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Guide to College Interviews: College Interview Questions, Tips, & More

a high school student sits in a chair and smiles during a college interview

You're applying to college! Should you schedule an interview if the college offers them? Interviews typically aren't required for undergraduate admission but can be a helpful part of the process of finding the college that's right for you. 

Here's why college interviews are important, how they work, and how to prepare so that you make the best impression possible and get the most out of the opportunity.

Do college interviews matter?

Many schools don't offer interviews, so start by looking at websites or calling the admissions office before a campus visit. At some colleges, interviews are "evaluative," at others, they're merely informational. Even when they factor into the admissions decision, interviews tend to carry much less weight than the transcript, extracurricular activities, etc.

According to Amy Romm Lockard, founder of Dovetail College Consulting in Portland, Oregon, the interviews that matter most are with "colleges that track demonstrated interest, any colleges that require an interview for admission to the university at large or a particular major/program, and interviews conducted by the college's admissions officers."

As you consider interviewing, keep the big picture of your college search and application strategy top of mind. Be sure you're using your time wisely and well. Keeping your grades up and your life in balance is a higher priority. Seek interviews only at schools that really interest you — don't spread yourself too thin. 

In addition, consider whether an interview plays to your personal strengths. Is this something you'll look forward to, or is it the type of experience you dread? You don't have to be an extrovert. Still, a successful college interview depends on your confidence in expressing your thoughts and personality during a conversation with someone you've never met in a situation that may feel intimidating (even if the interviewer is likely to bend over backward to put you at ease). 

Samantha Bartek, Community Outreach Director at My College Planning Team in Naperville, Illinois, encourages prospective students to participate in interviews whenever possible. "First impressions matter, and interviewing with an admissions officer or alumni is part of that first impression. Interviews give representatives a chance to learn about you outside of the application, as well as giving you a great opportunity to learn more about the school."

What types of college interviews are there?

Interviews can take place on campus and in person with a member of the admissions staff (usually scheduled on the same day you take a tour and attend an information session) or virtually if you cannot visit campus. Many schools offer interviews with alumni or set up interview days in a hotel or other venue when staff travel to other parts of the country for college fairs and high school visits.

Some schools, like Colorado College in Colorado Springs, offer optional informational interviews with either a current student or alum to prospective students who've already participated in an on-campus or virtual information session. Again, this sort of interview isn't required and is not evaluative — it's just a chance to ask more questions and get a better feeling for the college.

On the subject of alumni interviews, after applications are submitted, a school may invite an applicant to schedule an interview with a local alum. This doesn't necessarily mean you're a top candidate; it may just mean the college has alumni/alumnae in your area available to talk to you.

Amy from Dovetail College Consulting points out that an alumni interview won't "matter" in the same way one with an admissions officer might, but "alumni can provide input to the colleges after interviewing prospective students." This type of interview is a unique chance to find out what the school's graduates do in the real world following graduation.

How to prepare for a college interview

Start by doing research. Explore the school's website and review the notes you took if you already made a campus visit. "Consider why you want to attend," advises Samantha. Reflect on your goals for your college education. What interests you most about this school's academic programs, location, campus culture, etc.? Amy suggests reading up on the curriculum and resources specific to your field(s) of interest and areas of concern to first-year students, such as housing and social life.

Leave time to practice! Make a list of practice interview questions (see below) and brainstorm responses — "a few bullet points for each question," Amy recommends. Be ready to talk about academics and extracurriculars, who you are, and what makes you tick. Amy emphasizes: "You want to grow comfortable answering questions about yourself, as those are often the most difficult questions for anyone to answer." (More on that below!)

Practice asking and answering the interview questions aloud to yourself. When you feel pretty fluent with your responses, ask a friend or family member to role-play with you. Request that your mock interviewer simply read the question and give you time to answer. You don't need comments at the moment but may ask for feedback later. The goal is to express yourself comfortably — to be relaxed, poised, and focused on the person sitting across from you.

Keep things in perspective. You will likely have a few stumbles and an awkward pause or two during an interview. While you hope to limit "ums" and "likes," no one's expecting you to be as polished as a late-night talk show host. Inevitably, you'll be asked a question or two that you didn't prepare for, so be ready with a preliminary response such as, "That's an interesting question — may I take a minute to think about it?"

