General Interview Tips:
- Don’t be nervous. Yeah, yeah, easier said than done. And admissions officers or their representatives understand that nerves are natural and to be expected. But try to keep them under control. Take deep breaths, maintain eye contact, and try to stay calm. Remember that questions don’t need an immediate answer – it’s okay to pause (briefly), gather your thoughts, and formulate an answer. If you don’t understand the question or aren’t sure what they are looking for in your answer, ask for clarification or for them to reword the question, or repeat it in your own words to make sure you’ve understood what they are asking.
- It’s a conversation, not an audition – really! The purpose of the interview in a college application is twofold: It allows the admissions officer an opportunity to get to know who you are and to gauge whether you will be a good fit for their school, but it is also an opportunity for you to ensure that the school will meet your needs and expectations. If you go in with a “script” and are playing a part you think will impress them, the interview will come across as stiff, and they may misunderstand or misread the real you. Really listen to what the interviewer is asking, give yourself a moment to compose yourself and your answer, and then give it your best and most honest response. Definitely, have some talking points tucked away, but don’t be afraid to answer “off the cuff” with whatever comes to mind at the time – filtered for audience and purpose, of course. It’s also okay to admit you don’t know or aren’t sure but talk through your reasoning a little bit so they can see your thought process at work.
- Honesty is the best policy. Being honest is the best way to be impressive – don’t tell the panel what you think they want to hear. Speak the truth, from your heart, to ensure that the panel gets to understand the “real” you and can assess how you will fit in on their campus and can appreciate the contributions you can make to their campus community. Be creative and show your personality, but don’t lie or pretend to be someone you’re really not.
- Ask questions of your questioner. One of the easiest ways to show a school’s representative that you are interested in attending is by having a few questions prepared that you can ask at the end of your interview. They will usually conclude by asking if you have any questions, and it’s a good idea to have one or two to show that you have done your research on this school and you are eager to learn more about specific aspects of it. Don’t ask questions where the answers could be found easily on the school’s website; but if something comes up in the interview that you want to ask a follow-up question about or you have a question where the answer will give you valuable information to help you make your decision, ask it!
- Show up late, unprepared, or without having done your research on the school. You are not doing them a favor by participating in this interview, so be sure to be respectful and attentive. Put your cell phone away (after making sure it’s on Do Not Disturb) and shake hands firmly while making eye contact with the interviewer.
- Forget your audience. While you want to try to keep to a natural conversation tone and tempo, this interviewer is not your friend and you’re not hanging out over coffee. Dress appropriately and use elevated (but natural) vocabulary – no slang and avoid fillers (“um”, “like”, “you know”, etc.). Keep it natural and try not to sound rehearsed.
- Be too shy or too boastful. It’s Important to try to find the middle ground – share about yourself, who you are, and what has brought you to this point in your life, but show humility. Admit to your failures or short-comings and focus on explaining what you learned as a result of those experiences.
TOP 12 INTERVIEW QUESTIONS AND WHAT THEY’RE REALLY ASKING:
***1. Tell us something about yourself 2. What adjectives best describe you? 3. How do you plan to get involved in our campus community? 4. How do you spend your time when you are not in school? 5. What are your academic strengths and weaknesses? 6. Describe an obstacle you have faced 7. What is your opinion on [topic]? 8. What book would you recommend everyone should read? 9. Who in your life has been most influential on you, and why? 10. What do you hope to gain from attending this college or university? 11. What experiences have you had with people who are different from you? 12. Do you have any questions for us?
What they’re looking for:Often couched as more of a request or statement rather than a question, what the representative is looking for is to get a general understanding of who you are and what you’re all about.
How to answer:This question does NOT mean start with your birth and chronologically account for every major milestone in your life, from learning to walk to your high school graduation. Instead, give a succinct explanation of who you are and what you potentially have to offer the school. What makes you special or a stand out among the other applicants? Why would this school be proud to call you an alumnus after you graduate? They know your age, hometown, grades, etc. from your application, so try to give information or details not included in the paperwork part. In answering this question, it can feel like you are rambling, so be sure to practice this one ahead of time so that it is telling, without all of the details, and gives an accurate representation of who you are and why you are important without boasting.
What they’re looking for:This question might include a set number (What 3 adjectives best describe you? Or What adjective would your best friend use to describe you?) Pay attention if they give you a specific number – they want to make sure that you are really listening and paying attention, in addition to seeing how you assess yourself. It is a test of both your humility and your creativity, so try to avoid general adjectives (nice, funny, smart), and pick some that really capture the essence of you.
How to answer:Bragging can be the worst! We’ve all been told not to do it, to be humble, but this is your opportunity to balance humility with some creative adjectives that give a sense of who you really are and what is important to you. Really spend some time on this one, brainstorming specific and creative adjectives to describe you and your personality. If possible, provide justification for why you’ve chosen the ones you have.
