Fewer colleges offer or require interviews than they had in the past. However, these schools are often some of my favorite in the country because they take time with each application. I understand that it is simply not cost-effective for many colleges to employ admissions counselors who take hours to interview prospective students. The colleges that do make interviews a priority, however, truly want to know their applicants on a holistic basis beyond their statistics. Because an interview requires a skill set entirely different from taking an exam in school, admission officers have the opportunity to learn through conversation about their applicants as people. How will they conduct themselves in an interview scenario? What topics make students’ eyes light up and lean forward in their chairs? Can they speak eloquently and concisely?
Whether colleges claim their interviews are required, recommended, or non-evaluative, you should try to take advantage of an interview at each school on your list. The first reason is that learning how to conduct yourself favorably in an interview is a lifelong skill that will serve you well for future jobs. Secondly, an interview likely won’t hurt your chances in admissions. Unless you say something completely radical and/or offensive, admission officers who interview you are generally looking to like you as an applicant.
When students are nervous prior to their first interviews, I often do “mock interviews” with them and ask some questions as if I were an admissions counselor. Here are some tips I most often suggest:
Enter the interview room with three things in mind about yourself that you will definitely say—regardless of the questions asked. If you are nervous about forgetting these topics, it is totally fine to write them down on an index card or piece of paper that you hold during the interview. While you are bound to neglect to mention certain things in any interview, at least you will always have said the three things on your index card. Some of my students prefer to use Evernote on their phone or iPad for this task, and I think for most schools, either is fine.
You can bring a copy of your high school transcript and resume, but don’t give it to your interviewer until the end of your meeting. If you hand it to him/her at the beginning, those documents will suddenly direct the conversation instead of you and your research about the college.
You drive the conversation. Don’t play defense; play offense. After you answer a question, elaborate on something you mentioned that is important to you. Students who have distinct interests impress admission officers.
Always follow up with a thank you note. If you can, reference specific topics or pieces of information from your conversation. For example, if you mentioned that you are very involved in DECA (a high school business club) and the interviewer had never heard of it, you might think about sending him/her a link to an official website when you follow up.
The following are some tips from my daughter Amanda, co-author of Love the Journey to College, regarding interviews:
Don’t be nervous. Really. The term “interview” is so much more frightening than the experience actually is. An interview with an admissions counselor is usually a conversation during which you talk about your interests and how you would pursue those passions at the particular school.
Eye contact and a firm handshake are really as important as everyone says they are.
You’d be surprised by how much your attitude says about you. Always be friendly and respectful.
Be prepared. Prior to the interview, read about your intended major, interests, internships, clubs, and other opportunities that are specific to that school. It is important to show the interviewer that you know a fair amount about the institution and that you are a good “match” for the community. If you know of a special tradition at the college, feel free to mention that as well.
Keep a list of the clubs that you could “match” to your interests. For example, because I was very involved with my high school newspaper, I always learned the name of the colleges’ newspapers and expressed interest in writing for them to my interviewers.
Ask questions. In my experience with interviews, the interviewer likes when you are inquisitive because it shows your interest in the school.
The interview allows admission representatives to put a face to your name, and may increase your chances of being admitted. While you want to be prepared, you don't want to come off as stiff and rehearsed. Be yourself.