After submitting the last of your college applications and watching the common app confetti cascade down your screen for the very last time, you might think that all you need to do is sit back and wait for judgement day to roll around when decisions start rolling in.
For the most part, this is true (if you ignore the constant worry and what-ifs that get lost somewhere in between). But the application process isn’t complete for some schools until you receive an interview, which was a reality that slapped me in the face when an unexpected email landed in my inbox inviting me to schedule an interview slot.
Every school’s different in whether or not they require interviews (not offered/optional/required), and in what they call their interviews (I’m fairly certain that Cornell refers to their interviews as “informational meetings” or something of the like, which they claim is just a session during which you’re supposed to learn more about the school instead of an evaluation. I don’t know that I’m convinced).
Broadly speaking, most of the schools that require interviews are either private schools, or are public schools that require an interview for a special scholarship or program. You can usually find whether or not an interview is required on the college’s website, but soon after you submit your application, if an interview is required you’ll likely receive an email regarding its logistics.
These interviews generally happen with alumni of the university that you’re applying to, and from my experience, have been pretty casual conversations, though your mileage may vary (this completely depends on what kind of person your interviewer is, and I’d imagine that interviews for competitive scholarships or programs might be more academic). I met two of my interviewers at a Starbucks, one at a dental office, one at a private school, and one on skype (as I imagine is the norm these days). The two interviewers that I met at the coffee shop and on skype both contacted me individually to arrange a place and time to meet, while the dental office and private school were large-scale interview events with tons of kids being interviewed by tons of alumni at the same time. (If you’re given the chance to choose a place to meet up, I think a coffee shop is a pretty good bet, because it’s public and the general din in the room is usually loud enough not to feel bad about sitting there pouring your life story out to a stranger for an hour.) It was definitely a different experience being interviewed at a coffee shop while surrounded by lots of random people versus at a quiet private school library with a mahogany desk, but despite the difference in location, I’d say that the interviews mostly followed a similar format, at least at first.
The Interview Script ™
These are the three most commonly asked questions:
1.The famous “tell me about yourself”
2.“Why do you want to go to (insert school name here)?
(I’ve heard that some of the meaner interviewers will straight up phrase this question as “why should we accept you, you unworthy child”, but the meat of the question is still the same.)
3.Do you have any questions for me about (insert school name here)?
For question 1, I made a bullet point list of things about myself that I wanted to touch on so that I wouldn’t forget to mention anything. You can talk about things like your school, hometown, favorite things, etc, things that you would mention when introducing yourself to someone new. This is also the perfect time to briefly describe some of the extracurricular activities that you’re involved in, and your interviewer will likely latch on to something you said and ask follow up questions to start the conversation. As much as you should organize your thoughts for your response, try not to come out sounding like you’re reading a script, which I imagine might be a little off putting.
Question 2 is something that I prepared for by looking at the list of the school’s clubs or special programs and things that set it apart from other schools. Any one of their promotional brochures could theoretically give you something to mention, but it’s great if you can connect your response to yourself and why you’re especially invested in whatever aspect of the school you choose to mention.
The third question usually comes at the end of the interview, and while you can ask questions about the school’s cafeteria or study abroad program, I think that the best conversations come out of asking the interviewer about their personal experiences and not things that could be found on their website. As much as the interviewer is evaluating you, this is also the chance for you to decide whether this is a school that you’d want to go to or not (if you get in, that is :p).
What to wear
The general rule of thumb is to dress business casual, i.e. don’t look like you just rolled out of the wrong side of the bed and you should be fine. If you have a virtual interview you don’t even have to worry about changing out of your sweatpants 🙂 I think that this also largely changes based on the location of your interview, so if you’re meeting at a public library you can probably dress more casually than if you were doing an interview at a professor’s office.
But what if you don’t get offered an interview at all? Or if your interviewer was disinterestedly scrolling through instagram for the entirety of your zoom call?
Anecdotally, my experience with private school interviews is that my performance had little to no bearing on whether or not I ended up being accepted. The interview that I thought went the best was for a school that ended up rejecting me, and the interviewer who didn’t reply to my thank you email at all was an alumnus of the school that accepted me. (I later emailed that interviewer again telling them that I ended up getting admitted, and they never replied either, so maybe they were just busy). On the other hand, there was also the interview where I was straight up asked if the school was my first choice, and I awkwardly hesitated for the longest second of my life before saying “…. yes?” Oops. Even though that definitely could have been one of the reasons that I wasn’t admitted, there’s no telling if a better interview would have translated to an acceptance letter anyways.
The bottom line is that you should definitely try your best to prepare for the interview, but keep in mind that it will likely have little bearing on your final decision (unless it happens to go superbly well or absolutely terribly— like spill your hot chocolate all over their laptop and then reflexively blame your younger sibling terrible). Try not to get nervous when your interviewer takes notes to write up a report later, and remember to send them a thank you email once you get back home.