Let’s just be honest here, most people don’t love being interviewed. Nevertheless, when given the chance to interview with a prospective college, I always encourage my students to go for it. Interestingly, there are only a handful of schools out there that explicitly require interviewing as part of the admissions process. However, many colleges do offer interviews as optional opportunities for student applicants. Reading this, you might wonder, ‘Why would I subject myself to an interview if it’s not even a requirement?”
First off, while not a requirement, these interviews are still typically highly recommended by the schools that offer them. Also, according to many college admissions counselors, interviews nearly always help the student in terms of admissions chances. You know that you’re more than just a GPA and test score, and an interview is a perfect way to give colleges a deeper look into who you are as a person.
Additionally, taking part in an optional interview demonstrates to the college that you are interested in them. Even though it wasn’t a requirement, you made the effort to set up and take part in the interview. Then, during the interview, you have an opportunity to express your interest in words. Such dialogue will help the interviewer envision you as a student on their campus, which, after-all, is the goal here.
How to Prepare
It’s very important to spend some time preparing for an interview. Start out by doing a brain dump of everything you want the interviewer to learn about you during the interview. For each thing you want to share, come up with an illustration and supporting evidence that paints a clear picture for the interviewer. Look up a list of commonly asked college admissions interview questions and mentally prepare for how you will answer each (examples of such lists can be found here and here). For some students, it’s helpful to write out an answer to each question. The goal here is not to memorize your answers like a script, but to instead be able to visualize responses that are thoughtfully organized. Aim to become fluent in talking about YOU.
Additionally, be sure to spend a significant amount of time learning about the college. Really figure out what about that college makes it a great fit for you, and likewise, what about you makes you a valuable addition to their campus. While your initial research may be broadly focused, you should ultimately be investigating specific departments, courses, faculty members, and student organizations that are directly related to your areas of interest. While doing your research, jot down a few specific questions to ask during your interview.
After all of your prep work, it’s time to rehearse your skills and knowledge. Ideally, you would do this through a mock interview during which someone you know asks you questions in an interview-like set up. However, if this is not possible, it’s perfectly fine to run through some questions while looking in the mirror, or even better, while video recording yourself. No matter how you practice, be on the look-out for nervous behaviors (e.g. twirling hair, pen tapping, fast talking, etc.). Sometimes we don’t realize we’re doing such things until another person kindly points it out or we catch ourselves on camera. If you do notice a nervous habit, it might be helpful to wear a special ring or bracelet during the interview to remind you not to fidget.
What to Wear
You’ll also want to devote some time to choosing an outfit to wear during your interview. When deciding on clothing, think “business casual.” It’s okay to dress up more, but there’s no need for a full-on business suit. Avoid wearing hoodies, gym wear, and jeans and be sure to have a modest neck and hemline. It’s good to wear something that you’re comfortable in and that shows your personality. However, do not wear anything that may be distracting to your interviewer. The focus should be on you, not your clothing.
As you’re planning your outfit, keep in mind that you don’t have to break the bank to be interview-ready. Stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Goodwill all offer great options for finding suitable pieces for your ensemble. Also, please know that it is perfectly acceptable to wear the same exact outfit to every single interview. No one (besides maybe your mom) will know!
Tips for During the Interview
On the day of your interview, allow for plenty of travel time to the location. Arrive at least 15 minutes early so you have a few moments to use the restroom and do a quick look in the mirror. Before entering the interview space, completely turn off and put away all electronic devices, including your cell phone and/or smart watch.
When you greet your interviewer, be sure to have a firm handshake, nice smile, and make eye contact. It’s good to make eye contact throughout the interview, but it’s also perfectly normal to look off to the side from time-to-time. It’s also acceptable to pause for a few seconds before answering a question. After-all, you are a high school student and not a robot.
After the Interview
Before you leave the interview, make sure you’ve gotten a business card or contact information for your interviewer. Then, within 24 hours of the interview, send a thank-you email to express your gratitude for the time spent with you. Also, be sure to take some time to reflect on how the interview went, making note of anything you’d like to work on before the next interview. Even if your first go-around was underwhelming, rest assured that it does get easier with practice and time. Also, take heart in knowing that all of this is really great preparation for future job interviews.