How Do I Set up a College Interview?

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The importance of demonstrated interest – actions you take that help a college gauge how likely it is that you will enroll – is on the rise. More colleges are systematically 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 admissions interview.

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

Setting up the interview

When it comes to setting up an 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 admission office. For example, Swarthmore College, Occidental College, and University of Chicago request that you contact them to schedule an interview.

Should you, or shouldn’t you?

But 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.

On the other hand, 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, which would give the school of your choice more reasons to admit you.

Preparing for the interview

Even if interviewing is your thing, always prepare before the interview, ideally in a mock interview scenario with someone you don’t already know. That way you have to 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.

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 prepare carefully. It’s a good idea to always assume that you’re being evaluated any time you’re interacting with someone who is representing the school you want to attend.

1. Evaluative Admissions Interview

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The evaluative interview is designed to assess you and what you can contribute to a campus community. The interviewer will be looking for things such as character, communication skills, genuineness, poise, and personality. Because it’s a formal part of your application, this interview plays an essential role in your overall package. The admissions committee may review the interviewer’s notes or they might calculate a numerical value and assign a certain number of points to your application, 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-ese,” so in those cases, it’s almost always in your best interest to participate. Wake Forest University, Wesleyan University, and Washington and Lee University are schools that strongly recommend an evaluative interview.

2. 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 might be. 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 that person’s 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 takeaways here are these:

  1. Know the college’s interview policy
  2. Treat all interviews as evaluative
  3. Prepare for them in a deliberate manner

It’s best to assume that the interviews you give could provide your college application with the edge it needs to set it apart from the rest of the pack.

Looking for more college interview tips and strategies? Click here!

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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