Applying to colleges and writing essays is not easy. And, for many students, the hardest part of the process is the in-person college interview, a key part of some college applications.
Not every college asks for an interview and, in fact, some big state schools do not have the manpower to conduct them. Smaller schools may offer interviews at the request of a student but they are not mandatory. However, if you are applying to more elite universities where the percentage of students who are accepted is very low, you may find yourself in the middle of a series of interviews. Your appointment may be at the college with a counselor, a department chair or honors program director. Or, more typically, it may be with a local college alum.
“College interviews can be so stressful–especially when you have a half a dozen scheduled over the span of only a few weeks! It helps to do your homework on the schools, and know that all of your friends are going through the process simultaneously (and comforting when you’re all seated at different tables in your local Starbucks). Cornell, Boston University, Vanderbilt – no matter the school, I’ve learned that the vital ingredient to success in an interview is preparation,” says New York high school senior Amanda Cronin.
Like any meeting in life, first impressions are important. How you speak will weigh heavily on the answers you give. You want to come across as well spoken, articulate and confident. Your answers need to be thoughtful without being memorized.
With that in mind, here are three tips to make your college interview flawless.
Before the College Interview, Do Your Research
Yes, you’ve applied to this school and know a lot about it, but make sure you really know the details. Know whatever you can about the college history and what it’s most proud of. Are you already planning on a particular major or is this a department interview? Know the names of the department chairs, their accomplishments, along with the department’s strengths and proud history. (Has it produced Nobel or Pulitzer Prize winners, or other notable alumni?)
Create a College Interview Elevator Pitch
While not every interviewer asks the same questions, you should prepare what is known as an elevator pitch. It’s a simple introduction to who you are and what your interests or accomplishments are. This should not be a laundry list but something that stands out. It should easily answer the question: “Tell me about yourself.” This should be no longer than 3-5 minutes. Practice this in front of your mirror, a friend or your parents until you are comfortable.
Practice Before your College Interview
Yes, there’s that word again. You should not walk into an interview, (or Skype), unprepared. There are common questions often asked. Among them are:
- What motivates you?
- Tell me about senior year?
- What teacher influenced you and why?
One way to practice is using an iOS app called LikeSo: Your Personal Speech Coach. LikeSo helps you train against using filler words including like, so, basically or ya. These are the kinds of words that can undermine your interview by distracting your interviewer and making you sound unprepared.
In addition, you can select LikeSo’s TalkAbout mode and “The College Interview” topic to run through questions which may be asked, time yourself, and get feedback on the results of how quickly you spoke and which filler words you used and how often. In addition, you can set Reminders in LikeSo to practice and set a goal to reach a certain score. You can also create your own list of questions and speak your answers into the LikeSo Freestyle mode, getting the same feedback.
How can you practice without the app? Use a stopwatch to time your answers and ask a partner to work with you. Have them note your filler words or how fast you speak. You can also record your answers and play them back so you can hear yourself and make notes.
It’s as important to ace that interview as it is to ace your SATs. Don’t take the opportunity for granted. Prepare and practice!
Do you have any other tips for interviewing for college admissions?
Author Helen Jonsen is a professional communicator, broadcast journalist, and media coach who champions better speaking habits, and is a principal in Say It Media, Inc.