How to Ace Your College Interview
Is your student nervous about facing a college interview? That’s certainly understandable.
The good news is that there are a lot of college interview tips they can use to prepare in advance.
Keep in mind that although many interviews at prestigious schools are part of the evaluation, the reality is that the interview is a place where your student can really shine.
Even as schools utilize digital learning methods and host interviews over Skype or Zoom, students can still make a great impression. It is important to stay professional, but this is also your child’s chance to share their personality.
Help your student see that coming alive – beyond the paper of an essay – is a huge advantage as they look to stand out from other applicants.
Then, you can help them prepare and practice for the interview itself.
10 Best College Interview Tips
- Plan ahead
- Be yourself
- Dress appropriately (even on Zoom)
- Know the school
- Bring specific questions
- Email a copy of your resume in advance of your meeting
- Don’t worry about the clock
- Turn your phone on silent
- Avoid distractions and background noise
- Send a Thank You message
How to Make a Good Impression During Your College Interview
Maintain Proper Zoom Etiquette
Holding important meetings and conferences over Zoom or Skype is uncharted territory for many of us, but as schools adjust to the new normal, there are things your child can do to maintain proper etiquette.
Even if it’s a virtual interview, they should dress professionally, have a clean background, and center themselves in a quiet area to avoid distracting background noises.
The interviewer shouldn’t be focusing on a barking dog or cluttered mess in the background- their primary focus should be on your child.
One thing that seems so fundamental, but can sometimes be forgotten in this technologically-influenced world is to look into the camera when speaking.
You’d be surprised how many people on Zoom neglect to do this, and it can make a world of difference.
While colleges certainly understand that your child will be nervous before their interview, there are ways in which they can plan ahead and decrease stress.
Getting ready for any interview can be nerve-wracking, but with practice your child can ace the experience. If they’re nervous, have them meet with an adult friend or relative and practice their answers.
The goal is not to memorize answers and sound robotic, but to simply have talking points. It’s fine if your student takes notes with them. Being prepared and genuine is all that’s needed.
Eating a good breakfast and getting a good night’s sleep will put them in a positive state of mind before their interview.
Turning their phone on silent, dressing professionally, and emailing their resume and other documents in advance will show their interviewer how seriously they are taking their interview.
Anything they can do to make the interviewer’s job easier will show their time management skills.
As much as you don’t want your student’s answers to sound rehearsed, it is important for them to know the background about the school and prepare specific questions beforehand.
They’re not going to know everything, but knowledge of the school, their field of interest, and the desired qualifications will emphasize to the interviewer that they’re passionate about the opportunity.
It is also a good idea to troubleshoot before the interview starts.
There’s nothing worse than freezing due to an unstable connection or being late due to an unresponsive browser; not only will this distract the interviewer, but it can throw off your child’s focus as they give their answers.
Make sure to give the link or program a trial run in advance of the interview and test all audio equipment ahead of time.
Don’t Worry About The Clock
While it’s important for your child to be aware of how much time they are allotted, they shouldn’t be rushing or dragging out their answers in hopes of meeting a time limit right on the clock.
Some questions require in-depth responses and others are more straightforward, and they should only worry about answering each question to the best of their ability.
Advice From the Pros
Here’s what one parent had to say about her daughter’s experience:
“My daughter talked about how she was excited to join their running club if she did not make the CC team and about a class she had sat in on and enjoyed. Just make your answers relate back to what you know about the school and why it is a good fit for you.”
Peg Wahrman, a professional career counselor at Wahrman Career Counseling, suggests:
“If you’re scheduled for a college interview make sure you practice beforehand. Doing an interview puts a face to the name and lets the school know more about you. If it is required, or you chose to do one, the most important thing you can do is be prepared. Go on the school’s website, be knowledgeable, and have some these types of questions at the ready.
Here are 7 interview tips I give my clients to make sure they are prepared:
- First ask a question to show you have been listening to the interviewer, expand on something that they already mentioned.
