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By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

College Interviews

Uploaded: Oct 2, 2017

College interviews are a perfect opportunity for you to find out more about the college and for the college interviewer to learn more about you. I recently asked a local College Admissions Interviewer for Cornell University, Elizabeth Grover, what advice she suggests to students as they prepare for their upcoming interviews. Here is an overview of what she tells students about interviewing.

First impressions matter and set the tone for the rest of your interactions with the interviewer!

Generally, you may be contacted by email to schedule an interview. It is important to be professional in your communications. Err on the side of formality and use formal written English in your communications with the interviewer, such as using titles (Mr./Ms.), saying “Hello” rather than “Hi” or “Hey.”

Wear business casual dress, unless you are told it is acceptable to wear something more casual. It is not necessary to wear ties, jackets, dresses or skirts, but no T-shirts, sweatshirts or jeans (again, unless the interviewer suggests that very casual dress is acceptable).

Always introduce yourself clearly and shake the interviewer’s hand at the beginning of the meeting.

It is helpful to the interviewer if you bring a brief, one page resume outlining your extracurricular activities and a list of classes you are currently taking. This helps the interviewer remember you after the meeting when they are writing a summary for the college and it provides the interviewer with a starting place for the conversation—perhaps they will ask about some interesting activity you participate in.

Arrive early for the interview, turn off your cell phone and put it away. If some unforeseen circumstance arises and you are unavoidably late or cannot make the interview, you should be sure to call the interviewer, apologize and try to reschedule if necessary. You should ask for their cell phone number and provide yours should they need to be in touch with you.

During the interview, be present. Listen to their questions carefully, and think about your responses before answering. Make eye contact and try to be yourself. If the interviewer asks a question you can’t answer off the top of your head, it’s OK to stop for a minute to think. Try not to be long-winded in your responses. Remember that the mark of a successful interview is to have a conversation with the interviewer and try to
avoid question/answer, question/answer.

Above all relax.

Prepare for an interview by thinking about the types of questions you might be asked.
First among all of these is “why did you apply to this college/university?” You should have some very specific reasons—location, size of the school, academic rigor for sure, but think more deeply about why this might be the right place for you. It’s never enough to say that the school has strong academics, or it’s an Ivy.

Other good questions include:

1. Who was your favorite teacher and why?
2. What were your favorite things about high school? What were your least favorite?
3. As you think about heading off to college, what are you most looking forward to? What apprehensions might you have?
4. What sets you apart from your peers?
5. Is there anything you would want the admissions office to know about you that they cannot learn from your application?
6. What activities might you want to be involved in at college?
7. What is one activity you do outside of school that you are proud of?
8. Give me an example of a time you had to make a difficult decision. What was the outcome?
9. How have you been a leader or displayed leadership?
10. Describe a challenge or barrier you have had to overcome?
11. What will you contribute to (insert college name) campus community?



When discussing your extracurricular activities, remember that the interviewer is not looking for a laundry list of everything you’ve been involved in. Be prepared to explain why an activity is important to you, what you’ve learned from the experience, challenges you’ve faced, or leadership roles you have assumed. They want to see what you are passionate about.

It is crucial to think about questions you might be asked in advance. Practice your answers, not to the point that it sounds canned, but all too often, students think they can answer a question off the cuff and fall short when trying to improvise in an interview. Try to incorporate examples to add depth to your answers. Elaborate when you can to add more detail. Practice answers with a parent or a teacher, preferably someone who has some experience with interviews and can give you good feedback about your responses.

Always have questions of your own. Don’t ask questions that are easily answered by the school’s website—how many students attend this school, or if it has a particular club or activity. If you’ve done your research, these are questions you should already know! If you are meeting with an alumna/us, you can ask about their experiences at the school, what they liked or didn’t like. Read the school newspaper online to see what kinds of issues/events are happening at the school.

Some questions might be:

1. What do they think distinguishes this school from others?
2. How would they describe the academic and social environments?
3. What services are available to students with learning or physical differences?
4. What types of emergency preparation has been made to keep students safe?
5. As an incoming freshman, what advice would you offer to help me settle into college life?

Don’t ask what the school is looking for. The vast majority of colleges and universities take a wholistic approach to the admissions process and consider a number of factors in their decision to admit a particular student. Grades, test scores, teacher recommendations, and not least your essay are all factors in their decision making. There really is no answer to this question.

It isn’t necessary to have tons of questions, but you should have at least two or three.

Follow up after the interview.

When you leave the interview, stand up, shake the interviewer’s hand and thank them for their time.

Always, always, always write a thank you email that same day to the interviewer to again thank them for taking the time to meet with you. Make it brief but express your interest in the school. You can add something that was discussed in the interview that was interesting to you—“it was interesting to hear about _____.”

Ultimately the more preparation you do for an interview, the more successful you will be.

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