The College Interview: What you Need to Know and How to Ace it

If given the chance to interview at a school of interest, make sure to do so, even if the interview is optional. Interviews are an excellent way to 1. Express your interest in the college, 2. Allow alumni or admissions representatives to get to know you beyond your application, 3. Find out more information about the college.

College interviews are either Informational or Evaluative. Interviews are conducted on campus by admissions representatives or in the applicant’s hometown by alumni. Some colleges offer admissions representative interviews on the road as well. Colleges will indicate whether the interview is evaluative or informational.

Evaluative Interviews are a way for colleges to assess candidates. The interviewer will take notes that will be shared with the admissions committee and be part of the applicant’s file. Evaluative interviews often occur senior year or after you’ve submitted your application.

Informational interviews are usually held on campus during your visit and can occur earlier than senior year. These interviews are usually conducted by admissions representatives and are a chance for applicants to find out more about the school.  Some schools offer informational interviews conducted by alumni in the applicant’s hometown. While informational interviews are not labeled as “evaluative,” be prepared to make a good impression, as the interviewer may pass along his or her impression of you to the admissions committee. Information on scheduling interviews can usually be found under “visits” on the school website.

On campus interviews are usually conducted by an admissions representative. This person will frequently be the first reader of your application, so it’s important to make a good impression. Check the school’s admissions website to find out how to schedule. Most schools require the student to schedule the interview online or by phone during a particular window of time. Some schools offer limited interviews so be sure to sign up early in the process.

Alumni interviews take place in the applicant’s hometown by local alumni of the school. For most colleges, the interviewer will contact you after your application is submitted. It’s important to check the admissions website and your emails from the college carefully though because some schools require candidates to sign up for these interviews. In most cases, the interviewer will contact you via email (they receive your email from the school) and set up a time to meet at a coffee shop or some other location that is relatively close to your home.

PREPARE for your interview. It’s essential to do your background research on the school and present yourself as having done so. Researching the school in depth will help you develop a list of intelligent questions (those whose answers cannot be easily found on the website).  If the college requires you to apply to a particular school within it, say, the School of Education, then make sure you understand that and can speak intelligently about that requirement. Know how the college refers to your intended major: is it Business Management or Business Administration, and do they call it a “major” or a “concentration.”  Your interviewer will look to measure your interest level in the school so it’s important to show you care enough about the school to have researched it thoroughly.

WEAR something respectful and appropriate. Think “business casual” or something you would wear to an extended family dinner or to a presentation at school. Avoid sweats, revealing clothing, too much jewelry, but do let your outfit reflect your personal style.

BRING two copies of your resume – one for the interviewer and one for you to speak from. Be one hundred percent confident in speaking about everything on your resume. Remember a notebook and pen to take notes. Write your questions in your notebook to have handy during the interview.

ARRIVE early! Give yourself plenty of time for unexpected traffic or parking issues. You can always sit in the car and review your interview questions for a few minutes.

GREET your interviewer with a firm handshake and a smile. Remember, this person’s goal is NOT to make you feel uncomfortable. Chances are, your meeting will be pleasant and you’ll come away feeling confident.

ANSWER questions about yourself and your reasons for wanting to attend the college. If friends or classmates have interviewed with the school, ask them how it went and what to expect. Be prepared for the following:

  • Why do want to attend this college? 

  • What would you contribute to this school?

  • Tell me about yourself.  

  • What are you interested in studying? Why? 

  • What do you see yourself doing in the future? 

  • What outside activities are you involved in? 

  • What do you do in your spare time? 

  • What are your strengths? Use specific examples. 

  • What are your weaknesses? 

  • How would your friends describe you? 

  • What makes you different from most people you know?  

  • Who is the most influential person in your life and why?  

  • What challenges or obstacles have you overcome and what have you learned from them? 

  • What is your favorite book?

ASK questions that demonstrate your knowledge and genuine interest in the school. Prepare these questions ahead of time and write them in your notebook.

  • What is about this school that has made you so connected to it? (Appropriate for an alumni interview.) 
  • What things do think are unique about this school? 
  • How would you characterize the student body? 
  • What kinds of students do you see thrive at this school? 
  • What are your favorite aspects of your own educational experience (good to ask an interviewer who attended the school)? 
  • How does the school prepare students for medical school, law school, internships, etc.? What support services are available?
  •  How are advisors selected for students? How is housing determined for freshmen?
  • Ask specific questions about your program of interest (but make sure the answers can’t be easily found on the website).
  • ASK for the interviewer’s contact information


  •  Don’t bring your parents
  • Turn off your cell phone
  • Maintain eye contact
  • Smile
  • Sit up straight and act interested in what the interviewer is saying
  • Sound genuine, don’t simply recite what you’ve practiced
  • Speak slowly and clearly. Take your time and don’t be afraid to collect your thoughts before answering questions.
  • Keep the conversation going in lulls by asking your prepared questions.

FOLLOW UP after the interview with a hand-written thank you note. An email will suffice only if you don’t have the interviewer’s physical address. Thank the interviewer for meeting with you and reinforce your interest in the school. Note something specific from your conversation to help the interviewer connect to your meeting. The thank you note is an excellent way to demonstrate interest.

A Midwest College Counseling Student’s Wake Forest Interview Anecdote:

“I think it was the interview partially that helped me be sure that Wake was the place for me. I was lucky because I had a great interviewer who had recently graduated. It seemed like Wake cared about me more than schools that weren’t doing these in-person, on-campus interviews. He first asked me about where I came from: family, community etc. He asked me about my interests and what I had as far as a life plan thus far. Then we talked more about school. He asked me what my favorite class was, what my favorite general area of study was, and about my school itself. I was also asked about my favorite book and why, as well as my least favorite book and why. Then, finally, as one would expect, I was asked what attracted me to Wake and why I believe I would be a good student there. It was truly a great experience. Not once did I feel like some sort of suspect in a dark empty room with an interrogator pointing a lamp in my face. It felt like a conversation between friends, casual, yet substantial in content.”