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Acing the College Interview

Authored By: 
Krista Sergi, Director of College Guidance

“So, tell me about yourself.”

*Student stares at me like a deer in headlights*

This is how I like to start mock-interviews with my students, and I’m not going to lie, it’s 100% because I like to elicit this classic bewildered reaction. More on this later.

Interviews are wonderful tools for colleges to get to know students and vice versa. For students who are naturally gregarious, this process can be pretty fun, but for students who are a little more shy, this process could become anxiety-inducing. If you fall into the latter category (or you’re a pro and just want some tips), fear not! I’ve got you covered.

Generally, my students do a great job preparing for interviews because they follow the golden rules we establish during their eleventh grade year. Here they are:

  1. Do the research. This is the most critical step. By the time you interview, you should already have a firm grasp of the majors and minors that interest you, the clubs and organizations you may want to join (and, if you see something missing, an idea for a club or two you can start), sports teams and intramural clubs of interest (if applicable), and a general sense of the student body (breakdowns of how many are in-state vs. out-of-state, gender data, and so on). I encourage all of my students to attend a virtual information session in addition to this research, as it will allow them to ask follow-up questions.
  2. Apply the research in the form of salient questions. Are you interested in studying biology and music? Great! Ask the interviewer if/how you should pursue these at this college. Undecided? Even better. Ask what the first year looks like for students who are unsure of their path. Don’t see any interesting clubs? No worries. Ask what the process looks like to create a club. There are so many ways to ask questions that both show you’ve done your homework and also show your enthusiasm for the school.
  3. Interviews are two-way streets. Remember that while the college is trying to get a better sense of who you are, it is also a tool for you to evaluate them. To that end, I always suggest asking interviewers questions about themselves. First, you need to figure out what their position is - they could be alumni, admissions reps who are also alumni, or reps who didn’t actually attend the college. If they went to the college, ask them their favorite part about the school. If they didn’t attend the college, ask them about their favorite experience while working there. Psychologically speaking, we tend to feel better about interviews when we feel like we have shared parts of ourselves, so while the interview is about you, asking your interviewer to share a bit about themselves is also a great idea because it will forge a connection between you.
  4. Be prepared for the more general questions interviewers may ask. This brings me back to the famous “So, tell me about yourself.” I have found over the years that my students are almost always prepped for the “general questions.” What are you interested in studying? Why this college? What are your plans for the future? How do you see yourself as part of our college community? But then we get to “tell me about yourself” and they freeze. Why? Because this is a HUGE QUESTION. You’re basically being asked to sum up your identity in 30 seconds. Not all reps ask this question, but more often than not, they do. The way to tackle this is to think about three points about you and your identity that you want them to know and that you would be happy to answer follow-up questions about. I’m Krista, I grew up in a rural community in Northern New Jersey and I haven’t really had a chance to explore anything outside of my town, so I’m excited for college. I’ve been in band and chorale since freshman year, and this year I branched out and decided to try Debate Club, which has pushed me to think on my feet. I also work as a lifeguard at my local lake; I really enjoy being outside as much as I can. That’s it. They’re not looking for a résumé; they just want to know what you identify as core parts of you.
  5. Don’t get caught in the “trap” questions. I don’t see this as frequently any more, but sometimes students get questions like, “What are your best and worst subjects?” “Worst subject” is a trap. You never want to get negative about yourself or your school in an interview, so instead, find a way to frame it positively: That’s a great question. English is my favorite subject because I love writing. I don’t have any ‘worst’ subjects, but I do find my math class to be the most challenging, so I have to put in a lot of extra effort there. I’ve even had students asked, “What would you change about your high school?” Major. Trap. In this case, I tell students not to focus on what’s missing, but instead frame out a positive change: I think I would be interested in starting a music club. Our school is too small to house a band, but I think we have the space to do an a cappella group. Keep it positive and you can’t go wrong.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. Mock interviews are so important. Sure, some students can go in cold and nail it, but usually they need practice. Below are a few sample questions that I have put together over the last ten years:
  • Tell me about yourself? (Remember, tell them things you want them to ask you MORE about!)
  • Why are you interested in______College?
  • What do you want to study/what are your interests?
  • What are you studying now? What’s your favorite class? Least favorite class? OR What are your academic strengths/weaknesses?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
  • How do you contribute to your school and local community?
  • How will you contribute to our college community?
  • What are you reading right now?

Interviews are all about preparation, and with as little as 30 minutes of research and practice, you can and will make a great impression!