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One of the most-overlooked opportunities of the college search and application process is the admission interview. Many universities don’t require, but do encourage, students to sign up for this 45- to 60-minute conversation – and we agree! An admissions interview is one of the best ways to demonstrate interest in a college, and acing the interview can elevate a student’s admissions application.

The admission interview is typically a way to convey:

  • How well you know yourself
  • Your beliefs, values, and passions (and what you’ll bring to the campus community)
  • What you know and think about the college

“Tell me about yourself.”

Forming a compelling answer to these four words can be tough. I suggest identifying four or five important facts or experiences that are genuine and unique to you. Club involvement, potential academic interests, study abroad experiences and your high school are all examples you could discuss in the interview. Students who can connect those personal experiences into a trajectory will do well, and if you can connect those to your interest in the college, even better.

Example: I’m from Madison, Wisconsin, where I am a senior at Memorial High School. My favorite classes there have been my social studies classes and I’m also very involved with our school newspaper, where I am now the editor. I’m planning to major in journalism, and this is a big reason I was so excited to visit your college. I also run cross country, work part time at a local grocery co-op and am involved in a number of social justice advocacy efforts in Madison.

“What do you care about?”

When speaking about your beliefs, values, and passions it is important to not overshare and to keep it positive. Colleges are looking for future students that are informed, thoughtful, and can contribute to the marketplace of ideas. Talking negatively about a perspective that is different from yours can come off as sophomoric and even shortsighted. It is okay to share your beliefs but not at the expense of others. If you are asked a question about your beliefs a best practice is to speak from a place of advocacy.  

Example: In Madison, I have had the opportunity to volunteer with HeadCount, a voter registration non-profit. With the midterm elections this fall, I want everyone to have the opportunity to vote, whatever their beliefs. I personally believe that our community is best served by informed and active citizens.

“What do you think about us?”

The final theme is what you know about the university. Be prepared to speak and ask questions based on the research you’ve done! You can use the college website, but don’t stop there—get creative. The alumni magazine, student newspaper and student clubs on social media are great ways to learn more about a school. There is a lot you can research, but the best practice is to align your research with your interests.

What you learn will inevitably generate questions about the college. Having thoughtful questions to ask the admissions counselor is the best way to end a strong interview! Ask questions that demonstrate what you’ve learned about the school.

Example: I am really impressed by the number of alumni who started their journalism careers by participating in the production of the student newspaper. I was wondering if you could speak to related internships and research opportunities for journalism majors.

Final Thoughts

A few final pieces of advice:

  • First, impressions matter so be prepared to shake hands, make eye contact and smile. It may seem weird, but I’d encourage you to practice with a trusted friend or family member.
  • Dress for the interview. I’m borrowing Zach Galin’s advice (thank you, Zach) and suggest that you dress ‘college smart.’ Wear a polo or blouse and avoid sweats, tight fitting clothing, and revealing attire. Whatever you do, don’t wear an article of clothing with branding from another college.

Lastly, pace yourself. I once had a student who spoke so quickly they ran out of breath mid-sentence. The interview isn’t a race, so pace yourself by breathing. If you are asked a tough question, take the time to think before you answer.

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