Check out these tips from our college counselors!
- Dress code: Dress on the conservative side, and business casual is a good starting point. If you have to ask yourself, “Is this appropriate to wear on interview day?”….then it probably isn’t. You also do not need to wear a suit, so save yourself some money. DO consider wearing: Khakis/slacks, mid-length skirts, sweaters, button-down shirts, blouse, and casual dress shoes. DON’T ever wear: jeans, sneakers, ripped clothes, tank tops, or flip flops. Try to dress comfortably. It’s also totally okay to let your personality shine through a little with small accents, like earrings or a watch. Oh, and no heavy perfumes or colognes.
- Carry yourself well: First impressions *are* everything. We know you’ll be nervous. That’s completely normal. Embrace the nerves, don’t fight them (that will only make it worse). In spite of your nerves, keep these pointers in mind from the moment you walk in the door: DO sit and stand up straight (we probably sound like your mom here, but honestly, it exudes confidence). DO smile and act excited to be there. DO make eye contact. When you’re nervous, a natural response is to shy away from direct eye contact, but this could signal to the interviewer that you are uninterested or immature. DO take the initiative and introduce yourself to the interviewer when you meet him/her (if the interviewer doesn’t do it first) and shake hands with the interviewer while making eye contact. You should practice your handshake with friends or family beforehand.
- Prepare, prepare, PREPARE!: Did you get that? Properly preparing for the interview beforehand is absolutely crucial. Do your research! Interviewers, whether they are alumni or admissions staff, have done a lot of these interviews before. They know an abstract, non-specific answer when they hear it and that will likely signal to them that their school is not your top priority. The most memorable students have the most concrete answers to their questions. DO research the school beforehand, including its mission statement, the colleges within the university (if applicable), the majors you’d be interested in, and some special programs that they offer (e.g., math in the social sciences, public policy courses, undergraduate research summer grants, etc.). It is okay not to know what you will major in on interview day, but it is NOT okay to have zero understanding of what you could major in. Pick some majors or special concentrations that pique your interest, research them in advance, and memorize a few key specifics. Choose some clubs, organizations, or extracurricular opportunities you would want to pursue there. If you visited, mentally bookmark some of your favorite parts of the campus or the tour. These kinds of small details can make you stand out to your interviewer.
- Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it will give you an edge: “My interview went so well and I barely prepared for it”…said no one, ever. While the perfect interview doesn’t exist (because no one is perfect!), a great interview does! A really big part of making sure your interview goes as well as possible is to practice beforehand. Ask your best friend, or your cousin, or an independent college counselor to simulate an interview for you. Write down a list of questions you anticipate the school may ask you (these can vary widely depending on the school and who is interviewing you…and experienced counselors have a database of these!). Try to mimic the interview setting as close as possible—ideally in a quiet room, two chairs facing each other, and no distractions from your phone, your siblings, or the TV in the next room. Do one full-run through and have the mock-interviewer give you feedback on what you did well and what you could work on. For instance, did your answers go on for too long? Did you talk too quickly? Did you fidget (SO common)? Now you know what to keep in-check on interview day.
- Make sure you know why this school stands out: The most commonly-asked interview question is, “Why do you want to attend [insert university here]?” We can’t tell you how frequent this question is, and how frequently unprepared students are to answer it with specific details. This is why it’s important to do your research about the school ahead of time (see point #3). DO discuss a blend of things you like about the school, from academics to particular research centers, extra-curricular organizations, or even specific professors/labs. DO NOT talk about how pretty the campus is (unless you add that on as a bonus), the location of the campus (unless you’re leveraging that answer to talk about how the location feeds into your research or extra-curricular interests—like a public school system you want to volunteer in), or how nice the dorms are. These answers are cosmetic in nature and most interviewers want you to say something more. Feel free to discuss these points, but AFTER you establish your love for the school in more in-depth ways.
- Keep in mind the difference between an alumni interviewer and an admissions staff interviewer: Most schools hold alumni interviews, but some still conduct on-campus interviews with admissions staff members. Alumni interviewers are completely voluntary—that is, they’re doing this because they LOVE the school and want to shape its student body. This means that alumni interviewers 1) are obsessed with their school to the point they’re willing to take time off during the week and/or weekend to talk to high school students about it 2) are untrained and unpaid, so expect a variety of questions depending on the person you get assigned to and 3) really want to share with you their experience, because—and we cannot stress this enough—they love their school. This means alumni interviewers really want to see your enthusiasm. But keep in mind that there is a fine line between true enthusiasm for the school, and disingenuous enthusiasm. Read: be real in your excitement about the school, but don’t overdo it. If you are interviewing with admissions staff, they are vetting you a little more intensely because they likely already saw your application (while most alumni interviewers don’t get that same luxury). Admissions staff members, at the time they are interviewing you, are probably feeling equal parts 1) overwhelmed with applications 2) exhausted and 3) underpaid for all their hard work during this peak season. That means, do your best to be direct and concrete with your answers (while at the same time being your lovely, nice, amazing self). They are more tuned-in to broad, non-specific responses to their questions, so it would be a good idea to up your research game (see above point #3).
- Have a list of questions for the interviewer: Most good interviewers, towards the end of an interview, will ask you whether you have questions for them. Under no circumstances should your response be, “No.” You should always say yes, and have questions at the ready. Good questions for an alumni interviewer would be about their favorite experience at the school, why they picked that school, what their major was like, or what the most challenging class was that they took.
- And when it’s all over…: Thank the interviewer for their time, and if they don’t offer their email address, DO ask them for it in case other questions arise. This is not an odd request, and they will expect it. You should use this email address to send them a thank-you note no later than 3 days after the interview, and, if you have questions, you can ask them a couple of brief follow-up questions. If you get in and decide to attend, it’s also nice to reach out to them to tell them. They want to know!
Keep in mind that interviews vary, and they are generally there to add a human component to the stack of documents you submitted with your application. Be natural, and be yourself. If you prepare in advance and get the right support while you prep, you can minimize the natural nerves that come with this process. Sending you good vibes along your interview journey!