College Interviews: How to Be Unforgettable

Halloween may be over, but the greatest fear to many high school seniors still awaits: the college interview. Interviews, for decades, have caused unnecessary stress, worry, and anxiety among students applying to college. And for many, they decline the opportunity altogether.

Often, students do not realize that a college interview can only help.

To prove this to you, let's play a game of True or False.

  1. You will get denied from a bad interview. False. Since many interviews are optional, colleges appreciate students who accept the extra challenge. Since they cannot evaluate students who do not interview, the interview can only help those who do!

  • Colleges know everything about you from your applications. False. There is much more to a student than a few essays and a resume. Colleges want to know more about your personality and why you are interested in certain areas, so students who interview have a significant advantage.
  • The college interview is relaxing and fun. True. Most interviews are conducted by alumni and are hosted at local coffee shops and public spaces. While the alum may have a few important questions, most of the time is spent telling stories, laughing at jokes, and connecting over similar interests.
  • Any student can be good at interviews. True. With a few simple steps, any student can have a good interview. If you try to be insightful, express enthusiasm, and ask a few good questions, then you will make a strong connection with the interviewer. Regardless of your specific answers, the interviewer will leave with a positive impression and write a great review.
  • From this quick game, you learned that college interviews are fun and can only help, and if you bring the right amount of positive energy to the interview, you are guaranteed to leave a great impression.

    Now that I convinced you to accept the interview, you should know its purpose. Colleges are seeking the answer to only one question: are you a good fit with their school?

    To prove that you are a good fit with the school, there are a few key tips to help you get accepted based upon the interview.

    • Do your homework and research unique information about each college.
    • Be insightful to how you are different from other students.
    • Provide contextual information to supplement your answers.
    • Focus responses on you--regardless of the question.
    • Display positive energy and enthusiasm throughout your interview.
    • Take the time you need to present yourself well.

    Always do your homework. Remember, colleges are testing if you are a good fit with their institution. To convince them, you should tailor your answers to the values and opportunities available only at that college. What unique programs do they offer? What courses will be helpful to your goals? What research opportunities will supplement your studies? What experiences are available in the surrounding community?

    Show how you are different from other students. It is important to be very insightful about who you are. Do not be afraid to reveal information about you. Colleges are looking for what makes you different. Colleges work daily with students from diverse backgrounds who are exploring a wide array of interests. No matter what makes you different, they will appreciate your courage, honesty, and awareness.

    Avoid regurgitating your resume. Colleges already have this information. Many students directly answer questions with the facts of their activities. This information is unhelpful. Again, you should think about what makes you different. You should convey what you learned from the experiences, any insights you gained, challenges you faced, and how it relates to your goals and interests. Often, it is the context surrounding a student's experiences that stands out--not the activity itself.

    Focus on you. Inevitably, you will be asked a question to pick a favorite, such as a topic, book, TV show, or person important to you. In these questions, it is not the direct answer that matters most to the colleges. Whether the most influential person in your life is your mom or a former president, it doesn't matter. Through your answers, colleges always want to know about you and what makes you different. What experiences with your mom impacted your life and will shape your future? How do you relate to a character in your favorite book? How did your favorite TV show challenge your thoughts about a topic?

    Be emotional! There is one trick to master every interview: emotions. I can recount numerous interviews where students answered every question with monotone responses and emotionless reactions. Your goal is to form an emotional connection with your interviewer. At appropriate times, emphasize your points with excitement, enthusiasm, heartache, or happiness. If you are talking about your most important activity, the interviewer should feel your passion and joy for the topic. Regardless of your exact answers, or any mistakes you make, positive energy throughout the interview will result in a wonderful review of your character and your match to the college.

    Take your time. The last bit of advice I can convey is don't be afraid to take a moment to organize your thoughts in an interview. Many students are fearful that a period of silence will reflect poorly on them and they launch into answers that are insufficient and garbled. Taking a moment to think of what you wish to say will help you give the best answer possible. You may even tell the interviewer "That is a really good question. Let me take a minute to provide my answer."

    By this point, you may have noticed a theme in the advice: the goal is to always convey insightful information about you.

    Now, you have the information and tools to master your college interviews. Good luck!

    To learn more helpful information about the college admissions process, you may visit our blog here. You may also read my previous article on the Huffington Post, which provides helpful information to complete a compelling college essay.

    Dee Blackman is affiliated with The Ivy Dean, an independent admissions counseling firm.