A Guide to College Interviews: How to Prepare

By Carolyn Desalu · September 28, 2023 · 7 minute read

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A Guide to College Interviews: How to Prepare

As tough as it can be to write a college admissions essay, a student has time to prepare and edit the work before submission. When it comes to an interview, there’s no pause button to press when an applicant messes up an answer and wants to edit it. Still, there are ways to recover and turn the interview around. That’s why preparing for a college admissions interview is vital to success.

Here are things to get a head start on, including common college interview questions, before taking the hot seat.

How Important Is a College Interview?

Before deciding whether or not an interview is worth the time and effort, students should know how important they are to the admissions process. The importance of the interview depends on whether it’s informational or evaluative.

Not all colleges will refer to the interview as “informational” or “evaluative.” Students should pay attention to the wording their schools use for interviews. If the school “strongly encourages” or “highly recommends” that a student schedule an interview, it may be an evaluative interview and an important piece of the application process.

Informational Interviews

Informational interviews are usually optional and mostly for the benefit of the student. These generally exist to allow students to learn more about the school and to show the college that they’re seriously interested in attending.

It’s not required for admission to book an informational interview, but it can help a student demonstrate a strong desire to attend the school and give the school a more multidimensional view of the student.

Informational interviews can also help to figure out which school is the best fit. Doing an informational interview gives students a chance to ask any questions they may have about the school and could give them a more complete picture of what life on campus looks like.

Evaluative Interviews

Evaluative interviews are usually conducted by selective colleges and universities such as most Ivy League institutions, and can affect admission. During an evaluative interview, a write-up of the students’ responses will be added to their application materials.

Whether the interview is evaluative or informational, the following college interview tips apply.

💡 Quick Tip: Fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee SoFi private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

Booking and Practicing

These days, many U.S. schools don’t require interviews in the admissions process. Some schools don’t do them at all. Students who are looking to participate in interviews should check with the schools they’re applying for and see which ones are willing to conduct interviews. This is the first step in the process.

After students have determined schools where they can interview, they will likely need to make an appointment. The most common time to interview is during the fall of one’s senior year, but sometimes a student will be able to interview as early as the summer before senior year or as late as February of senior year. This will vary among schools, so students will want to check with each school individually to see when they’re booking admissions interviews.

Applicants should start preparing as far in advance as possible and will probably want to practice with friends, family members, or even teachers. They should give themselves enough time to schedule these practice interviews and incorporate the feedback given in between each meeting. The amount of time needed to prepare will vary from student to student.

More About Preparing

Now that the process is explained and students are aware of when their interview will take place, it’s time for preparation. Going into an interview without preparation is not recommended and could affect performance. Here are some tips on how students can prepare for college interviews.

What to Take With You

Show up with just a pen and paper? Transcripts? Applicants don’t need to stress too much about this. Some schools provide students with a list of things to bring with them, and if they don’t, there are some commonly recommended items to take just in case:

•   Two copies of one’s resume
•   SAT/ACT scores
•   A list of AP classes the student will take in spring semester
•   A copy of the completed application
•   A notebook and a pen
•   Questions for the interviewer about the college

What Questions Will You Be Asked?

Another important piece of preparing for an interview is finding out what questions are commonly asked during college interviews. Once students find out what questions they can expect to be asked, they’ll be able to rehearse their answers, making the actual interview less intimidating.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling , these are some college interview questions that students should be prepared to answer:

•   Tell us about yourself.
•   What are your favorite classes?
•   What extracurricular activities have you been involved in?
•   What special programs are you interested in?
•   Why are you considering our college?

The interviewer will be trying to get to know the prospective student and understand why he or she is interested in the school. If students had a challenging academic year as evidenced with grades on record, they should be ready to discuss that as well.

Questions may vary from one school to the next, but this list can help students get started and have a good idea of the types of questions they’ll be asked.

What Questions Should You Ask?

An interview does not involve questions coming from one side only; applicants will be expected to ask the interviewer questions as well. Showing up with questions ready to go will show the interviewer that the student has done research and is genuinely interested in attending the school.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling also recommends students ask questions during interviews. It includes the following:

•   What is the admissions process for the school?
•   Are there opportunities to participate in special programs like study abroad and first-year seminars?
•   What social options are available?
•   What are some of the school traditions?
•   Can you tell me about dorm life?

Students can ask questions about their prospective majors, campus life, class environments, and anything they’d like that will help bring them closer to deciding on the right college. They should have a list of their questions written down before the interview.

Rehearsing the Interview

The last step of preparing for an interview is to practice it with others. Interviews are like conversations, and there’s no way to predict exactly how it will go. Practicing with a variety of partners will help students feel more confident in their answers.

After practicing the interview, students should ask their partners for feedback. This will give them concrete ideas for what they need to practice more and where they can improve.

It can also be beneficial to schedule the interview for their top choice school last, if possible. This can give them time to interview at other schools first, providing more opportunities for practice and improvement.

Interviews can be stressful, so students can prepare by getting a good night’s sleep and talking to someone for help — essentially, employing strategies and habits that they probably used to get this far in the college application process.

Financing Your College Education

Getting into college is a feat in and of itself, but getting accepted is just one piece of the puzzle. If students don’t know how to finance college, they won’t be able to attend.

We’ll go over the options so students can start their financial planning now.

Federal Aid

Every student should fill out the FAFSA®, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, to determine eligibility for federal aid for school. Eligibility for undergraduates is usually based on the parents’ income. If students are eligible for aid, there are a couple of types they may receive.

Federal aid can come in the form of grants or loans. Grants don’t need to be repaid, whereas loans do. Federal loans usually come with benefits that private loans don’t, such as income-driven payments and lower fixed rates. It’s recommended that students take federal aid before turning to private loans.

💡 Quick Tip: Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should fill out the FAFSA form. Many schools require it for merit-based scholarships, too.


Generally, there are lots of scholarships available to students. Scholarships can be need-based or merit-based. The eligibility requirements vary for each scholarship. They can be given out by colleges, corporations, or local community organizations. Students should see what resources their school has available in terms of scholarships. Often schools have a scholarship office or information about scholarships at their financial aid office.

Private Loans

Private student loans are another way that students can help fund their college experience. Each lender will have its own set of terms, including the interest rate and repayment methods. Students should make sure to do thorough research on the institution’s terms before choosing to take out a private loan.

There are many ways to finance a college education. Students who start their research early will be better equipped to find the right financial plan for them.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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