How to do a College Interview

Table of Contents

Share This Post

Many colleges offer optional interviews as part of their admissions process. These are never the most important part of an admissions decision and often serve merely to confirm what admissions officers already expect about an applicant. For some students, however, they can be an integral part of their college admissions process.

So how do you know if you should do an interview? What kinds of questions will colleges ask? Most importantly, how should you prepare for an interview? We’ll answer all of these questions in this article, and guide you through the college interview process. Let’s jump in!

Who Should do an Interview?

If a school is your first choice, we recommend setting up an interview, regardless of other considerations. For one, an interview is a good way to demonstrate interest in a first-choice school. It lets the school know you’re serious about them, and that you’ve gone the extra mile to learn about them, and to let them learn about you.

The interview will also let you learn more about your first-choice school. Most college interviews are run by alumni of the school, so you will be able to get your questions answered by a first-hand source. While some of their information may be a bit out of date, this is a good place to learn about campus climate, the workload, or even what the food on campus is like. A good interview should be a give and take of information, and you will learn as much about the school as they learn about you.

Generally, however, you should check to see how much a school values interviews before scheduling one. This is one of the pieces of information we include in our fact sheets, or you can simply Google the name of the school + interviews to find their views on the subject. If you are applying to a lot of schools, we recommend not doing interviews for most of them. Only do interviews for your top choice schools, or if the college indicates that they value interviews a lot in the admissions process.

How do College Interviews Work?

Interviews are conducted by representatives of the school, including current students, professors, admissions staff, and alumni. Usually interviews last no longer than an hour, as they generally consist of a casual conversation. You should present the best version of yourself; be genuine, but remember to remain polite and civilized, especially when discussing political or otherwise controversial topics.

Even if you are not explicitly told to bring a resume, it is a good idea to bring one along anyway, as it makes it easier for the interviewer to refer to your experiences and ask you to reflect on them. Some schools allow the interview to take place via internet chat or over the phone. Online and phone interviews have become increasingly common over the past year, though the future of this practice is uncertain.

Remember to show up on time or a little early to an interview. Don’t show up too early; that can be as awkward as showing up late. Five minutes early is a safe bet if you are worried. You should dress business casual; not all the way dressed up, but not too casual either. You want to make a good first impression.

What Will Colleges Ask in an Interview?

While there are many possible questions for interviewers to ask here are the three most common:

  1. Why are you interested in this school?
  2. What are you interested in studying?
  3. Tell me about yourself.

It’s no coincidence that the first two of these parallel two of the most common supplemental essay topics. These are the most obvious questions to ask a future college student and reveal the most about their plans. We’ll now give you advice for answering each.

Why this school?

You don’t need to know everything about a college before interviewing with them, but you should have a sense of what specifically about that school is appealing to you. If you’ve had to write a “Why Us” essay about the school in question, you should be well prepared to answer this question, so merely spend some time reviewing that essay and your notes for it.

If, on the other hand, the school did not ask for a “Why Us” essay, then you can prepare for this question the same way you write one of those essays: by researching the school to find out what, specifically, you like about it. The more specific your answer, the better.

Finally, avoid pointless flattery. The interviewer presumably knows the college is great, that’s why they’re doing interviews for them. This is one of the few places where flattery will get you nowhere.

What major?

Colleges like students who are passionate about knowledge and learning, so don’t be scared to geek out a little if your interviewer asks about your academic interests. This is a good way to demonstrate your intellectual vitality to your interviewer and show your innate passions.

This is true even if you are undecided about what you want to major in. Spending some time talking to your interviewer about their own major, and courses they took in subjects that interest you is also a good way to explore your academic interests and potential majors in more depth.

Talking About Yourself

The most important thing to do when talking about yourself is to provide concrete examples of your accomplishments — without making it seem like you’re bragging. You should be modest, but overcome any shyness and aim to come across as genuine and outgoing.

If you’re wondering how to apply this, there are plenty of ways that allow the interviewer to get to know you through your accomplishments. These should circle back to your interests and how they come into play in your day-to-day life.

For example, when you speak about one of your accomplishments, explain the significance that it has had in helping you define your career goals, and if your desired career is one that you’re passionate about (which hopefully you are), your eyes should sparkle as you speak. Avoid twirling your hair or signaling that you’re nervous.

While you should keep the interview light (you don’t want to overstep boundaries or get TOO personal, after all), you should talk about things that have added depth and meaning to your life today.

How to Prepare For Your Interview

We have found that the best way to prepare for something is to do that exact thing in a lower-stakes environment. Thus, in addition to preparing to answer the questions above, you should practice your answers in a conversational environment. Some schools will have practice interviews scheduled with guidance counselors, and we recommend you sign up for these if they are available.

You can do this with your friends as well; taking turns interviewing each other. Brainstorm questions you will ask about the school, and determine what you should say when asked about your hobbies, favorite classes, or intended major. While this will not feel as “official” as practicing with a guidance counselor, that does not mean its worthless. Indeed, if you are interviewed by a current student, they likely won’t be much older than you are now.

Finally, if you are using a tutoring service, then you should ask your tutor or mentor for a practice interview. This is one of the things we do at Ivy Scholars to help our students with their college applications. If you want to learn more about how we can help you, schedule a complimentary consultation today. We’re always happy to hear from you.

Final Thoughts

An interview often feels incredibly intimidating; after all, this is a real adult, with real responsibilities, and what you say to them can directly impact your chances of getting into college. Therefore, the most important piece of advice we have is to take a moment and breathe. Your interviewers want to help you succeed, and most are doing interviews voluntarily, especially student and alumni interviews. They are enthusiastic about their school, and they want to find students who share their passion.

Thus to succeed in your interview you just need to be the best version of yourself. If you relax, practice, and remember to breathe, you will find conversation flowing naturally, and the interview will go well. We hope that this article will help you reach that state of calm, and wish you luck with your own eventual interviews! 

Need help with college admissions?

Download our "Guide to Everything," a 90-page PDF that covers everything you need to know about the college admission process.

More To Explore


High Schools for BS/MD Students

We’ve written before about BS/MD applications, and what these programs look for in students. Their demands are intense, both in terms of academic achievement, and

Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
Arda E.
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
Samson S.
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!