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College Interviews

How important is the interview? It depends on the college’s use of the interview: some are evaluative (in other words, gauging your "fit" with the college); others are merely informative. For evaluative interviews, an enthusiastic report by an interviewer is bound to help your application. If you fall into the middle group of applicants, the interview might be the one final "clincher" to secure your admission. Small and medium-sized schools continue to invite the interview, and there are still a few schools that require it before an admission decision will be made. Local alumni often conduct interviews with prospective students, for those who cannot travel to a college’s campus.

Like the college application essay, the interview presents a unique opportunity for you to convey the personal qualities that might well differentiate you from hordes of other applicants. Check to see if your schools require one. If you feel confident about your ability to present yourself in person, then try to set up an interview even if it is not mandatory. No student faces an interview without some measure of anxiety, but the interview is not designed to create a high stress situation.

Keeping this in mind, relax as much as you can. Be as engaging, open, and spontaneous as you can. There are no "right answers" in a college interview, just opportunities to talk about who you are and what you value. Steer clear of questions that might have been answered by the college catalogue. Perceptive and insightful questions will both help you in the college selection process and show you to be a mature and thinking individual.

Be prepared for a variety of interviewing styles. Some interviewers are pleasant, student-oriented people who take the initiative, ask questions, try to draw you out, and are enjoyable and easy to talk with. Others might be very serious, passive, or inexperienced, and might ask things like, "What do you want to know about College X?" or "Do you have any questions?" If this situation arises, it is helpful to have some questions ready.

Interview Tips

Dress neatly. Arrive on time. Bring a copy of your transcript and resume.

Prepare questions for the interviewer by reviewing specifics about the school you are visiting. Your questions should be analytical not factual; that is, ask the counselor to give her opinion about or analyze some aspect of the school. For example, What are the strengths and weaknesses of the advising system? How do things like the campus size or location impact the educational experience? What are the college’s recent graduates doing now? How do faculty tend to view undergraduates? What are the current debates on campus?

Prepare for the interview by reviewing your own background and interests so you can eloquently share your strengths with the counselor. Be prepared to assess yourself for the counselor; remember to analyze both your strengths and weaknesses. You can turn "negative" qualities, such as "I am a perfectionist," into positive statements about your commitment to excellence.

Be honest with the interviewer about your academic background and interests. If there are things you would like to improve about yourself, don’t be afraid to share them, since this shows introspection and a willingness to grow. On the same note, don’t be afraid to pause and take some time to think about difficult questions.

Avoid monosyllabic answers.

Send a thank you note to your interviewer.

Possible interview questions

What are your reasons for going to college?

Describe your ideal college.

What do you feel you can add to our college community?

Who influences you the most and how?

If you could change anything about your high school, what would you change?

What is the most significant contribution you’ve made to your school or community?

What three things do you want to emphasize on your application?

What do you see as your academic strengths? Weaknesses?

Let’s discuss your views on politics/religion/other controversial issues.

Questions for Self-Analysis Beforehand

Your Goals and Values
What aspects of your high school years have you enjoyed the most? Have you missed anything during this time? If you could live this period over again, would you do anything differently? What have you been involved in (school/community) that you feel pleased about or most proud of?

What values are most important to you? What do you care most about? What concerns occupy most of your energy and thoughts?

How do you define success? Are you satisfied with your accomplishments to date? What do you want to accomplish in the years ahead?

What kind of person would you like to become? Of your unique gifts and strengths, which would you most like to develop? What would you most like to change about yourself?

Is there anything you have ever secretly wanted to do or be? If you had a year to go anywhere and do whatever you wanted, how would you spend that year?

What events or experiences have shaped your growth and way of thinking?

Your Education
What are your academic interests? Which courses have you enjoyed the most? Which courses have been most difficult for you?

What do you choose to learn when you learn on your own? What do your choices show about your interests and the way you like to learn?

How do you learn best? What methods of teaching and style of teaching engage your interest and effort the most?

How do you describe your school? What would you preserve or change about your school if you had the power and money to do so?

How much do you genuinely like to read, discuss issues, and exchange ideas? What has been your most stimulating intellectual experience in recent years?

How well has your school prepared you for college? In what areas of skill or knowledge do you feel confident or inadequately prepared for college study? Have you been challenged by your courses?

Have you worked up to your potential in high school? Are your academic records and SAT records accurate measures of your ability and potential? If not, what does measure that potential?

