How To Answer Undergraduate Admissions Interview Questions

The big day has arrived. You're about to go from being just a name and number to being a flesh and blood person to the people who decide whether you're in or out at the college of your choice. Sure, you might be nervous, but if you think over the process before you go and keep a few things in mind, a college admissions interview can be a painless experience that helps you put your best foot forward.

  1. Be yourself. Remember the main goal of a college admissions interview is to let the college know who they're really dealing with. They may or may not have already looked at your paper application (depending on where you are in the application process.) Now they want to know what essays and SAT scores can't tell them. So be confident enough to be yourself. The last thing any interviewer wants is another over-rehearsed kid saying the same thing as everyone else, trying to work the system and get in. That's no good. Instead, be yourself--a neat, polite, version of yourself, but yourself. Only you know what that entails. Just remember, if you try to be someone else, you probably won't be very good at it, and the admissions office might very well consider somebody more sincere and comfortable in his own skin.
  2. Remain calm. I know, easier said than done. One of the most difficult parts of interviews is usually battling the nerves. "What are they going to ask?" "What did they think of my answer?" "Do I have spinach in my teeth? I knew I should have just had coffee." But remaining calm is key to expressing yourself clearly.

    A few ways to deal with the jitters? Remember that your interviewer isn't there to torture you, but to help the college get to know you better. She is not the enemy. She cares about students and education. Also, realize no one is perfect in an interview; people talk too fast, go blank mid-thought, stutter, stammer, and say dumb things. And the interviewer knows that and has seen it all before, so you're not liable to shock her. And you also shouldn't fret over saying every little thing perfectly. Nobody wants a Stepford student, anyhow. Lastly, be confident. If you believe in yourself and are sure you'd be an asset to the school, that will help you go into that interview ready for the give and take.

  3. Be specific, but be concise. When you are asked an interview question, your goal is to convey who and what you are to the interviewer. To do so, be specific. Telling them you care about world events is good; talking about a crises that really bothers you is better. Explaining you're undecided about your major is okay; telling them you like sciences and art and it's hard to choose is better. Let them know you by being specific in your answers.

    On the other hand, remember this is an admissions interview, not a master's thesis. Be specific and thorough; say what you want to say, but be aware of yourself enough to know if you're going over the same things again and again, diverging from the topic, or otherwise babbling. There's no set time I'd recommend for an answer--"under three minutes" for example--but think of how it feels when you ask a quick question and get an overly long answer. You don't want to make your interviewer feel that way.

  4. Don't forget the humility factor. An interview is a chance for you to express yourself, explain yourself, and otherwise introduce yourself to the school you're trying to attend. You definitely, as with a job interview, want to make it clear you have something to offer. But be sure when you're explaining your accomplishments, if asked, that you don't come off like you're bragging or like you have all the answers. No one wants a cocky eighteen-year-old on their campus if they can avoid it. Remember that talented kids already attend this school. You want to prove you'd like to be in their company, not that you think you're smarter than all of them. Remember too: You're just beginning your higher education journey, and you're interviewing at colleges because you want to learn more, not to prove you already know everything.

    To this end, try to use "we" statements when appropriate "The team did this" or "My group did this." And not "Everyone says I'm the best player in the orchestra." And talk about your successes in terms of opportunities and passions: "I really love chemistry and was really lucky to get to participate in the statewide convention on medical ethics." And put the focus on the future: "I really want to be a poet, and I think I would learn a lot from Dr. So and So."

  5. Watch the body language. What you say is largely paired in people's memories with how you say it. As you answer interview questions, be conscious of how you're physically presenting yourself. Sit up straight, don't fidget, use eye contact, but don't stare the other person down. (You know, all the stuff mothers always told you to do...) Also, try to control the speed and volume of your voice; don't let nerves make you rush and don't mumble, get too loud, or speak too softly.
  6. Practice, but don't rehearse. Of course, a lot of these things, from the opening firm handshake, to staying calm and talking slowly, to being able to express why you want to go to this particular college, can be practiced. It's a good idea to do a few fake interviews with parents or friends if you can. Try to predict some questions. Practice all the little things you want to do at the interview to make sure the real, best you comes through loud and clear. On the other hand, don't rehearse so your answers are memorized. Not only will that sound a little fake to the interviewer, but you never know what great answers may spontaneously come to you. Don't lock into prepared responses. Plus, you won't be able to guess everything they'll ask anyhow. But if you work on staying calm, clear, and concise, that will help you hit whatever they throw at you out of the park.
  7. Avoid extreme slang and objectionable language. This may seem self-evident. You're not going to go to a college interview and start cursing or talking like you do to your best friends. But it's a good thing to keep in mind. But, you ask, if I'm supposed to be myself, and myself swears a lot or says "ain't" or "like, whatever" as a matter of course, how can I be myself? That's why I said to be a neat and polite version of yourself, an academic, mature version of yourself. Put your best foot forward and use your best judgment to determine what a potential college student should be saying in a "professional" situation--and what's best left for hanging out at home.

The admissions interview can be nerve-racking, but eventually, it will be over. If you've put your best foot forward, it will help your chances at acceptance. Even if you don't get in, you can still take pride in knowing you handled a difficult hurdle like a mature and intelligent young adult.


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