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College Admissions Interviews: What to be prepared for?

What should students who get called in for an Admissions Interview expect to be asked? Are there certain questions that Admissions Officers like to ask? How should a student prepare?

Larry B.


It does not make sense to be anxious about an admissions interview. Whether evaluative or non-evaluative, interviews are rarely a major factor in admissions. That being said, students should take advantage of every opportunity presented to them. If a student has an evaluative college admissions interview scheduled they are lucky indeed. This is an opportunity to convey what cannot be revealed in a written application.

High school guidance offices, independent counselors, and even your neighbors who interview for their Alma Mater, likely have lists of typical questions. Surely it is worthwhile to get these and read them. However, the common thread in what we hear from admissions personnel is that a personal meeting with admissions staff or an alumnus can illuminate whether the student has an active “life of the mind.” For that reason I have this answer about preparation:

The student should have a resume, the customary tool for directing any interview conversation. Why not prepare an edited, short version of your resume? Include the items you would most like to talk about and exclude the items that are less likely to produce a good conversation. When you arrive at your appointment you can tell the interviewer you have prepared a short version of your resume and offer it. If the interviewer takes the abridged resume, which is likely, that tool may help you to have a fully engaged conversation with the interviewer.

There are rarely “right” or “wrong” answers to interview questions. In most cases the measure of an interview is whether there was a good, two-way conversation about meaningful topics.

Larry is a graduate of Cornell University and the Director of the College Admissions Program at a consulting company. He is a Professional Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), a member of the Higher Education Consultant’s Association (HECA), a member of the New Jersey Association for College Admissions Counseling (NJACAC) and a member of the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC). 

Jane H.


The interview is a two way conversation. The applicant will be asked questions by the admissions representative who is either a staff member or a student who has been trained to represent the admissions office.

Applicants should recognize that the interview also provides an opportunity to ask questions about the school, its programs, the environment and more. This allows the applicant to learn whether the school appeals and is a good fit. It also allows the focus to be off of feeling grilled. By asking good and specific questions, it also allows the applicant to impress the interviewer.

So my best advice is that you should come prepared to talk about yourself and your high school experience, interests, passions and what you are looking for in college. Maybe even more importantly, you should also come prepared with targeted questions about the school based on research. For example, “I understand there is a first year experience here which is designed to help freshmen transition into college life. Can you tell me more about that?” If the interviewer indicates s/he is or was a student at that college, you should feel free to ask about his or her favorite part of being a student there, any drawbacks, etc.

Just remember that the interview is a two way conversation. Have fun with it.

Jane H., MBA, is the founder of a college advising company in New York. She explains what colleges are looking for and why. She visits colleges and meets with admission officers to learn about their educational programs and institutional priorities. She teaches how to secure merit aid and that students have more control than they think.

David P.


Preparation for the interview should begin when the applicants first start mapping out their plans for prioritizing their strengths and incorporating their story themes and wow factors into their applications. (Applicants should commence with this step right after the initial introspection stage that ensures they have properly defined their “universes” of potential application material.) This ensures they give the optimal and holistic view of their candidacy through the personal statements, optional essays, letters of reference, activity statement and, of course, the interview.

In most cases, interviewers are not familiar with the applicant’s file beforehand because ‘green deans’ (current college students who have been tapped and trained) are conducting the interviews while the official selection committee staff is occupied reading applications. There are, however, special circumstances when a major donor or a college counselor at an elite prep school or a division 1 coach will insist on a staff interview after a student has applied. Know which group you fall under so you do not unnecessarily “regurgitate” information from your application. However, even if your interviewer has not reviewed your file, you should try to work in some additional points while being respectful and following your interviewer’s lead. If your application has already been submitted, then certainly any updates regarding recent achievements are fair game.

Certain experiences from your essays may be probed, particularly if the admissions office wants to see some substantiation or introspection to ensure you learned and grew from these experiences.

Your interview is only about 30 minutes and, therefore, only time for them to ask a few questions from a seemingly infinite number of possibilities. Be comfortable with who you are, what you want, what the school offers and why you are a great fit with that school. If you are, you will be prepared for “Describe your ideal roommate,” “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” or whatever else they may ask. Likewise, remember that the interview is a chance for you to evaluate the school just as they are evaluating you. Be sure to have at least one or two thought-provoking questions to ask your interviewer if time permits.

The interview is an important evaluative component at the selective schools. Therefore, you should take your preparation seriously. “Practice, practice, practice,” is good advice. If you don’t have a qualified person to practice with, at least practice in front of a mirror.

David P. is a former Admissions Officer at the University of Chicago. 

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