How to Prepare for a College Interview | Tips + FAQs

April 25, 2024
9 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/25/24

College interviews are a common element of the college application process. Read on to get an insider scoop on college interview questions and tips to ensure you ace your interview. 

The college application process can be stressful for many students. You have to gather materials, take the SAT or ACT, write essays, and secure strong recommendation letters, all while balancing your daily activities. On top of all these requirements, some schools also offer college interviews. 

Interviews can be nerve-racking for college hopefuls: What do you expect? How do you prepare? What if the interviewer throws a curveball, and I’m not prepared? If you’ve had any of these nagging thoughts cross your mind, we're here to put them at ease. 

In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the purpose of these interviews and tips for college interviews. Read on to learn how to present your best and most prepared self on interview day.

The Purpose of a College Interview

College interviews give you the opportunity to show off your personality and fit for the school in ways your application can’t. The more information you give to your interviewer about why you’re an excellent candidate means more information for admissions committees to make informed decisions about your application. 

Interviews are also excellent opportunities to learn more about the school and what it’s really like to learn there. You can ask specific questions you can’t readily find online about campus culture, specific courses, and other topics related to campus life. 

Remember, you’ll likely spend four years learning on campus: make sure you’ll enjoy your time as an undergraduate. 

College interviews also help demonstrate your interest in the school. Think about it: you probably wouldn’t be as keen to take time out of your day or travel for an interview if you weren’t interested in the school. 

Demonstrating interest helps colleges understand you’re likely to choose the school if you’re accepted. Mark J. Drozdowski, a professor at John Hopkins University and a University of Pennsylvania alumnus, said Penn alumni interviewed 96% of first-year applicants last year. 

You may be thinking that the percentage is incredibly high, given UPenn’s interviews are optional. However, Drozdowski says, “Turning down the offer naturally wouldn't send a positive message about one's interest in attending.” 

College interviews are beneficial for you and the school your interviewer represents. Take the opportunity to demonstrate interest, get your questions answered, and show why you’re an excellent fit!

Which Colleges Offer Interviews? 

Many of the nation’s top colleges, including most Ivy League schools, offer interviews, often with alumni, educational counselors, or admissions officers. Here’s a list of the top schools: 

These are just some of the top schools offering interviews. Always check the websites of the schools you apply to and see if they offer interviews or if you need to request one. Note also that many schools do not offer interviews on campus.

Tips for College Interviews 

You’ll want to ensure you’re bringing your best on interview day. These college interview tips will help you put your best foot forward! 

Wait for The School to Contact You About an Interview 

Wait to be contacted for an alumni interview

It can be tough to wait to see if you’ll be offered an interview, but many schools ask that you don't contact the admissions office about an interview. Wait for them to contact you. In the meantime, you can look up the interview process on the school’s website to get an idea of what to expect.

However, you should double-check that you don’t need to schedule an interview yourself. If you do need to request an interview, there’s still a chance an interviewer may not be available for you. 

Try not to fret if you’re not offered an optional interview: it won’t impact your candidacy.

Do Your School Research 

Do your research before a college interview

School research is a crucial part of getting ready for your interview. Doing your research shows you care to know more about the school before the interview and shows you’re serious about attending. 

Mickey Metzman, a University of Pennsylvania alumnus and interviewer, says, "We want to know that [the students have] done their homework and that they know the school. It's always a plus if they can demonstrate that they've dug deep into the [school] website.” 

While you don’t have to start listing off facts about the school’s history, try to weave some of your findings into how you answer questions and how elements of the school can help you reach your goals. For example, you can share clubs or courses you’re interested in taking or other ways you’re excited to contribute to the school’s culture. 

