college interview tips

Who is the protagonist in the novel Beloved, by Toni Morrison? Oh wait, that’s a question for an AP Literature class, not a college admissions interview question. Though many students do fret unnecessarily over the interview at Ivy League schools and other selective colleges and believe they need to prepare for it similarly to an AP exam. Like Sethe, the protagonist of Beloved, who is proud, independent, and devoted, all you truly need to do for a college interview is show up and be yourself. You already have all of the answers within you.

To set you at ease, here are some tips about interviewing at the Ivies and other selective colleges:

  • Most highly selective colleges no longer offer on-campus interviews. But if they do, and you want to get one, you likely need to schedule early as they are limited and offered on a first come, first served basis. However, most Ivy League schools offer an alumni interview after the student has submitted her application—but they are not necessarily guaranteed. For alumni interviews, the alumni coordinator in your geographic region will contact the student to schedule an interview. Alumni interviews can vary drastically based on age and personality of the interviewer. Typically, the interview takes place at a local coffee shop or public space.
  • Interviews may be offered in person, on the phone, or virtually (Skype or Google Hangouts are examples). They last between 20 and 40 minutes, and tend to be more conversational than bulleted questions. The interviewer is not trying to trick you, but rather simply wants to learn more about you and why you believe you are a good fit for their university.
  • It’s important to arrive on time, dress appropriately (but no need for formal attire), and plan to go in alone (without a parent or caregiver).
  • Be your authentic self. Your interviewer knows nothing about you in advance. There is no need to bring a resume, a transcript, or a list your accomplishments. Instead, this is a time to focus on what makes you tick, what’s important to you, what you are interested in, and what makes you unique. Go beyond what’s listed on your application. Be prepared to discuss your academic interests, extracurricular activities, possible major or future plans (if known), and what you are looking for in a college. Make sure you know particular details about the program or school you are interviewing for that relate to your personal interests.
  • Make sure to share with your interviewer what might not come out in your application. Maybe a hobby or an outside interest, a grandmother that inspires you every Sunday for two hours, or how you seem to be the one that brings your friends or family together. Share personal qualities or quirks that might not show up as well on paper. Think about what impression you want to leave the interviewer with.
  • Most interviews are used for informational purposes rather than evaluative. The brief write-up either from the admissions officer or the alumnus adds an additional piece to help flush out what can be learned about you from the application, but it is rarely the deciding factor of whether or not you gain admission to the university. Each institution has different policies, so make sure to check each school’s approach to and consideration of interviews.
  • Leave a positive first impression, have informed questions prepared to ask at the end (ones you can’t get answers to on their website or published material), and send a thank you note when you get home—email or handwritten is fine.
  • Students will not be disadvantaged in the admissions process if they do not interview, unless of course the school requires interviews. Again, check the policies for each program at each university you are interested in!

Interviewing at the highly selective schools is above all about being yourself—show the interviewer who you are beyond your application!

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Written by Amy Alexander
Amy Alexander is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Amy received her bachelor's degree from Yale University and her master's degree from Golden Gate University. Prior to joining College Coach, Amy worked as a senior admissions officer at Yale.