After completing eight college interviews for this year’s round of Regular Decision applications, I hope that other students and future applicants will find the following tips and tricks insightful and helpful in their own college journey.
Tip 1 — Where to Interview First
While interviews can be daunting at first, the more you complete, the less intimidating they become. After a few interviews, you start to get a sense of the routine and flow of the conversation. You typically start by introducing yourself, and then the interviewer asks you questions. At the end of the call, you then have the opportunity to ask the interviewer questions about their relation to and experience at the school. While going into your first interview can seem scary, most interviewers understand the nervousness you might feel. Be gracious with yourself, and if you willingly signed up for an interview, be proud that you took another step toward getting familiar with the school.
Nevertheless, a helpful tip I was told during my time of doing interviews was to schedule interviews with your safety schools first and your reach schools last. This is a smart strategy, as you can get familiar with how interviews tend to unfold and become more comfortable with the interview process with lower-stakes schools first, and by the time you get to your top schools, you will most likely be less nervous.
Tip 2 — Prepared Answers
In a typical interview, the three main topics you should be prepared to discuss are extracurriculars, why this school and probable major. Extracurriculars took up a large portion of my interviews, as I had many things outside of my academics to share with the interviewers. These hobbies tell the school a lot about the student, as it shows demonstrated interest in areas outside of the classroom. For example, if you are interested in biology and started a YouTube channel dedicated to teaching others about your findings, it shows your passion and dedication to a certain topic. Additionally, this leads into how you would contribute to your future college campus and why you would like to make this contribution to this specific school.
To elaborate on this point, let’s stick with the example of biology. After researching a college (more about this later), try visualizing yourself in its biology club. Think about how you could raise funding for new microscopes and contribute to the school’s focus on undergraduate research. By immersing yourself in these experiences, you can amplify the joy and passion that biology ignites within you.
This discussion may segue into the major you aspire to pursue. It is important to know the programs that the institution offers, as this knowledge will guide you toward the major (and possibly minor) you will most likely choose. Keep in mind that declaring a major during the admissions process is usually not a binding commitment (though I believe there are some exceptions with applying into a major at a school) — many students change their major in college! However, I would not recommend stating you are undecided, as that may reflect a lack of enthusiasm for the institution’s offerings.
Tip 3 – Research
A crucial aspect of preparing for a college interview is simply knowing the college. It is unlikely that you will ever know more about the school than the individual who is interviewing you, but knowing basic (and hopefully more detailed) facts is a key step to completing a college interview successfully. Basic facts to know about the school would be its state, the community (whether it’s in a rural, urban or suburban area), the size and the major you would like to pursue, as some colleges don’t offer certain ones, or the name of the major might be different from one school to the next.
Niche is a helpful website for discovering more about the school you are getting interviewed for. You search for the school in the search bar, and it takes you to a page that holds a plethora of information about the institution. The site provides an overall “grade” for the college, which is determined based on factors such as diversity, campus, academics and more. You can also see the college’s ranking in specific categories such as “best college food” or “best colleges for nursing.” On Niche, you can access information about the majors offered by the college, the number of students enrolled in each program, the number of online programs available and what students do after graduation, among other things. After exploring the site and gathering information about the college, you may find it easier to form thoughtful questions for the interview. Additionally, reading reviews from past students in the “Reviews” section of the site will give you an insight into what they thought of the institution.
Tip 4 – Questions
In correlation to research, questions are yet another crucial part of the interview process. Asking questions during an interview demonstrates your interest in learning more about the institution you hope to soon call home (even if you are interviewed for a safety school) and offers you the opportunity to gather valuable information about the school. However, asking questions is not just about showing your continued interest to the interviewer; it truly benefits you. This is your chance to ask the admissions officer about that computer science summer internship opportunity, the alumni about their experience in the study abroad program and the current senior about the social scene on campus. Ask about the dining hall food, the facilities, the student’s favorite courses they took. Use your interview as another way to confirm your desire to attend the school — and if you find out later that you are less enthusiastic about it, it’s good that you asked questions before committing.
As I have completed interviews with admissions officers, alumni and seniors, here are some guiding questions for each of the interviewers you may encounter:
- How strong is the alumni network?
- What sort of career planning services are available at the college?
- What is something that makes you really proud to work at this university?
- Are there any unique independent study or research opportunities for undergraduates?
- What do students pursuing a [your major] typically do once they graduate?
- What did you love most about your college that you think other colleges may not offer?
- How did going to this school help you get to where you are today?
- What was your favorite activity or club?
- What would you have done differently during your college experience?
- Why do you choose to remain connected to the school through conducting interviews?
- What traditions does the school have that you enjoy?
- How did your experience at this school differ from your expectations?
- What do you love most about the campus community?
- What advice would you give yourself as an incoming freshman?
- What is one class you recommend all students take?
If any of the interviewer’s answers to these questions can lead to another one, take the opportunity to dive deeper into their answer! Remember that your interviewers are people as well, and contributing to a smooth and engaging conversation will put both you and your interviewer at ease, creating a pleasant atmosphere that will make the interview process more enjoyable for everyone involved.