10 Tips to Ace Your College Admissions Interview

By Julie Carter, Associate Director of College Counseling, Episcopal School of Jacksonville

Some colleges offer an interview as part of their admissions process. While the interview itself will not be the deciding factor in admissions decisions, it can be a great opportunity to help a college representative get to know you better. The interview gives you the chance to express your interest in person, but more importantly, to explain why you’d be a great match for the college community, convey how you’d contribute to the student population, and show more of who you are than your application alone may convey.

Perhaps the idea of an interview strikes panic into your heart. Well, fear not, brave student — with a little forethought and preparation, you can rock your interviews!

1.Try to relax. Interviews are meant to be normal, basic conversations. The interviewer is not trying to stump you or throw you for a loop. Just be natural; don’t try to memorize a script.

  • Remember that you are an experienced conversationalist. You chat with friends, family, teachers, etc. all day every day. You’ve got this!
  • As with any good conversation, your interview should be two-way. For every few questions that you’re asked, feel free to ask one in return. Do some research in advance and ask questions about the college or university that cannot be answered with a simple Google search. (See tip 8 below)

2. Consider your audience. Who will conduct your interview? You may be meeting with an admissions representative or a local alumni representative. Someone who works in the Admissions Office will likely be a good resource for information about applying and about current events on campus. An alumni representative can often share a valuable perspective about the culture and legacy of the school.

  • If you’ve been given your interviewer’s name in advance, you can do a quick internet search to see if they have a bio or profile on a professional page, like LinkedIn or their employer’s website. (Be respectful and err on the side of professionalism if you choose to do a search, just as you would hope they’d do for you.) Sometimes it settles the nerves a bit to put a face with the name.
  • The direction of your conversation may vary depending upon how recently the interviewer graduated from the school. A more recent grad is likely to have an experience more similar to what you can expect; while a more seasoned interviewer may have a broader and more long-standing perspective.
  • Knowing a bit about your interviewer may help you frame the questions to ask.

3. Set the stage. Think about where you’ll be during the interview.

  • While the setting won’t change your responses, it may help calm your nerves a bit if you consider in advance whether you’ll be in a loud, busy location (like a coffee shop) or in a quieter, more formal setting like an office.
  • For Skype and other virtual venues:
    • Make sure you have a reliable internet connection prior to your scheduled interview time.
    • Take a moment to set the stage. You don’t want the background behind you to be a messy room or send an unintended message (like having a poster for another college on the wall behind you).

4. Dress to Impress. You know first impressions are important, so take into consideration that what you wear will be the first thing your interviewer sees. With that said, you don’t want your outfit to distract from what you have to say.

  • “Business casual” is most frequently recommended – think khakis, slacks, or not-too-short skirt, paired with a collared, button-down shirt, or a nice blouse. You can top with a sweater or blazer, if seasonally appropriate.
  • Think of your outfit as something you might wear if you were giving an important presentation or receiving an award at school.
  • Keep it neat and simple, to let YOU shine through. Make sure your outfit fits and is clean and wrinkle-free. For makeup and accessories, avoid anything flashy or distracting.

5. Do your homework! The interviewer will likely want to hear about your interest in the school. Visit the college’s website before your interview. Actively consider why you think the school is a good fit for you. If you’re having a hard time explaining it, do a little more research.

  • Why are you interested in this college?
  • What programs or activities are you excited about?
  • How would you contribute?

Review your résumé and activities list.

  • Know what you’ve included in your application, but more importantly, be ready to share why each item is meaningful.
  • If there are rĂ©sumĂ© items you think might help the interviewer understand you more, take note. Even if there’s not a question directly related, planning ahead can help you find a way to seamlessly incorporate into your responses.

Be prepared to talk about:

  • Yourself – your high school experience, your senior year, your family, your friends, your interests, your strengths, your weaknesses, etc.
  • Many interviews begin with the vague prompt, “Tell me about yourself…” If you’ve given some forethought to what distinguishes you and examples to back it up, it’ll be much easier to get started.
  • Your worldview – books you’ve read, current events, places you’ve traveled, your opinions.

6. Practice! 

Interviewing requires a fine balance of self-assurance, poise, and conversation skills. You don’t want to come off as conceited, but don’t be afraid to talk about your accomplishments.

  • Eye contact, posture, and ease of expression are some of the elements you’ll likely be more confident in if you practice in advance.
  • Make time for a mock interview with a counselor, teacher, administrator, parent, or friend. Some students find it most productive to “interview” with someone who doesn’t know them very well. Contact your Episcopal College Counselor to set up a mock interview, ideally a week or more before your real interview.
  •  If you aren’t able to do a mock interview, look up common interview questions online and practice your responses in the mirror or on video. You can watch and critique yourself.
  • Answer your mock interview questions honestly and seriously, like it’s the real deal. Let the person know in advance that you want their honest feedback on how you come across and any suggestions for improvement.
  • You’ll get better with each interview – the more you practice, the more comfortable and natural you’ll be during an actual interview.

7. Some details that can make a big difference.

  • DO allow yourself a moment to think. It’s okay to say, “That’s a great question. Give me a moment…” (Don’t pause too long, but remember that rapid-fire responses are not required.)
  • Determine in advance whether you have a “filler” phrase that overtakes the conversation? You know, like “like” or “you know.” Catch yourself and work to reduce the frequency before the day of your interview.
  • If you aren’t sure how to answer the question, ask a follow-up question to clarify.
  • Avoid one-word answers, like “yes” and “no.” If your response to the question asked truly is that simple, provide more info. Build off the question and tell the interviewer more about you!
  • Try not to fidget, play with your hair, tap your toes, etc. If you’re nervous, it’s okay to tell the interviewer that you are. Putting it out there, without dwelling on it, may help you move on.

8. Come prepared with questions to ask your interviewer.

Have at least a few thoughtful questions for the interviewer, beyond the information you could find on the school’s website.

  • What did you/do you like most about this college?
  • What are the college’s most important values, and how does it demonstrate this to students?
  • What kind of students might not be happy at University X?
  • What was your favorite class at University X?
  • What traditions or events at University X were particularly meaningful to you?
  • Check out this blog post from Jeff Schiffman, Director of Admissions at Tulane University, for more examples of great questions to ask.

9. Mind your manners. They matter. 

  • Be on time.
  • Be polite.
  • Shake your interviewer’s hand and introduce yourself. “Hi, I’m _______. It’s nice to meet you.”
  • Make eye contact.
  • Show appreciation. Thank the interviewer for his/her time as you leave the interview – along with another handshake and eye contact.
  • Follow-up with a brief, thoughtful thank you note (handwritten is a nice touch if you have a mailing address). Something as simple as “Thank you again for meeting with me. I enjoyed our conversation and learning more about X University. I am excited by the possibility of joining the X community next fall.”

10. Stay positive and be yourself.

  • You are awesome! Remember that!

Bonus: Interview skills are valuable to you far beyond college admissions! These tips apply to almost any interview situation you’ll encounter in the coming years!

Good luck!