How to Prepare for the College Interview

The college interview can be a truly nerve-wracking experience. Hopefully, this article will help make it less so. How it normally works is that you meet with a college official or alumnus (alumni are, as a general rule, a bit more laid back than university employees). They'll usually begin by collecting some background information and then they'll interview you. The questions they're most likely to ask are quite similar to the questions you would field in a job interview, such as:

  • Why do you want to attend this university?
  • Where do you see yourself in ten years?
  • What are your overall strengths and weaknesses?
  • Pick three adjectives to describe yourself
  • What major will you choose and why?

What can be so difficult about answering these questions is the answers demand that you sell yourself. You'll need to confidently sing your own praises, while at the same time not overdoing it so that you come off like a pompous windbag. The only way sounding like a pompous windbag will be an advantage is if the person interviewing you happens to be one and while this might be an option, you can't really count on it.

You might not be asked the exact questions listed above and it's very likely you'll be asked others not listed. If you've been on job interviews before, think about what questions you were asked that flummoxed you. Ask around - do you have older brothers or sisters who have gone through a college interview? How about the siblings of your friends? Ask them what they were asked. The more information you get, the more you'll be prepared for anything. Two questions you can almost be certain to be asked are:

  • Why do you want to attend this university?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

So be prepared. Think long and hard about your answers. Write them down. Rehearse by having a friend or family member conduct mock interviews with you. Most importantly, research the college or university in question. Find out as much information as you can. Use the Internet. Take the college tour if one is offered. Eat a meal on campus. Look through recent issues of the student newspaper. Know how many students they have, who their well-known professors are and what they've written.

For example, Columbia University has something they call the Core Curriculum which is a set of common courses required of all undergraduates. Essentially, these courses act as a survey of the major ideas of civilization from Plato to the present. If you are applying to Columbia, you would do well to know all about this Core Curriculum, what books and thinkers are involved and why this approach to the humanities is important to you. This interest and preparedness will serve to show the interviewer that you want to attend Columbia for the right reasons - because of what they have to offer you and how they can help you become a well-rounded, well-read individual with critical thinking skills.

If you do other research on the college interview - if, for instance, you Google "how to prepare for the college interview"- you will be confronted by a mountain of information and opinions. Some of these articles might warn you not to be too prepared because then you'll seem rehearsed and not yourself. Personally, I find this reasoning absurd. Being too prepared for an interview is about as likely as being too hungry to eat. Be as prepared as you can, just don't sound like a know-it-all. Unless, of course, you're talking about yourself, in which case you are a know-it-all. And while we're on the subject - know yourself, your academic record and accomplishments, the clubs and organizations you are involved in, and any awards you've received. Also, know your admissions essay like the back of your hand as you may very well be asked about it, particularly if it describes some formative experience in your life.

Also very important, come prepared with a list of your own questions. Assemble this list of questions from the information you gather about the institution. Some sample questions you might want to ask include:

  • How much time do students spend on homework each week?
  • How much reading/writing is expected?
  • How often do students discuss ideas in class?
  • How often do students make class presentations?
  • Do students have opportunities to tutor or teach other students?
  • Are faculty members accessible and supportive?
  • What types of honors courses, learning communities, and other distinctive programs are offered?
  • What kind of campus events are sponsored by the school?

The above should serve just as examples. Feel free to use any or all of them but also come up with your own questions based on the unique opportunities and experiences the school has to offer. Remember to listen actively to what the interviewer has to say and respond appropriately.

Lastly, as trite as it may sound, try to relax, be yourself, and answer every question as honestly as you can. It is you that is being interviewed and your personal voice is what needs to be heard. Do not try to frame your answers based on what you think the interviewer wants to hear. That kind of phoniness will be spotted a mile away. Good luck!