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How to Prepare for College Interviews

Written by Miriya Huie, University of California San Diego, College Contact Counselor


It’s time for you to interview your college of choice! Or, time to be interviewed by them? The specifics can vary from school to school, but the important thing is that you get more exposure to the university of your dreams.


Still, it’s very important that you know what you’re getting into when signing up for (or declining to opt out of) a college interview. How do you best present yourself? Do you need to prepare?


Here are some things to consider before your interview!


1. Find out what kind of interview you’re attending.


Most colleges have alumni interviewing prospective students, but that’s not always the case! My interview with Columbia University was with a current undergraduate student who had only been on campus for less than a year due to COVID. Even amidst alumni, it feels very different if you’re interviewing with Princeton’s alumni committee or with an Emory graduate who recently attended his 40 year reunion. 


Figuring out who you might interview with helps you know what to expect. Interviewing with a current student is much less formal and operates more as a way for the applicant to ask questions about the school. Alumni interviews tend to have more give and take, letting the interviewer ask questions of the student before the student has a chance to ask theirs. 


Either way, a quick Google search is a good idea before your interview. For plenty of schools, you can even find a rough idea of what questions you’ll be asked!



2. Be aware of how you come across.


In my experience, interviewers are more curious about who you are than how you answer their questions. They want to get a sense for what kind of person you are and for if you’d fit in at their campus. 


Think about what part of yourself you want to present. It’s impossible to get to know someone inside and out in just one interview, so it’s best to focus on one specific aspect you really want to get across. Do you want to seem calm and collected? Energetic and friendly? Determined and precise? Once you have an idea, you can keep that in mind throughout the interview.


Subtleties do get noticed in interviews. Even through Zoom, my Princeton interviewer commented on my good posture; I noticed how my Columbia undergrad was interviewing me with an unmade bed in center stage of his background. Take the time to get into the right mindset to present your best self. From there, answer honestly and confidently as possible.



3. Have at least one specific question prepared.


While it’s definitely important to ask any general questions you have about the school (ex. “What’s it like living at [University]?”), I recommend coming prepared with at least one question that specifically connects to the college you’re interviewing with. 


Ask them about their open curriculum or the town they’re located in. Interviews are sometimes included in calculations of student interest, and just like a “Why this school?” essay, you want to make it very clear that you’re interested if you are. 


Having a question prepared also helps avoid that awkward moment where they ask if you have any questions and you draw a blank. It’s good to have at least one to show engagement and curiosity, even if you already know most of what you end up hearing.



With all those things considered, you’re ready for your interview! While they might seem stressful, college interviews aren’t the end all be all of applications. Most of my interviewers let me know at the beginning or end of the interview that they had very little ability to personally sway my application either way. Still, presenting yourself well and getting any information you might want out of the interview certainly won’t hurt your chances of acceptance, and it’ll help your decision of where to attend if you do get accepted!

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