Know What Types of Questions Your Interviewer Will Ask 

Be prepared for the types of questions you will be asked during a college alumni interview

Your interviewer may ask you many types of questions related to your personal and educational life. If you have interviewed or are going to interview for a scholarship, you may recognize some similar questions. Drozdowski says there are seven questions he likes to ask when he interviews potential students: 

  • Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? 
  • What are your favorite core subjects or courses? 
  • What is your favorite part of your school experience outside of class? 
  • How do you spend your time when you’re not in school? 
  • What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome? 
  • What are your long-term goals? 
  • Why do you want to go to this school, and what draws you to the program you’ve applied to? 

The College Board offers more common interview questions your interviewer may ask: 

  • What can you contribute to our college campus? 
  • What three adjectives best describe you? 
  • What are your weaknesses and strengths? 
  • What activities do you find most rewarding? 
  • What is your favorite book? 
  • What do you want to do after you graduate from college? 
  • What’s your opinion on X current news topic? 
  • If you could change one thing about your school, what would it be? 

Your interviewer may not ask you every single one of these questions verbatim. Still, it’s best to be prepared to talk about your background, family life, aspirations, hobbies and activities, your personality, and how you see the world. 

Give Your Answers Substance, But Don’t Rehearse 

Image saying that you should prepare for your interview, but not over-rehearse

Given the examples above, you can begin to think about how you want to answer interview questions beforehand. Consider situations, events, or anecdotes that would answer your interviewer’s question while showing your personality. 

However, don’t fall into the trap of rehearsing your answers. Sounding like you’re reading a script can make your answers sound robotic and even insincere, and you certainly don’t want to come across that way. It's enough to have an idea of what you’ll say in response: you don’t have to flesh out all the specifics before you sit down to interview. 

Mind Your Manners 

Image outlining how to mind your manners during an interview

Minding your manners is excellent advice for pretty much anything you do in life, but it’s essential in your interview. Stay conversational yet professional. You probably don’t want to tell your interviewer anything that you’d only say in the company of your closest friends. 

Arriving on time is a crucial part of showing your professionalism. No one likes to wait around, wondering if the other person will show up. If you’re participating in a virtual interview, ensure your technology is ready to go before your interview time. If you’re meeting in person, search the route and aim to be at the meeting place 10 to 15 minutes early. 

Also, thank the interviewer for their time when you leave. Remember, they’re doing you a service, too: through them, you can get first-hand opinions about the school you want to attend. 

It’s also good etiquette to send a thank-you email as a follow-up soon after the interview is over. This will show the interviewer that you value their time and appreciated the conversation you had. 

Dress Well, But Leave the Suit or Ball Gown At Home 

Even if you have an outfit that you’ve been dying to wear out, your interview isn’t the place to try out an outlandish or high-couture outfit. Your attire also shouldn’t be an outfit you routinely wear around the house that you’ve spilled coffee and ramen on about 20 times. Balance is key! 

For your college interview outfit, you’ll want to avoid flip-flops, sneakers, open-toed shoes, “revealing” clothing, shorts and short skirts, hats, and college-branded apparel. Aim to look professional and put together without going over the top (or going well below professional). 

A clean button-down shirt or nicer top with structured pants or khakis could work, or skirts and dresses if you prefer. Whatever you decide to wear, ensure it’s clean and appropriate!

Don’t Start Summarizing Your Application

Don't summarize your application, instead, discuss things that will help your interviewer know more about you

Your interview is meant to complement your application, not rehash it. 

Georgetown University alumnus Ray Esposito said, “The university knows what your SAT scores are, what your GPA is, [and] what your grades are in class. The purpose of the interview is to tell us more about yourself. What makes you tick? Why do you want to come here? What interests you? What are your passions?” 

Your interviewer likely won’t ask about your GPA or SAT scores to begin with: these interviews help universities gain a more quantitative analysis of why you’re the perfect candidate. 

Leave Your Parents At Home 

Don't bring your parents to a college interview. That shows maturity, independence, and responsibility

Schools have varying policies about parents and interviews. However, it’s probably in your best interest to leave your parents or guardians at home. One of the reasons you should go alone is to show interviewers you’re mature, responsible, and capable enough to do things yourself without your parents. 

