prospective school, and your intangible awesomeness is certain to shine through.

Andrew Belasco
A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew's experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans more than one decade. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.