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8 Tips to Survive the College Admissions Interview

Calendar with interview dateThe following are suggested tips for preparing for the college admissions interview. These are all general recommendations. If you have specific information that applies to a specific college, then certainly go with it. I really don’t think there is one answer for all situations so of course these are suggestions and not rules written in stone. They are based on the experiences with my son and wading through countless websites and college admission books.

Tip 1: Practice

Sit down with another person and have them ask you questions and you practice answering them. You think this feels stupid, you’ll just jot down some ideas and go over them in your head before the interview? Anyone who is a professional at something practices it, you know, people like actors. Even baseball players take batting practice before every game.

Tip 2: Be Smart about Scheduling

Schedule the interviews for colleges that you are certain to get in or don’t really care you get in early. Why? For practice–see above. The more you do, the more comfortable you’ll become.

Tip 3: Dress Up

This is something you’ll find many opinions on and I can in no way claim to be an expert. I will share a few observations I made visiting the 20 plus college campuses with my son who had admission interviews at virtually every single one (see 1 and 2.)

As we moved further east, students dressed more formally for college admission interviews. In Ohio, we saw the first boys in coats and tie. However, I think it was a fluke since I talked to the mother and they were from a private east coast prep school and it sounded like they dressed like that a lot.

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In Pennsylvania, the students seemed to be dressed a little more preppy in general. However, I would still say that shorts and flip-flops outnumbered khakis (it was summer). Granted, the shorts crowd were mostly there for the campus tour but a surprising number did interviews.

None of the schools my son interviewed with had an acceptance rate of less than 40% and would not have been considered elite. He basically wore jeans that weren’t raggedy and a polo shirt I made him tuck-in. I would say this alone made him better dressed than 95% of the other visiting students we saw. I did make him take khakis and a sweater for scholarship interviews but have no idea if he wore them.

My advice, it’s a lot harder to be over-dressed than under-dressed. If you feel the need to express the “authentic you” then you’ll know the colleges that accept you respect the real you and that those colleges where you didn’t get in weren’t places you wanted to go to anyway.

Tip 4: Be Prepared to Answer Questions

Of course, you’ve been practicing answering questions in step one. You can find examples of what questions are likely to be asked in college admissions interviews along with suggested approaches on how to answer them on the internet. I’ve compiled a list of possible questions below.

And there will be some odd ones. One asked my son if he was a cereal, what kind of cereal would he be and why. Not only does my son not eat breakfast, he doesn’t really watch TV except for sports so had a very limited idea of what cereals are available.

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If there is something about you that separates you from most applicants, be prepared to deal with it. In my son’s case, he was a homeschooler and had practice answering questions ranging from academics to socialization.

Tip 5: Be Prepared to Ask Questions

Be prepared to ask questions during the admissions interview. At some point, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions. You should have a list of questions ready to ask. You can even include them in notes that you bring with you.  I have a list of possible questions below.

Make sure they are good questions! What are good questions? A question that can’t be answered by simply looking up the school in a college search website such as the College Board’s Big Future or College Navigator. And they shouldn’t be answered with the first results from entering the question into the search field of the college website.

If you ask questions that are easily answered, the person interviewing can’t help but think that you aren’t serious about the college. After all, if don’t know how big the school is or if it has your major, then how can you really prefer it over other schools?

Tip 6: Take Notes, Bring Notes

As mentioned above, there’s nothing wrong with bringing notes, especially if you have questions that aren’t easily answered and are important to you.

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You don’t have to take notes during the college admissions interview but after the interview be sure to jot down a few observations. These should be enough so that you can remember the person who interviewed you and what, if anything, distinguished it from other interviews. You’ll need this information for number seven.

Tip 7: Write Thank You Notes

Now I know this seems old fashion and in many cases students can get away with sending an email. But it’s not hard to do, four or five sentences will do it, and it separates you from all the other applicants the person interviewed.

Will you be rejected simply because you didn’t send a thank you note? Not likely. But when admission people are trying to pick students to fill out an acceptance list or nominate for scholarships, it makes you easier to remember.

