As a former college president, I think the college interview is important part of the application process and, if I had some kind of mythical authority, I would require all colleges and universities to do them. My reason? The interview puts a human face on all the data admissions officers mull over when they are deciding who to admit.
[More on How to Survive the College Admissions Wait here.]
When I do mock college interviews at Mamaroneck High School, students with perhaps less than spectacular grades often shine, showing that, given the opportunity, they will probably do very well if not excel in college. If your teen has the grades and test scores together with a winning personality and the college offers an interview, go for it. The interview can only help. If your student has less impressive grades or board scores but could sell anyone the Brooklyn Bridge, also go for it. The interview might convince the admissions office to take a chance. On the other hand, if your student is an introvert and doesn’t interview well but has otherwise good grades and board scores, consider punting especially if an interview is not required. A bad interview could hurt.
Sample College Interview Questions:
Tell me about yourself.
Why are you considering this college?
What makes you think this is a good college for you?
Do you plan to attend here if accepted? What other colleges have you visited? What others do you plan to apply to? [Note: Without being too specific especially about other colleges, it’s important to be as upbeat as possible about the institution where the interview is being done.]
What are you considering as a major? [Note: It’s OK to say that you are not yet sure what you will major in but want to try out different courses before making the decision.]
What courses have you most enjoyed in high school? What do you like and dislike most about your high school? Have you been intellectually challenges at school?
What is the most important thing you have learned in high school?
What is the range of students at your school? Where do you fit in?
What are some controversial issues at school? How do you/students approach these issues?
Do you have an after school job? What do you do with any money you have earned?
Do your grades accurately reflect your ability?
If you could make one change in your high school, what would it be?
How do you spend a typical afternoon or weekend?
What do you consider your strengths? Areas in need of improvement?
If you could talk with any one person, living or dead, whom would it be and why?
What events have helped shape your life?
What do you want to get out of your college experience?
When reading a book, do you look up words you do not understand?
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be? How would you do it?
What books, not assigned in class, have you recently read? Describe one of them.
What newspapers or magazine do you read regularly?
Who are your role models?
How do you hope college will be different from high school?
What are some qualities that may set you apart from the other people I spoke to today? (What is unique about you?)
What local, national or global issues concern you most?
How would a friend describe you?
How are you different from your friends?
What questions do you have for me? [Note:Be sure you have a question!]
Some Do’s and Don’ts for the College Interview
Read the college’s literature beforehand.
Know your strengths. Be ready to communicate them but with humility. Elaborate with enthusiasm on favorite courses, favorite books, travel and/or extracurricular activities.
Dress comfortably and neatly.
Arrive promptly to the designated meeting place. Introduce yourself, give a firm handshake and make eye contact.
If you haven’t made application, bring a resume.
Be energetic and enthusiastic but natural.
Listen to your interviewer.
Be honest. Be yourself.
Follow up with a thank you note.
Criticize your teachers, school or other colleges
Recite a prepared speech
Lie or exaggerate
Chew gum, slouch or mumble
Be monosyllabic: Say “you know” constantly
Be anything other than yourself
If your student decides to do a college interview (or if it is required), try to arrange one with an admissions officer when visiting a campus. The best time to do this is high school senior year preferably just after application has been made. This way the interview will be fresh in the mind of the admissions officer who did the interview. If, however, your student is assigned a student or alumnus, there isn’t much you can do about it. Just go with the flow. But no matter who does the interview, these are questions that your student should think about in advance.
Does It Matter Where You Go to College? (interview with Frank Bruni)
Dr. Roger Martin is a retired college president and former Harvard dean. His book Off to College: A Guide for Parents (Chicago Guides to Academic Life) was published by the University of Chicago Press. He writes extensively about the transition from high school to college on his Facebook page, Off to College 101.