- Ask something specific about their school, traditions that you have heard about, specific programs that they offer.
- Why should you choose their school vs. other schools that are similar in nature? What makes them special?
- What is the general atmosphere like on campus? Does it change at different times?
- Ask them to describe dorm life. How long do students stay in dorms, when do they move off campus? How is living off campus different?
- Study abroad is very popular with students these days. Ask about their programs, how many students participate and do they have campus in other countries.
- Of course my favorite is what services does the Career planning office offer? You are most likely going to college to get a job. What is their placement ratio? How do they help you? Do they help you get internships? When does their career planning begin?
With these questions in your pocket, and having done your research on the school, you should feel very confident going into an interview. So put on your smile, and good luck!”
College Interview Questions to Expect
In pre-COVID days, college interviews were generally conducted by an alum at a coffee shop or other local location.
The goal of the interview is to get to know your student and find out what makes them unique among other applicants.
Also, schools want to see that your child is genuinely interested in attending their particular program, as opposed to applying to dozens of places and hoping for the best.
Here are some questions that are common, and how to answer them confidently.
“Tell me about yourself.”
This question is a standard at every interview your child will ever take part in, so they may as well get started practicing an answer!
The key for a school interview is for your student to focus on the parts of their story that relate to their education and their desire to attend that particular college.
Be memorable, but avoid being too personal or emotional, especially since this is likely the first question!
“Why are you interested in this school?”
Universities and colleges are looking for students that are committed to them and truly interested in their programs. Help your student practice an answer that relates to a specific academic program, not just answers about prestige.
Your child can also share interest in the school’s mission or specific extracurricular activities.
“What are your strengths and weaknesses, academically?”
This will probably be asked as two separate questions, but understanding personal strengths and weaknesses is an important part of self-knowledge as well as preparing for an interview.
Don’t say there are no weaknesses! Everyone has challenges, and it’s OK to admit them as long as you talk about how you are also addressing them.
“What will you contribute at our school?”
The university or college wants to know, beyond academics, what your student hopes to do on campus. Do they want to participate in student government, Greek life, or specific club sports?
Giving clear answers is vital – being vague makes it seem like your student has thought much about college life.
“What is your favorite…”
Whether the questions are about a favorite book, free-time activity, or other pursuit, this gives the interviewer a chance to know your student more deeply.
Help your student give not just a title or activity, but an explanation of why they enjoy it so much.
Here’s a surprise question shared by someone in our Paying For College 101 Facebook group:
“One question that my daughter was unprepared for was a specific question about the school’s curriculum. They asked something to the effect of – what classes really jazz you that you can take at XX school? She hadn’t spent any time looking at course listings.”
College Interview Questions to Ask
When the interview is over, your student is likely to be asked, “So, you have any questions for me?”
The answer is always YES!
One parent in our group gave this advice:
“Also have (your student) have some questions ready for her to ask the interviewer. Like: what are some of your favorite memories/classes/experiences at/of XX college?”
Many young people are so relieved to be done that they say no and simply “scoot out” as fast as they can. Your student can take advantage of an additional opportunity to stand out by asking insightful questions of the interviewer.
Of course, these questions aren’t just to impress the interviewer – they also help your student get key insights into the school to help them make their final decision.
Here are some ideas:
- What is a typical weekend or night like on campus?
- What was your favorite part of attending this school?
- What’s one thing you would change about this college?
- What do you wish you knew as an incoming freshman at this school?
- Why did you choose this college over other options you had?
Another parent shared this idea:
“A great question is to ask about a tradition or yearly event on campus they are interested in.”
Don’t ask questions that are easily answered by reading the college’s website. Instead, try to get the interviewers specific insight and view into how the school works and why your child might want to go there.
Interested in finding out more about what schools are generous with merit scholarship money for their students? Check out our College Insights tool today!
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