Former Alumni Interviewer Tells Teens How to Conquer a College Admissions Interview

The dreaded college interview. A thirty minute interview usually won’t make or break an applicant, yet kids and parents alike cringe at the mere thought. As a former alumni interviewer and the mom of two grown kids, here are some Do’s and a few Don’ts to keep in mind to help increase your child’s confidence for a smooth interview experience.

young man interviewing
How to conquer your interview. (Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash)

11 Do’s for a College Admissions Interview 

1. Request an “optional” interview. This is a no-brainer. Requesting one demonstrates added interest. If you are not granted an interview, don’t despair. Often schools offering an optional interview do not have enough interviewers in your particular area to meet demand.

2. Confirm with your interviewer ASAP. Respond to the initial email or text as soon as possible. If you cannot make the date/time requested, offer an alternative with a reason why. Unless there is a legitimate conflict, stay with the proposed time.

3. Read the email carefully. Likely all the information you need is in the email- read it carefully. If you are meeting in a public space, the norm these days, if your interviewer did not indicate how to recognize them, ask. You don’t want to waste valuable time in a crowded Panera searching for your interviewer.

4. Be a few minutes early. Do a trial run to the location, if necessary. If the interviewer is still with another candidate at your time slot, stand out of the way but in sight. Interviewers like to keep on track, and you don’t want them to think you’re late.

5. Think about talking points ahead of time and be able to answer basic questions. What is your favorite subject? What have you struggled with in school? Looking back what do you wish you could have done differently in high school? What are you most proud of? What do you do with your free time? How did you spend your summers

Now! the Grown and Flown book has all parents need to help them through the stressful college admissions process.

Grown and Flown book

6. Bring a resume. My alma mater did not allow students to submit resumes during the interview, but many schools do, and it can’t hurt to have it with you.

7. Sit up straight. Even though the interview may take place in a casual environment, appropriate body language conveys respect to the interviewer and helps the student exude confidence.

8. Come with questions (1 or 2). Many college interviews wrap up the same way – “do you have any questions for me?” Taking the time to come up with a question helps show that this school is a priority for the student.

9. Be creative with your question(s). Asking how the engineering program is in a nationally ranked program doesn’t make a lot of sense. Stay away from Googleable facts, like what percentage of campus life is Greek. A common (and safe) question is “What did you like best during your time at said University”?

One of the best questions I got was asking me the Least favorite thing about my school. It caught me off guard, but it made me feel like this particular student was looking beyond the hype and thinking outside the box.

10. Be yourself and dress for the occasion. Hate suits? Don’t wear one. Love dresses? Go for it. Often the interviewer will mention dress code, but also follow the lead of the location (public library or private club). Use common sense to stay away from ripped clothing and controversial slogans. Good rule of thumb if you can wear it to school, it’s OK for an interview.

11. Send a thank you. In most cases an alumni interviewer is a volunteer who loves their school and wants to help curate the next generation of alum. For me, it took about 2 hours per student (coordinating, interviewing and writing reports).

A simple “thank you for your time” (email or text) does wonders and always put me in a more positive mindset creating my report. Do this as soon as possible after meeting; a quick thank you is better than a late or forgotten thank you.

What NOT to do in a College Admissions Interview

  • Don’t be late If you are a minute or two late, apologize.
  • Do not chew gum or bring food.
  • Do not look at your phone during the interview Make sure it’s on silent, and best to put it away entirely.

Don’t stress if your interview feels less-than-stellar. A bad interview may give the admissions officer a moment of pause, but, in the end, the substance of a strong application will prevail. In general, a good interview buoys a good candidate and bad interview seals the fate of a bad candidate.

Of course, even a great interview cannot save a weak candidate. And with today’s fierce competition, a student can have a great interview, be a great candidate and still not be offered a place of admission.

Good interview skills will serve your student well as they climb up the ladder of adulthood. If they are agreeable, try a mock interview at home. If not, sending them off with a big hug and a vote of confidence work wonders.

Good luck!

You Will Also Want to Read:

Life is a Roller Coaster and So is the College Application Process 

Dorm Shopping: 20 Favorite Extras 

Shari Bender has authored numerous parenting articles, drawing on her experiences with her now grown children. She earned her BA in Communications from Stanford University in 1992 and currently works as Communications and Marketing Director for a large electrical firm on Long Island. Shari is a cat-loving spiritual vegan who is excited to embrace her empty-nesting along with her husband of 27 years.

About Shari Bender

Shari earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University and freelances all things Communication and Marketing. She is a cat-loving spiritual vegan and former admissions interviewer. With two grown children. Shari is happily and sentimentally embracing her Empty Nest
along with her husband of nearly 30 years. Her musings delight parents in numerous publications and online platforms, including Grown & Flown and

Read more posts by Shari

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