How to answer the "tell me about yourself" question

Because you will get asked this! The idea is to offer something new (i.e., not on your transcript) and be authentic. "Schools genuinely want to know about you — what makes you who you are," Samantha from My College Planning Team says. "As long as you are being your truest self, and that shines through, you're on the right track!"

Amy from Dovetail College Consulting agrees. "This is your opportunity to share who you are as a person and provide context that won't be on your application. Mention an academic area that genuinely excites you and explain how you've gone beyond class textbooks and lectures to explore it further. Talk about your hobbies and passions, your personality, and what you are grateful for in your life."

Other common college interview questions

As you prepare for the interview, it's helpful to think about common topics, not just specific questions, so you're ready to speak even if the question is worded differently than one you've practiced for. Here are ten common college interview questions:

  1. Why are you interested in attending this college?
  2. What do you plan to study/major in, and why? (It's OK to be undecided, but prepare to explain how you intend to explore and compare options during your first year of college.)
  3. Why is our college the right place for you to pursue your education?
  4. What's been your favorite class so far in high school? What's your least favorite class/subject?
  5. Tell me about an academic challenge you faced and how you handled it.
  6. What do you like to do in your free time?
  7. What's the best book you've ever read? What do you read or listen to just for fun?
  8. What's your greatest personal strength? Weakness?
  9. Where do you see yourself in five/10 years?
  10. Is there anything else you'd like to share with me?

What questions should I ask the interviewer?

When the interview is about to wrap up, you'll want to ask your interviewer some questions too. Here are a few to consider:

  • What sets this school apart from its peer institutions?
  • What makes you proud to be affiliated with this school?
  • What's a common challenge first-year students face, and how do they get past it?

Questions can also be specific to your desired course of study, such as: 

  • Can you tell me more about your ______ program?
  • What opportunities are available for students in that department regarding internships, job placement, etc.?

It makes sense to consider who your interviewer is and what types of questions they're best prepared to answer. If you know who will conduct your interview, "researching your interviewer ahead of time makes it easy to come up with questions for them about their academic and professional journeys," Amy says. (Admissions officer profiles may be on the college website, or you can check their LinkedIn profile.) "Look for places where your upcoming college or professional journey overlaps with theirs. Did they study abroad? Intern, somewhere you're curious about?"

If an alum will interview you, you might ask, "What's the best way to utilize the college's alumni network after graduation?" Talking to a current student? You might ask, "How did you find your place in the college community?" or "What do you wish you'd known about the college or the first-year experience before you started?"

What to wear to a college interview

Whether the interview is in person or virtual, business casual is the appropriate attire. This means pants (not jeans) or a skirt/dress (above the knee is fine but not too short) and a nice shirt or blouse (no T-shirts). You don't need to wear dress shoes but avoid sneakers, sandals and flip-flops. It's OK to express your personality with color, patterns, and accessories, but generally, you don't want your outfit to be distracting. You want to look neat and professional and feel comfortable.

Following up: What to include in a thank-you email

Send a thank-you email within 24 hours of the interview. It should be brief but formatted professionally with a formal greeting (Dear Ms. or Mr.) and closing (Sincerely).

Before drafting it, reflect on the interview. What was the highlight of your conversation? Reference that in your email, and reaffirm your desire to attend the college, saying why — maybe it was something new you learned from the interviewer about the program you're looking to join.

Don't forget to double-check spelling and grammar before you hit send!

Other ways to get ready for a college interview:

  • Stay organized. If you're keeping spreadsheets on the schools you're applying to, add space for information about the interview, interviewer, etc.
  • Review your notes about the school the day before; no need to "cram" the day of.
  • For in-person interviews, research the destination and plan travel to arrive at least 15 minutes early with time to park and catch your breath.
  • Get a good night's sleep beforehand, have a regular meal, and stay hydrated (bring a water bottle).
  • Bring a copy of your high school transcript, paper, and pen to take notes.
  • Set your phone to Do Not Disturb and put it away! 
  • Take a few deep breaths, and get ready to smile and make eye contact as you shake hands with your interviewer or greet them on video. Enjoy yourself!

Calculate the chances of getting into any college

Before you start to prepare for college interviews, you'll need to make sure you have a balanced college list to guide your application decisions. You can do that more efficiently by using our chances calculator tool. With it, you can calculate the chances of admission into any college using academic information, like GPA and test scores. 

Just click the button below to get started. It's easy and always free.

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