The College Interview: How to Schedule and Prepare

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What You Need to Know for College Interviews

Demonstrated interest—actions you take that help a college gauge how much you want to enroll—is on the rise. More colleges are tracking and assigning value to how much love you show them. As a prospective student, you can show love in a number of ways, and for some colleges, one of the most effective is participating in an interview.

Most college interviews are conducted in the fall of your senior year, but you can schedule some as early as the summer before senior year and as late as February of senior year—sometimes even later. While some interviews are offered on campus, many schools understand that not everyone can make the trip, especially if the school is located far from home. These schools will send college representatives to your area or arrange to have alumni who live close to you conduct the college interview.

Should you, or shouldn’t you?

If you are fine with the idea of interviewing, then scheduling an appointment could work in your favor. It could very well give admissions a sure sign that you are interested in their school. You never know when that demonstrated interest will be enough to keep your application in the mix. Not only that, an interview could demonstrate your communication and presentation skills, giving the school of your choice more reasons to admit you.

What if interviewing isn’t your strong suit? Well, your options are to practice your interview skills or simply not schedule one at all. If interviewing isn’t your strength and you feel that it wouldn’t really add anything to your application—or could perhaps even detract from it—don’t sign up for one. It’s quite rare for a college to actually require an interview (although a few do, such as Georgetown University), and there are some colleges that don’t offer interviews at all (such as Boston College, UNC Chapel Hill, and schools in the University of California system). So don’t stress out if interviewing just isn’t your thing.

Setting up the interview

When it comes to setting up a college interview, many schools will reach out to you after you’ve applied—so you may not even have to call them. For example, you don’t have to contact Tufts or Penn to schedule an interview, and actually, they don’t want you to call. They have a policy of “Don’t call us; we’ll call you.” Be patient and make sure to regularly check your e-mail or, in the case of some schools, log in to your admissions portal.

No need to worry if schools never contact you. Many schools can’t guarantee an interview to every applicant because of logistics, due to the number of applicants and limitations of time, locations, and scheduling. Not getting contacted for an interview is not a comment on your application’s status and colleges won’t fault you for it (although you do lose any advantage your stellar interview would have provided).

There are other schools, however, who consider it your job to contact them and set up an appointment. In those cases, you should either register online or simply call or e-mail the admissions office. For example, Swarthmore College, Occidental College, and University of Chicago request that you contact them to schedule an interview.

Preparing for the interview

Always prepare before the interview—ideally in a mock college interview scenario with someone you don’t already know. That way, you must go through the awkwardness of talking about your strengths and passions with a stranger, and that stranger can give you objective feedback on the first impression you make since they don’t have the benefit of knowing who you are.

Two types of interviews

In college admissions, there are two types of interviews—evaluative and informational. Regardless of what type of interview is expected of you, this is your chance to make a face-to-face impression, so you should assume you’re being evaluated anytime you’re interacting with someone who is representing the school you want to attend.

  1. Evaluative admissions interview

The evaluative interview is designed to actually assess you and what you can contribute to a campus community. They’ll be looking for things such as character, communication skills, genuineness, poise, and personality. Because it’s a formal part of your application, it plays an essential role in your overall package. The admissions committee may review the interviewer’s notes or they might calculate a numerical value to give your application a certain number of points, or they could do both.

The interview is often conducted by someone in admissions but could also be conducted by a faculty member, especially if you’re applying to a specialized academic program such as engineering or theatre. Alternatively, an alumnus might interview you. Sometimes even a current student could be the one conducting the interview. That’s what they do at the College of William and Mary.

Few schools require an evaluative interview—most just offer it as an option or at most will strongly recommend it. In my opinion, “strongly recommended” means “required” in college admissions. In those cases, it’s almost always in your best interest to participate in the interview. Wake Forest University, Wesleyan University, and Washington and Lee University are schools that strongly recommend an evaluative interview.

  1. Informational college interview

The informational interview is really designed for you to learn more about the school, but you would do well to treat it as an evaluative one. In an informational interview, you can expect the onus to be on you as far as driving the conversation with questions, so come prepared to do so. Even though it’s technically non-evaluative, you never know who that person sitting across from you is. Maybe it’s the Dean of Admissions or a professor who has a role on the admissions committee! It’s impossible to determine exactly what impact their impression of you will have on your application, so just assume you’re being evaluated and present your very best self. Tulane University, Clemson University, and the University of Pittsburgh are examples of colleges that offer informational interviews.

The takeaway

The takeaways here are (1) know the college’s interview policy, (2) treat all interviews as evaluative, and (3) prepare for them in a deliberate manner. It’s best to assume that the interviews you give could give your college application the edge you need to set it apart from the rest of the pack.

Have questions? Want to get started today? Let’s chat: jknox@prepmatters.com.

Jeff Knox

Counselor

As an education planning resources counselor, Jeff Knox guides both middle school and high school students through their educational careers with an aim toward admissions to selective institutions. His resourceful one-on-one approach to admissions planning encourages students to strategically develop their academic interests and talents and to create a compelling narrative, whether applying for...

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