Are there any outside circumstances (in your recent experience or background) which have interfered with your academic performance? (after school job, home responsibilities or difficulties, excessive school activities, illness or emotional stress, parental pressure, English not spoken at home, problem of course scheduling or other factors which are unique to your recent experience or background)

Your Activities and Interests
What activities do you most enjoy outside the daily routine of school and other responsibilities? Which activities have meant the most to you?

Do your activities show any pattern of commitment, competence, or contribution?

How would others describe your role in your school or home community? What do you consider your most significant contribution?

What do you do for fun and relaxation?

The World Around You
How would you describe your school, family, and hometown? How has your environment influenced your way of thinking? How have your interests/abilities been helped/limited by your school/home?

What do your parents and friends expect of you? How have their expectations influenced your goals and standards you set for yourself? What pressures have you felt to conform?

What has been the most controversial issue in your school or community? How does the issue concern you? What is your opinion about the issue?

Have you ever encountered people who thought and acted differently than you did? What viewpoints have challenged you the most? How did you respond? What did you learn about yourself and others?

What distresses you most about the world around you? Assuming the obligation and opportunity to change the world, where would you start?

Do you have any current heroes or heroines? How about historical heroes?

What books have you read that have changed your way of thinking?

Your Personality and Relationships With Others
How would someone who knows you well describe you? Would you agree with their assessment? What are your finest qualities and most conspicuous shortcomings? How have you grown or changed during your high school years?

Which relationships are most important to you and why? Describe the people whom you consider your best friends, critics, and/or advocates. In what ways are they similar to or different from you?

Describe the groups in your school. Which ones do you feel you belong to or feel alienated from? What kind of people do you associate with and admire? Generally, how do you respond to people who think and act differently than you do?

How are you influenced by others who are important to you? What pressures have you felt to conform? How important to you are approval, rewards, and recognition? How do you respond to pressure, competition, or challenge? How do you react to failure, disappointment, or criticism?

How do you feel about choices and making decisions for yourself? What are the best decisions you have made recently? How much do you rely on direction, advice, or guidance from others? Have you ever chosen anything because it was new or interesting?

Questions to Address when Interviewing and/or Visiting a College
Be polite but persistent when asking questions of an interviewer, college rep, or tour guide. Most of the time an initial question leads to other "follow-up" questions. For example:

Initial question: What kind of living accommodations are there for freshmen?

Follow-up questions: How many students to a room? Can freshmen live in fraternities/sororities? Can freshmen live off-campus? Is there enough housing for everyone? If I have to live off campus, is there good housing available at fair rents?

Initial question: What is the impact of fraternities and sororities on campus life?

Follow-up questions: What percentage of the student body participates in Greek life? Has this changed in recent years? Can students who are not in a fraternity or sorority have a good social life? Does the college or university exercise any control over the fraternities or sororities?

Initial question: What are the rules governing social and dorm life?

Follow-up questions: Are there visitation rules? Co-ed dorms? Who enforces regulations, the administration or a student honor court?

Initial question: Does the library meet student needs and is it accessible?

Follow-up questions: Does the library have a good interlibrary loan request program? Is there room in the library to accommodate all students who want to study there? Is it open late and on weekends?

Initial question: What is the ratio of faculty to students?

Follow-up questions: Does this ratio hold true even for freshmen lecture classes, which are often larger? (If applicable) Are graduate student teaching assistants or fellows utilized? In what courses? Are they figured into the student-faculty ratio? How are faculty granted tenure–on teaching ability or on their ability to research and publish?

Initial question: What kind of record do you have in graduate-school placement and/or in career planning?

Follow-up questions: Do you assist in placing your graduates? Do you have an office of career planning and placement? How do graduates fare in applying to medical school? Law school? Do graduate schools seem to respect your diploma and recommendations? Ask for data.

Initial question: Is there a center of student life on campus?

Follow-up questions: Is there a student union building on campus? If so, how new is it? Does the school make any positive contribution to social and cultural life? Is there a newspaper? A radio station? What social or cultural events have taken place on campus in recent years?

Initial question: What happens if I get into emotional, physical, or academic difficulty?

Follow-up questions: What kind of guidance and counseling services are available? How is the infirmary staffed? Are there psychologists and psychiatrists on call? Is the faculty committed to students in the area of advising and counseling? Are there dorm advisors? Are tutors available?

Initial question: What are my real expenses and how can I meet them?

Follow-up questions: Are the tuition and expense figures published in the catalogue accurate? Is transportation expensive? Readily accessible? Are there opportunities for campus jobs? Does the college/university have a ROTC program, and are there ROTC scholarships available? Does the college/university have any unusual merit or competitive scholarship programs? If you think you may be a candidate for financial aid, you should visit the financial aid office at the college you visit.