Why College Interviews Matter More Than Ever

It’s 11:00 p.m. and my cellphone is chirping. A nervous student sends a text to say she has an interview with a top choice college in a couple of days. “What do I wear?” “What will they ask?”  And “What do I say?” In the past, I would encourage her to relax. The interview was traditionally a way for alumni to stay engaged more than a factor in admission. The interviewer chats with the student and answers their questions about life on campus jots a few notes and forwards them to the admissions office. Though students could certainly hurt their chances by not being prepared, the interview was not a significant part of the admissions decision… Until COVID.

Now, admissions staff are struggling to rewrite policy in the absence of ACT/SAT scores and other traditional metrics used in the decision process. In addition, applications may also lack a semester or two of grades, since schools switched to pass/fail grading when they went online or closed down. 

Admissions staff will also have to make judgments without a semester’s worth of extracurricular activities – jobs, athletics, band, theater, or community service. And while students lost their ability to participate in most extracurricular activities, admissions staff have lost the chance to interact with students during tours, college fairs, and school visits.  

So how do they bridge the gap? The college interview. 

Why College Interviews Matter More Than Ever

Schools, such as Tulane and Sewanee, added a new interview option, hoping to substitute for the face-to-face encounters that used to happen at college fairs and recruiting trips to schools. At a time when schools are struggling to know students beyond essays and activities, interviews are gaining traction as an alternative. So, here are some important reminders as you prepare for and complete your college interviews.

    1. If you have an option to do an interview, do it. The interview is an opportunity to show you are interested in the school and highlight aspects of your personality that aren’t showcased in your essay or application.
    2. Dress appropriately.  
    3. If online, consider your lighting and background. Minimize distractions and extraneous noises.
    4. Prepare to answer their questions. Refer to our list of commonly asked questions below.
    5. Smile and maintain eye contact (look at the camera when you talk). This shows the interviewer you are engaged.
    6. Be on time and conscious of time-zones.
    7. Jot down bullet points to refer to during the interview.
    8. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat the question if you didn’t hear it or need some time to think of a response.
    9. Schedule a mock interview with an adult beforehand to practice articulating your responses.
    10. Unless otherwise stated, parents are not invited to the interview. 
    11. Prepare 2-3 questions to ask the interviewer in return. 
    12. Be as specific and detailed as possible.
    13. Get your interviewer’s contact info and follow up with a handwritten thank-you note or a personalized email citing a highlight of the conversation. 
    14. Most importantly, have fun, laugh a little, and think of the interview as a purposeful conversation, rather than an evaluation.

Commonly Asked Questions in College Interviews

  • How do you see yourself participating on campus?
  • Why do you want to major in ___?
  • Why are you interested in our college?
  • What are your academic interests/strengths/weaknesses?
  • What are you reading right now?
  • Who do you most admire and why?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about an accomplishment/obstacle you overcame.
  • What do you like to do in your free time?

For all answers, it is important to BE SPECIFIC. If the question is related to the college, your answer must refer to things only found at that school. Cite specific examples of programs, clubs, organizations, or activities at that campus.

When answering questions about yourself, give examples through stories. Don’t just say you are hardworking. Give examples that show you worked hard to complete a project, start a club, etc… Highlight the skills you acquired along the way. Above all, remember that the point of the interview is for them to get to know you. Prepare ahead of time, so you can relax and enjoy the conversation.

– Written by Dr. Avonna Swartz

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