The college interview can be downright scary. Don’t let that fear stop you from having an interview, because it help a great deal in the admission process. Not only can it help you get into that college, but it will also help you get to know the school better.

If you’re super nervous about an interview, keep this in mind: the college admissions folks see you as a potential customer. They want to sell the school to you maybe as much as you want to convince them you’re right for the school.

Questions About Your High School Experience

The questions an interviewer will ask about high school touch topics about which you are most familiar, including your academic background, thoughts about high school, extracurricular activities, and community.

Your Academic Background and School

  • Tell me something about your courses.
  • What courses have you enjoyed the most?
  • What courses have been most difficult for you?
  • What satisfaction have you had from your studies?
  • Has school been challenging? What course has been most challenging?
  • How would you describe your school?
  • What is the range of students at your school? Where do you fit in?
  • Do you like your teachers? What is your favorite teacher like?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • How did you spend last summer?
  • What do you do with any money you have earned?
  • If you could change one thing about your high school, what would it be?

Your Extracurricular Activities

  • What extracurricular activity has been most satisfying to you?
  • What is the most significant contribution you have made to your school?
  • How would others describe your role in the school community?
  • What activities do you enjoy most outside the daily routine of school?
  • Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
  • Have you been a volunteer?
  • Would you make different choices of activities if you were to do it all over again?
  • What do you most enjoy doing for fun? For relaxation? For stimulation?
  • How do you spend a typical day after school?

Your Community

  • How would you describe your hometown?
  • What has been a controversial issue in your community?
  • What is your position on it?
  • How has living in your community affected your outlook?

Questions About College

The basic question-one that you should have given significant thought when you did your self-evaluation-is why you want to go to college. There are variations on this theme that may come up during the interview, covering topics such as:

  • Have you worked up to your potential?
  • Is your record an accurate gauge of your abilities and potential?
  • Is there any outside circumstance that interfered with your academic performance? Tell me about it.
  • What is of the most interest to you about our school?
  • What other colleges are you considering?
  • What do you expect to be doing five years from now? Ten years?
  • Have you ever thought of not going to college? What would you do?

You and the World Around You

This category of questions requires some soul-searching and often includes questions about books you have read, a variation on the hero theme, more probing personal queries, and current events topics. The more selective the college, the more searching these questions tend to be. Be sure you respond with your own ideas and enthusiasms. Don’t quote passages from Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan if you are not prepared to discuss your own views on the philosophical nature of government. In short, don’t paint yourself into the proverbial corner by talking about a topic you are not informed about.

What About Your Questions?

Usually toward the end of the interview-sometimes even at the beginning-the interviewer will ask if you have any questions. Be prepared with a list of questions that are specific to each school and try not to ask questions whose answers you could have read in the catalogs or brochures, or on the school’s website. Questions such as the following will prompt engaging conversation:

  • How does the school treat AP scores? Is there a limit on the number of AP credits the school grants?
  • What is the system for matching roommates?
  • How does advisement work? What is the college’s system for course selection?
  • Ask about your major. What new offerings are being considered?
  • Are any new buildings planned? How will that impact the present look of the campus?

If the interviewer is an alumnus, ask him why he chose his alma mater over other schools.

Suggestions for a Good Interview

What Should I Wear?

For women, nice slacks and a blouse-possibly worn with a blazer-or a simple dress are recommended. Shoes should be low to medium heels. Men should wear nice pants with a shirt, jacket, and tie. A turtleneck and sweater, or shirt and sweater are also possibilities. Jeans and caps are not appropriate. Although you do not want to give a false impression, this is not the time to showcase your purple hair, autographed Phish T-shirt, or two-foot-wide bell-bottoms.

Managing Your Body Language

Everyone who has ever interviewed professionally will tell you that body language can tell a great deal about a person. Body language encompasses the physical cues that communicate information nonverbally, and interviewers are trained to pick up these signals. How can you send the right message with your body language?

  • Sit still and look directly at the interviewer. If there are multiple interviewers, look at the one who is asking the question at the time.
  • Holding eye contact for more than five seconds at a time may be considered by some as intrusive. Others may interpret a person’s lack of eye contact as a sign of being shifty or not trustworthy. Try four to five seconds of eye contact, then three to five seconds of looking slightly away, and then back again to making eye contact.
  • Do not tap your fingers on the table or the chair arm.
  • Do not tap your feet or swing your legs. Sit up straight in your chair with both feet on the floor.
  • Breathing slowly and taking time to pause between your thoughts will help you stay calm.

The most important rule, however, is to be yourself and relax.

Personal Pointers

  • Know the time and location of the interview. Plan to be at least ten minutes early.
  • Speak positively about yourself without bragging.
  • Be cheerful and friendly.
  • Remember that this is a professional setting, so using colloquial language is inappropriate.
  • Listen carefully to the questions you are being asked and answer them fully.
  • Be wary of sensitive issues, such as religious or political affiliation. The interviewer may not agree with your viewpoints, so be respectful of his.
  • Use common sense. Don’t talk about how much you enjoy partying, dislike your physics teacher, or look forward to converting your future classmates to Druidism.

Saying ”Thank You”

Campus visits take coordination, and that takes time and effort. The people doing the work are usually in the overburdened admissions department, which sets up arrangements for hundreds-sometimes thousands-of students each year. Will sending a thank-you note make the difference between acceptance and rejection? Possibly, but that is not why you are writing the note. You are writing to thank people for making your interview and/or campus visit as comfortable and informative as they could.

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