Think about it this. As little as ten minutes can significantly distinguish you from other candidates. Is it not worth your time?

Tip 8: Put Together a Resume

I have to admit, this is something my son didn’t do. It wasn’t something that I pushed since being a homeschooler was pretty much certain to dominate any college admissions interview. And if they ever got past homeschooling, baseball and history were really the only other two activities he had. But for most students, creating a resume will help you in filling out applications and answering interview questions.

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Some people recommend you bring the resume to the interview. I can see where this would be a good idea for alumni interviews. Apparently, some alumni like being able to review a resume quickly since they aren’t always provided with a lot of information by the college before the interview.

I don’t think it’s necessary for an admissions interview. Theoretically, the admissions officer should be aware of the information in your resume. I would expect that they would already have specific questions that they wanted answered before you even show up.

I’m not saying don’t bring a resume. By all means, if you want to bring one, go ahead–I don’t think it can hurt. However, if you don’t’ bring it, you can always use it as a way of following up with the admissions person after the interview. Instead of a basic thank you note, you can send the resume, thank them for the interview, and follow-up with any questions.

College Admission Interview Questions to Answer

Be able to:

  • Name your leadership roles.
  • Explain your strengths and weakness.
  • Describe who is your role model and why.
  • Explain how you will contribute.
  • Name your favorite book/magazine/movie/tv show and why.
  • Explain why this college
  • Name your favorite subject and why.
  • Describe a meaningful experience and why.
  • Explain possible majors/careers and why.
  • Name favorite activities/academic interests and why.
  • List community service experience.
  • Explain what you like/dislike about school
  • Describe what you see yourself doing 10 years from now.
  • Name your proudest achievement.
  • Name your favorite teacher or other important person.
  • Explain what you want out of college.
  • Describe yourself.
  • Explain what is unique about you.
  • Describe what you do for fun.
  • Name your summer activities.
  • Define success.
  • List interests besides academics.
  • Name three adjectives that describe you.
  • Name who is your hero and why.
  • Discuss current events.
  • Name historical figures important to you.
  • Explain who helped you the most.

Questions to Ask During a College Admissions Interview

Freshman Issues

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  • How large are freshman classes?
  • How hard is it for freshman to take upper-division classes?
  • What undergraduate research programs are available? Are they available for freshman?
  • How do freshman register for classes?
  • How are freshman assigned advisors?
  • Is there a freshman orientation and when does it occur?
  • What sort of programs are available to help freshman adjust to college?

For Specific Majors

  • How easy/difficult is it to study abroad?
  • Are internships available? Are they through the department or the campus career center?
  • What kind of advising do _____ majors receive?
  • How large are freshman classes?
  • How hard is it for freshman to take upper-division classes?
  • What undergraduate research programs are available? Are they available for freshman?

Dorms (Be sure to check to see if these aren’t easily answered on the website)

  • How many students per room?
  • What system is used assign rooms?
  • Can freshman get singles?
  • Are there community bathrooms or shared between rooms?
  • What percentage of students live off campus?
  • What specialty dorms/houses are available?
  • Are there learning communities? What kind?

Campus Life

  • What are the most popular spectator sports on campus?
  • What opportunities are there for community service?
  • What do students do for fun on campus?
  • Does the college provide transportation to off campus destinations for shopping or entertainment?
  • Are theater arts or music ensemble productions open to all students or just majors?

Post Graduation

  • What percentage of seniors go directly to grad school or professional school?
  • What services does the career center offer?
  • What employers regularly recruit on campus?
  • How active are alumni in helping students locate jobs/internships?


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  • What do you consider unique about the curriculum or academic experience?
  • What kind of student would be happy/not happy here?
  • What do you think distinguishes this college from other colleges? (If it’s a Liberal Arts College, ask how is it different from other Liberal Arts colleges, if it’s a research university, from other research universities. )

For Alumni

  • How did attending the college affect you?
  • How do stay in contact with other alumni?
  • How do alumni interact with students?
  • What did you like best/least about the school?

8 Tips to Survive the College Admissions Interview

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