college interview

How to Prep for the College Interview

January 19, 2020

As juniors start to schedule their college visits this spring, it is important to take advantage of all opportunities to tell your story throughout the admissions journey. If a college offers an on-campus interview or alumni interview opportunity, definitely take advantage of it. Every chance you get to share your story, highlight your successes and articulate why you are a fit for a particular school, is a worthwhile exercise.

In order to prepare for the college interviews, we asked Kate Sonnenberg, a former application reader at Princeton and an independent educational consultant for Montclair-based KS College Success, to share her tips with us on prepping for an interview below.

prep for college interview
Courtesy of Unsplash

While the thought of going on a college interview – whether with an admissions officer or alum – can be daunting, here are some tips that may calm your nerves and even make the interview process fun!

Evaluative or Informative Interviews

1)The first thing to remember is that the interview is not a test; there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. This is true whether the interview is evaluative or informative, although clearly with the former you may feel even more at stake with the interview. Either way, think of the interview is an opportunity for your story to come alive, a conversation where you can tell a story about who you are as a person.

2) That said, it is always helpful to prepare, especially if it is your first interview or if you are prone to nerves. I recommend “deliberate” practice – sitting down with someone (mom, dad, sibling) and taping the interview with your phone or iPad. Watch yourself back. Are you sitting up straight? Are you making eye contact? Is your tone appropriate? While you want to come across as confident and accomplished, you also want to be humble.

3) I also recommend preparing an “opener” and a “closer.” Many interviews start with an open-ended question: “tell me about yourself.” Have a ready answer. Your opener can be “I love reading books” or “skiing is my passion” – it just needs to be authentic and something that you can talk about. So, don’t say you love reading books if you do not read books outside of class and don’t say “skiing is your passion” if your only experience was the school trip last weekend. Be prepared for follow-up questions: what is your favorite book and why? What about skiing sings to you? You opened the door, so be prepared to talk about the topic.

4) As for a “closer,” many interviews end with, “do you have any other questions or is there anything else you want to share?” The worse possible response: “no, I’m good,” or some variation on that. Try instead, “thank you so much for your time. I am really excited about attending X college.” Being polite and reiterating your interest in the school goes a long way.

5) In terms of paper or notes: you should not have any paper in front of you unless it is one piece of paper with one or two questions you want to make sure to ask. Oh, as for those pesky questions: don’t ask a question where the answer can be found on-line and avoid, at all costs, canned questions. I am always impressed with a student who asks me how I think the college has changed since I attended it or what I majored in – something that shows some interest in me and allows me the opportunity to tell a little story myself.

6) I also recommend being prepared to talk about one academic interest, one extracurricular interest and one personal story that speaks to your character. You don’t want to prepare a script – definitely no scripts! – but give some thought to what these interests are. You want to say more than “history is my favorite subject;” be prepared to discuss a topic in history that has piqued your interest for further exploration in college.

7) Bring a resume to give to the interviewer. This can be helpful if you are meeting with an alum, as they will probably have very little information about you in advance of the meeting. If you are meeting with an admissions officer, by contrast, they probably have already reviewed your file and know a bit about you. You may have even uploaded your resume with your common app.

8) Also remember that an interview is all about impressions, and impressions start before you actually meet for the interview. This means you must respond quickly to an email from an interviewer about scheduling the interview, and you must respond in full sentences, with proper grammar, proper punctuation and proper capitalization.

Interview Attire

Dress smartly for the interview – sneakers are OK as long as they are clean, but I recommend against blue jeans and definitely nothing with holes and tears.

Thank You Notes

Remember that impressions also last after the interview. While I am a huge believer in the value of a handwritten thank you note, many interviewers will write up their reports shortly after the interview. For this reason, I recommend sending a thank you email within a couple of hours of the interview. Again, full sentences are critical. The “thank you” can be short, but it is nice if you can say something specific about the conversation, such as “I really enjoyed talking about my passion for rockets,” or whatever the case may be. If you feel compelled, you can also follow-up the thank you email with a handwritten, mailed letter. This is especially useful if you are meeting with a college admissions officer, as the note will get added to your application file.

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Kate Sonnenberg, Author

Kate Sonnenberg is an independent educational consultant for Montclair-based KS College Success. Prior to launching her own consulting company, she was an application reader at Princeton University’s admissions office where she read thousands of undergraduate applications. Kate also volunteered for nearly a decade with the Princeton University Alumni Schools Committee and chaired the committee that interviewed students in northern New Jersey. She has also taught legal writing in law school and English composition at the National University of Singapore.

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