Sometimes the way the question is asked will allow you to justify and explain your answers. Though if you get the sense that the interviewer just wants a list of 5 adjectives, give them the list of 5 adjectives and wait to see if they ask follow-up questions or seek more details.
“I would say one adjective that describes me is determined. Although my determination can sometimes come across as ‘pushy’, I am goal-oriented and I feel most satisfied when I achieve what I have set out to do, so I am willing to work hard and encourage those around me to work hard, too, so that we can achieve a goal together.”
What they’re looking for:Schools want to know that you have something to offer them for everything they’re going to offer you. It’s students who make campus life engaging, inviting, and inclusive, so they want to know how you are going to engage with the community around you and help to make positive contributions to the school and campus, not just sit in your dorm room all the time. It’s also a test of your personality (what do you like to do in your free time) and whether or not you have researched the school and can mention or inquire more about certain activities or opportunities.
How to answer:This is a great opportunity for you to talk about bridging your activities from high school to the opportunities this college or university provides on campus. They give insight into your values and passions and show that you enjoy being a part of a community.
The idea is to show that you want to be engaged and interact with the campus community, but college is also a great time to try new things! So you might want to mention some clubs or organizations associated with the school that you think would be interesting to check out and learn more about. A great follow-up question to your interviewer is to inquire about any sort of Club Rush or Club Fair the school offers (they usually happen in the fall), where the school’s different clubs and organizations showcase what they do and look for new recruits for their program. You want to give the sense that you will be actively participating and will make their school even better with your contributions.
“I was really involved in our International Club at my high school, and I saw on your website that you have several Cultural Houses as part of your campus life. I would like to learn more about those.”
“I volunteer helping elementary school students with their homework after school. I’d like to continue serving the community by finding some volunteer opportunities at your school.”
Question 4: How do you spend your time when you’re not in school? Or, If you had an afternoon to spend any way you’d like, what would you do with the time and why? Or, What do you like to do for fun?
What they’re looking for:As suspect as it might sound, this is not a “gotcha” question where the representative is looking for a “right” answer. Instead, your honest response gives a sense of your values, passions, and hobbies, and indicates your ability to create balance in your life. They’re wanting to hear, honestly, what matters to you and how you spend your “off” time in a meaningful or fulfilling way. This is an especially important question to answer genuinely and not just with the answer you think they want to hear.
How to answer:This is not a trick question. Though you probably don’t want to discuss the weekend parties you enjoy attending, this is an opportunity to share some of your passions or activities that are important to you and to indicate what gives your life a sense of meaning and value. Are you involved in family, community, or society in a meaningful way? If you had an entire afternoon free, would you spend it on social media or lost in cyberspace somewhere? Would you cloister yourself away in your room playing video games? Would you offer to mow the neighbor’s lawn? Take your dog for a walk? Ideally, your answer to this question presents a balanced person who is able to appreciate doing for others but also realizes the importance of focusing and rebalancing the self. But if you’re not into yoga on the beach or sitting cross-legged in deep meditation, explain how playing those video games relaxes you or how hours spent on social media helps you feel engaged with people you may not get to see in person very often, and therefore why you value those types of activities.
What they’re looking for:Also not a trick question, this inquiry allows the representative to get a sense of your level of self-awareness when it comes to your academic strengths and weaknesses or your learning style. They want to make sure that your strengths will be an asset to the school and that your weaknesses are areas in which they can provide support and work with you to strengthen based on your identification of them and willingness to work through them.
How to answer:This can be a tricky question because it’s sometimes hard to brag about what we do well or to admit to where we struggle. But this is a great question if there are any anomalies in your transcript or anything in the academic portion of your application that you feel you need to explain to the representative. For example, if you failed Spanish in high school and only earned a C the second time around, you might explain that one of your weaknesses is language acquisition – you have discovered that learning a language is a challenge for you because of the auditory processing it requires, but your strength in acing all of your science classes, including AP Biology, comes as a result of your hands-on learning style. Being able to conduct lab experiments and having that hands-on interaction with the material helped you learn and understand it better. Academic strengths and weaknesses can go beyond the particular subject. For example, you may be very organized, so strength is that you never lose an assignment or forget to turn anything in because you keep good track of your work, but you are a procrastinator so that work is often being done last minute, which sometimes results in less than your best. Be sure not only to acknowledge your weaknesses but also to acknowledge your awareness of them and the coping skills you apply to counter their negative effects.
“I am a procrastinator, but I am working on improving that by using calendar reminders on my phone to remind me about upcoming deadlines so I can start on the task before the last minute.”