Are college interviews still a thing?  Why yes, yes they are.  While some colleges have shied away from the practice due to the sheer volume of applicants the encounter each year many will still grant them to the inquiring student.  Remember how we talked about demonstrating interest last month?  An interview is an amazing way to make a very personal plea to a college and, when done correctly, can help sway your admissions decision just as dramatically as an excellent essay or recommendation letter.

The key words there are when done correctly.  Back in my days as an admissions counselor I conducted some pretty unsatisfactory interviews.  Just as I remember some of the roughest essays I’ve read I’ll also remember the interviewees who did more harm than good by meeting with me.

In the most basic terms, a college interview should be approached just like a job interview.  This means that preparation is essential.  ESSENTIAL!  You would never interview with an employer without doing your research first, coming prepared with copies of your resume and professional portfolio, and dressing appropriately, right?  Why would a college interview be any different?

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In terms of prep, a student should be ready to talk in detail about a college’s offerings and why they are interested in the school.  Nothing would tell me more clearly that a student is only applying to a college because they’ve been told to than that blank stare accompanying my “Why do you want to go here?” question.  Once or twice I even got the dreaded “my mom and/or guidance counselor told to.”  Yikes.  Take a look back at my column on answering the “Why Us” essay supplement and use these guidelines to prepare some talking points and thoughtful questions for your interview.

It’s also a great idea not to show up empty handed.  Hopefully you’ve already got a polished copy of your resume ready to go, which is a wonderful piece to bring to the interview.  Whereas most extra-curricular sections of college applications are limited in how information is presented a personal resume allows you to showcase yourself exactly as you’d like.  It also ensures there’s plenty for the interviewer to ask you about and can serve to remind you to brag about that summer mission trip you didn’t want to forget to mention.

We humans are very visual animals so take care with your physical presentation as well.  I know you might also have been touring campus in 90-degree weather earlier that day but bring your suit in the car and change into it before your interview.  Might you end up being a little overdressed?  Maybe.  Would that ever be a bad thing?  No!  The comment at the office water cooler would never be, “That dumb kid wore a suit!” but rather, “I’m so impressed he wore a suit to the interview!”  All the other rules of non-verbal communication apply to interviews as well: shake the interviewer’s hand in the beginning, sit up straight, and show interest by maintaining eye contact.  A follow-up thank you card is a beautiful final touch—always get a business card before the meeting is over.

Now you’re prepared, but who can you expect will be bombarding you with questions?  Some smaller schools are still able to offer on-campus interviews with admissions staff or opportunities to meet with your admissions counselor while they’re recruiting in your area at a local coffee shop, library, or even in your high school guidance office.  In contrast, ever more common are interviews that are held by alumni who are volunteering for the admissions office regionally.  Every once and a while there’s even a college offering interviews with current students or parents of students.

Regardless of whether they are paid staff or not it’s a safe bet that they’ve been thoroughly trained in what the college is looking for in an applicant and given a list of must-ask questions.  Anyone functioning as an interviewer undoubtedly has a strong relationship the college and able to answer your questions—so be sure to come with them!  Chances are alumni or students will be able to give more information on the college experience while office staff will know more about the admissions process, so prepare accordingly.

After you’ve dazzled your interviewer they’ll take back the notes they’ve made and submit something in writing to be added to your admissions file.  This could be as informal as a summary letter but it’s most often going to be some sort of interview form with ratings for things like student interest, preparedness, and college fit.  An interview can gauge in a more personal way than anything other credential the student’s true feelings and enthusiasm about a college.  There’s no parents or tutors to edit your responses and no brag sheets to color the interviewer’s recommendation. 

In this vein, it’s just as important as in the college essay to be yourself.  There’s bound to be some anxiety involved but if anything a student who’s visibly nervous only drives home how serious their interest is.  Don’t be afraid to answer questions honestly and infuse a bit of that famous teenage humor! 

Interviews are very rarely required anymore and often are only granted by request.  Many schools will offer them in the summer so if you’re headed to campus for a visit why not see if you can fit in an interview while you’re there!  Even if all you can advocate for is a “non-evaluative” or “informal” meeting with staff these interactions will still be recorded in your communication history with the school and are therefore still very much worthwhile.  Go out there and dazzle them!