Now that it’s February, college applicants all over the country can breathe a sigh of relief after submitting the last of their applications. Finally, they’re all done with the process … except for one last step. Depending on the college, many students are asked to interview with either an admissions officer or an alum as part of their official application to that university.
I went through the same process last year when I applied to college, when I interviewed for eleven colleges, including three on-campus interviews. I had so many interviews because I happened to apply to a disproportionately large number of schools that require or offer an interview. Most colleges and universities do not include interviews as part of the admissions process, but in case some of your schools do suggest or require them, I’ve described a few of my experiences in the hope they might be helpful.
College interviews usually fall into one of two categories: informational or evaluative. Informational interviews provide you with an opportunity to learn more about a college, but they don’t necessarily factor into the evaluation of your application.
My on-campus interviews, which were all informational interviews at small liberal arts colleges, were the first college interviews I ever did. I was nervous before all of them, but they all turned out to be much more fun than I would have imagined. Because I hadn’t yet applied to these colleges, I think my interviewers—two admissions officers and one current student—viewed the interview more as a chance to sell the college to me than as an opportunity to assess me. All three interviews immediately followed my campus tours, so I had a lot of questions to ask, and it was really nice to get the chance to chat one-on-one.
When I began my college search, my college list was much too long. The three colleges where I interviewed on campus ended up getting cut as I streamlined. However, I’m so grateful to have learned more about the colleges and to have had the opportunity to practice interviewing in a more informal setting before the evaluative interviews during my senior year.
Evaluative interviews are meant to provide the admissions staff with additional information with which to evaluate your application. However, colleges that offer interviews frequently state that the interview itself does not carry much weight in the overall evaluation of a student’s application. Many students see the word “evaluative” and get nervous, but these interviews can also provide students with helpful information about the college. Students who interview with alumni or current students have the opportunity to learn about the student experience and perspective. It’s smart to come prepared with several questions, not only about the college but also about the alum’s own experiences there and what they liked or didn’t like about the college.
My remaining interviews were all with alumni, and most took place at either Starbucks or Panera Bread. My first evaluative interview was in the fall of my senior year. I had a lovely experience speaking to a very kind woman who had a lot of interesting thoughts on her college and college applications. She asked me some general questions from a list the college provided about my school and family. Then she looked at my résumé and asked me about my extracurricular activities. This was my longest interview—an hour and fifteen minutes. This positive experience relieved a lot of the anxiety I was feeling about the interview process.
My second interview turned out to be a lot like the first. We met at Panera Bread, and I brought my résumé, as well as my typed-out responses to a list of pre-interview questions that the college had sent me. My second interviewer’s questions were a little more open-ended (e.g., “Tell me about yourself,” “What are your future goals?”). And he left a lot of time at the end for me to ask him questions, which I really appreciated.
The rest of my interviews took place in the winter, from January through early March, and I was lucky to have equally pleasant conversations with almost all of my interviewers. One interview was over FaceTime, and another took place at a local high school, where other applicants to that same college were being interviewed by different alumni.
Most interviewers had a list of fairly predictable questions provided by the college. I answered a lot of “classic” interview questions, such as “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” and “Why are you interested in this college?”
My favorite interviews were the longer ones that gave me time to ask a lot of questions, but a handful were barely forty minutes. At one meeting, the interviewer must have scheduled all of his assigned interviews back-to-back. As I was entering the Starbucks, I saw the previous interviewee—a boy from my school—walking out. This interview was brief; after the interviewer finished his list of questions, we shook hands and that was the end. It wasn’t until I was outside that I realized I hadn’t asked a single question and we had only covered half of the things I was hoping to talk about. Oh well.
Out of all my interviews, I’m grateful that I only remember one as not being particularly good. It had been a stressful week, and I hadn’t had time to read about the college as much as I would have liked, and it was a school I was very interested in. The interviewer seemed nice, but the whole time I felt like he didn’t like me very much; we weren’t “clicking.” He ended up talking a lot and offering good insights on the college, but didn’t leave time for the many questions that I wanted to ask. I felt like I wasn’t as articulate as I would have liked, and I remember thinking that the interview could have gone a lot better.
It’s good to keep in mind, however, that an interview is not necessarily a good indication of where you’ll end up getting in. Several of my high school classmates had interviews that didn’t at all seem to correlate with where they ultimately were admitted. I have one friend who got into a reach school, one of his top choices, after he thought he had completely bombed the interview. For three different colleges, I requested an interview and didn’t get one, even though some of my classmates did. I was concerned, but I ended up getting into all three—including the college where I ultimately enrolled. College admissions can be so random to begin with, and some things are impossible to predict. So my best advice of all is to keep an open mind. After you do your research and schedule an interview, there’s only so much you have control over. In the meantime, try to enjoy the process!