A Guide to College Interviews: How to Prepare

May 03, 2021 · 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. When it’s out, it’s out. That’s why preparing for a college admissions interview is vital to success.

Here are things to have 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.

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’ll 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 nerve-wracking.

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

•   What are your goals?
•   How does this college fit in with your interests and talents?
•   What majors are you interested in, and why?
•   What are you passionate about?
•   Why do you want to attend college?
•   Why this college?
•   What extracurricular activities are important to you?
•   What academic or intellectual topics interest you?
•   What types of books do you enjoy reading?

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 have a bad academic year 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 put together a list of questions that students should consider asking during interviews. It includes the following:

•   What percentage of students come back after freshman year?
•   Could you tell me some details about a program/major?
•   What makes a program/major a good one?
•   What social options are available?
•   What campus issues are students talking about this year?
•   How involved are students in extracurricular activities?
•   Do most students stay on campus during the weekends?

Students can ask questions about their prospective majors, campus life, class environments, anything they’d like. 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 will give them time to interview at other schools first, providing more opportunities for practice and improvement.

For students struggling with anxiety surrounding their interview, the following tips for coping provided by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America may help:

•   Limit alcohol and caffeine
•   Get enough sleep
•   Take deep breaths
•   Count to 10 slowly
•   Talk to someone

Interviews can be stressful, so students should have some coping strategies lined up in case they feel nervous during their interview.

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.


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. The eligibility for private student loans is usually based on income and credit history. 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.

Interested in a private student loan? Learn more about the choices and rates at SoFi.

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