Now that you’ve submitted some applications, you are likely to be contacted for interviews at colleges where they are a part of the process.
Interviews are wildly different from every other part of your application – they are a direct interaction between you and another person, and that dynamic changes everything.
There is information that gets shared in conversations that would never come out otherwise, and there are observations about behavior and demeanor that make lasting impressions.
What happens in an interview is so distinctive that it always either helps or hurts; it is never neutral. Below are our top tips to get ready for your interviews.
1. Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
2. Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year
If you have opportunities to do interviews with the colleges on your list, take them! Virtual is fine, they don't have to be in person if your schedule, budget, or global pandemics interfere.
You don't need to go crazy preparing for them. Just keep these six things in mind:
1. Understand the difference between different types of interviews. Is the interview evaluative or merely informational? An interview is "evaluative" if it will become part of your application file — those are the ones that really count. The school website or admissions office should be able to tell you whether it's evaluative or not.
2. Prepare to answer four types of questions. You won't know the specific interview questions ahead of time, but make sure to prepare for questions around four topics:
If you're applying this cycle, you've probably already worked out answers to those questions in your resume and your essays in previous weeks, so you do not have to reinvent the wheel. Here's a chance to work smarter, not harder!
3. Do your homework and have your questions ready. At some point, your interviewer will likely ask you, "Do you have any questions for me?" (Often that happens towards the end of the interview.) Figuring out the right questions to ask your interviewer takes some thought, so think about them in advance. The interview is not the time to ask questions about the admissions process or to ask the most basic questions about the college. Instead, you want to ask questions that actually get to the deeper, more interesting information about the college.
4. Use your best pandemic manners. Given the pandemic, it is more likely than ever that your interview will be conducted on via Zoom or some video conferencing platform. Just because you’ve been Zooming all day every day for months doesn’t mean you’re prepared for a Zoom interview. We like Indeed’s list of tips for how to make your best impression here. If you are asked to do an interview in person, then observe standard pandemic safety protocols — wear a mask and observe social distancing (which obviously means you should not shake hands).
5. Practice. It is easy to practice interviewing. Recruit a parent or a teacher or some other adult to serve as your interviewer. Give them sample interview questions and a sample evaluation form and go for it! Here are some sample questions starting on page 7 of the manual that Claremont McKenna College created for its alumni interviewers — helpfully, it's still floating around on the internet. 😀 Note that there will be variations from school to school, so don't get too fixated on CMC's process.
6. Do the follow-up. Immediately after your interview, write down your impressions and add them to your personal research notes about schools. Send a thank-you letter to your interviewer, and notify the college admissions office that you have had your interview.
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Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.