The second reason is that being frank with your interviewer can be difficult if your parents are in the room. Your parents being there can add even more pressure to your interview. Remember, this interview is all about you: “College is about learning to be independent, and the interview is one of the first places where you can show that you're up for the challenge.”

Show a Little Excitement 

Demonstrate a little excitement

While you don’t have to run into your interview doing cartwheels and handstands, you want to ensure you don’t look bored or like you’d rather be doing something else, somewhere else: people can sense that. 

Anu Reddy, a Duke University alumna and interviewer, said, "If [the students are] only answering 'yes' or 'no,' it doesn't really give us a feel for who they are, their … intellectual curiosity, what they're excited about—we don't get to know that.” Ensure your answers are thoughtful and that you stay engaged in your interview. 

Understand the Vibe of the Interview and Interviewer and Adapt 

Adapt to the vibe of the interview

Typically, your interviews will feel less like interrogations and more like conversations. However, the “vibe” of the interview can change depending on its setting and your interviewer's personality. If you’re meeting a 40-something interviewer in a swanky building downtown, your interview may look different than your interview with a 20-something alumni meeting you at a small cafe. 

While this shouldn’t change how you behave too much, it’s best to be mindful of it. 

Ask Your Interviewer Questions 

Ask questions to your college alumni interviewer

This may be the most important tip: ask your interviewer your burning questions! Part of the reason you’re doing this is to learn more about the school, and online research can only get you so far.

Drozdowski said he hopes students “ask why I chose the university, whether it met my expectations, what I enjoyed most and least about my time there, and if and how my education prepared me for the world.” 

You can, of course, ask other questions as well, especially if you’re interviewing with an alum. Maybe you want to know more about the food, your interviewers' favorite nearby hang-out spot when they attended, what their favorite classes were, or anything other queries that can’t be satisfied by an online search. 

FAQs: College Interviews 

If you still have questions about college interviews, check out these answered FAQs. 

1. The School I Applied to Didn’t Contact Me for An Interview. Why? 

If you didn’t have to request a formal interview, there might not have been enough interviewers available. Don’t worry: if you’re not contacted for an interview, it won’t impact your application. 

2. What To Wear to a College Interview? 

Your college interview outfit should be smart and professional but not overly formal. The safest move is to dress in a business casual style

3. What To Bring to a College Interview?

The best items to bring to your college interview are: 

  • Your resume (multiple copies) 
  • A notebook and pen
  • Your prepared questions for the interviewer
  • Your SAT/ACT scores
  • Your high school transcript 
  • Your phone (be sure it’s on silent!) 

Not all of these items are strictly necessary, but they’re still good to have, just in case. 

4. How Do I Navigate Questions I’m Unprepared for? 

If your interviewer throws a question at you that you’re unprepared for, don’t immediately try to jump into a jumbled answer. Take a breath, pause, and answer the question to the best of your ability. 

5. Where Can I Get Interview Help? 

It’s normal to be a little nervous about college interviews. If you want to ensure you ace the interview, consider practicing with an admissions consultant. They can help you identify interviewing strategies, develop questions to ask your interviewer, and more. 

6. What Questions Should I Ask In a College Interview? 

In a college interview, you can ask questions about: 

  • Academics
  • Career
  • Campus social life
  • School culture

It’s a good idea to avoid questions regarding your application, unprofessional questions, or critical questions. 

7. If the Interview Is Optional, Do I Have To Do It? 

Anything labeled “optional” is never something you have to do. However, we recommend you participate in an interview if it’s available to you. While most schools will say you won’t be at a disadvantage if you choose not to interview, participating can help reiterate why you’re an excellent candidate. Don’t pass up the opportunity! 

You’re Ready to Ace Your College Interview

Participating in a college interview is a typically more relaxed and conversational experience. However, you should still show professionalism, have an idea of the questions they may ask, and be ready with your own questions to ask. 

Remember, college interviews can help you determine if you're a good fit for the school and can help reaffirm why you're an excellent candidate. Good luck with your interviews!

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