For some students, the college interview may be their first ever formal interview with a prize on the line: admission to the college. An interview can be an important piece of the admission puzzle, along with academics and extracurriculars, and may even help maximize your student’s merit-based financial aid (free money awarded by the college, not based on family finances). It is a chance to humanize their application by articulating how their experience and accomplishments will make them a positive contributor to the college community. Admissions officers are judging the academic and social fit for your student on their campus and the interview is an important step in rounding out your student’s profile.
Types of Interviews
It is essential to make sure your student is aware of the different types of interviews they may encounter. Generally, there are two types of interviews: evaluative or informative, and which one you encounter will vary depending on the school.
Students applying to highly selective schools are more likely to encounter mandatory evaluative interviews, which are most often conducted by admissions officers of the college.
The admissions representative will have full access to the student’s application before the interview. The interview is a critical time for students to touch upon any parts of their application that may need further explanation, and to highlight their story as to why they will be important contributors to the community.
Admissions officers are interviewing students with the goal of shaping the incoming class by obtaining a true picture of the applicants. These can be high-stress formal interviews for which the student should practice. Just like a job interview, they’ll have limited time to make their case so practicing is helpful. Encourage them to think of questions or research the types of questions they may be asked and practice answering them out loud.
Although these interviews can be nerve-wracking, it is important to remind your student that the interview is a two-way street. The student is there to gather information and ask questions to determine if the college is a great fit for them.
Informational interviews, as the name implies, are less formal but may still be important. These interviews are typically for your student to obtain more knowledge about the school and explain anything not clearly displayed in their application.
Colleges that do not require an interview are still very interested in the degree of interest a student has in their institution, so having an informational interview is a good idea.
Both the Evaluative and Informational interviews can be conducted in a number of ways. Here are some of the options:
Many students will encounter the ‘traditional’ college interview. Regardless of the interviewer (admissions rep, student or alum), your student will go to campus, or designated location if they are unable to visit, where they will meet one-on-one with the representative. These interviews allow the student to elaborate on any parts of their application they may need to and ask specific questions.
If your family lives far from the college your student wishes to interview with, then the school may offer an online interview through a service like Skype, Facetime or Google Hangout. These are often less nerve-wracking because your student can take them from the comfort of home. But as we all know with technology, there’s always room for error. Your student can prepare for a video interview by testing the program before use; this is helpful to make sure both the camera and microphone function properly. From there, all the same interview rules apply – students should dress the part, speak clearly and be ready to ask and answer questions as if in person.
Preparing for the Interview
Here’s how to help students put their best foot forward and excel in the interview. Many colleges offer information to assist students in how to adequately prepare for the interview, which will likely be scheduled for 30 minutes – not much time for a student to tell their story. Students can get practice by scheduling interviews with lower-priority schools before their dream schools. If your student is planning to do multiple interviews, schedule informal interviews before formal ones to get in the routine of interviewing.
The tone of the interview will depend on the interviewer. Some colleges require all interviews to be conducted by an admissions representative, while others have trained students or alumni conduct the interview and file a report. If possible, knowing the background of the interviewer, i.e. when they graduated, their profession, etc., may help break the ice.
As mentioned, some colleges train and hire student representatives to conduct interviews when the interviewee pool exceeds the admissions staff’s availability. Unfortunately, the nature of these interviews is typically informative, holding very little weight in your student’s admission decision. The student conducting the interview will be trained to ask the right questions and make your student feel comfortable. Current students are also a great way for your student to get an inside look at the school’s social life.
If your family lives far from the school your student wishes to interview with, an in-person interview with an area alum may be offered. These interviews may be informal, with a relaxed and conversational tone, or they may be structured and similar to an interview with an admission’s representative, as is the case with several highly selective colleges.
On the day of the interview, remind students of these important tips:
- Dress nicely (no jeans or T-shirts)
- Arrive about 10 minutes early
- Be polite and cordial to everyone you meet – they’re all watching
- Engage the interviewer and ask questions about their experience at the school
- Show interest and enthusiasm
- Send a thank you note after the interview
- Have your cell phone out with the ringer on
- Expect parents to participate or bring them to an alumni interview
- Whine or make excuses when asked a tough question
- Chew gum
- Make a speech
College interviews offer both the student and the college an opportunity to evaluate how well the student and college fit each other. Encouraging your student to participate in interview process may increase the chance of admission.