How to Prepare for College Interviews | Winward Academy


How to Prepare for College Interviews

Step into our office and have a seat. Let’s talk about college interviews.

You might not have any interviews lined up yet, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering what they’re like. While schools don’t officially require them, some of the most selective schools do “strongly encourage” them.  Don’t let that ominous phrase rattle you, though — you came to the right place.

In this post we’ll cover the following: 

  • How to get a college interview
  • How to prepare for the interview
  • Questions you’re likely to hear (and should be prepared to answer!)
  • Some tips to guide questions to ask the interviewer

How to get a college interview

Schools that do offer interviews schedule them differently — there’s no universal form or anything like that (darn). If how to get an interview isn’t on the school website, send an email or call the admissions office for help. If interviews are regional, the schools you’ve applied to will inform you about the time and place in which interviews are being held.

If an alum reaches out to you about scheduling an interview, be sure to email back in a professional manner, and not in a way that is more akin to a text between friends. Saying something like, “Hey, how does Saturday work for you?” may come across as overly casual.

How to prepare for the interview

You can minimize the nervous energy that comes with interviews by being prepared. Here are a few tips:

  1. Research the college and think about how you might fit their mission, values, and culture.

  2. Read all recent press releases so you’re familiar with current topics and issues. For example, has the school recently hired a new professor in an area you’re interested in? That’s a great thing to mention.

  3. If you know with whom you’ll be interviewing, research (but don’t stalk) your interviewer.

  4. Prepare a list of intelligent, well-informed questions to ask your interviewer that demonstrate thoughtful research and reflect your values.

  5. Write down skills, values, and personality traits that the interviewer should know about you and find a way to incorporate those points into the answers of your questions. Be honest about your goals. You’re not there to trick the interviewer.

Questions you’re likely to hear

Of course, there’s no way to predict what sort of questions the interviewer will ask. However, there are some standard questions and topics that will likely be covered in one way of another.

You’re definitely going to want to have specific, deep, and well-versed answers to these questions.

  • “Tell me about yourself.”
  • “Why our school?”
  • “What do you want to study, and why?”
  • “What interests you besides academics?”
Here are some other topics that may come up:
  1. Senior Year/Academics: These questions give students a way to communicate comfortably about their lives. Meanwhile, the interviewer can gauge the students’ strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes in the classroom.
    • What classes are you scheduled to have in your senior year?
    • What class are you looking forward to most/least and why?
    • What have you enjoyed most about your high school?

  2. Extra-Curricular: Colleges value how students spend their “free” time and what contributions they make in their school and community. Colleges look for passionate students who show signs of leadership, cooperation and community service.
    • What activities are you involved in outside of the classroom?
    • Are you involved in these activities equally, or is there one or two that you are most passionate about, and why?

  3. The College Experience: These questions provide the interviewee the opportunity to speak about who they are and what they’re interested in. The interviewer will be gauging the student’s interest in the school and whether the school is a good fit.
    • What are you looking forward to most about the transition from high school to college?
    • What characteristics or qualities are you looking for in a college/university?
    • How do you see yourself getting involved in the campus community?

  4. Academic and Personal Interests Interview Questions: Be prepared to identify your strengths and weaknesses, your successes and failures.  Anticipate being asked to provide an example of a situation that demonstrated a specific skill or talent.
    • What do you most like learning about?
    • How do you learn best?
    • What is your favorite part of your school experience?
    • What topics or assignments have you found particularly intriguing?
    • Is there anything that you would change about your high school experience?
    • How do you spend your time when you’re not in school?
    • What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome? What did you learn?
    • What would you do with a free day? Academic or otherwise?
    • What did you do this past summer?
    • Tell us about an accomplishment you’re proud of.
    • What have been some of your more important responsibilities?
    • What would you do if you did not attend college next year?
    • What do you do when you’re having trouble solving a problem?
    • What qualities do you look for in friends?
    • How do you think you can make an impact at college?
    • What would you like your college experience to be like?
    • How would you want to be remembered?
    • How have you left your mark on your community?
    • If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
    • Do you have a personal hero?
    • What have been the biggest failures or frustrations in your life?
    • What are your best friend’s strengths and weaknesses? What would s/he say are yours?
    • What are some things you’d like to experience or try in college?
    • Tell me about a person or an event that has markedly changed you.
    • What would you change about yourself?
    • If your application went before the admissions committee, what would you want to tell them to strengthen your case? What makes you unique?
    • What’s something that you can’t stop talking about?
    • Have you ever tried something and failed, but you were glad you did it? Would you do it again? What did you learn from your experience?
    • What have you been waiting for me to ask?

We know, we know. This may seem like a daunting list of questions, but keep in mind, if you’re well prepared, you’ll be able to answer virtually all of these questions with ease.

Questions to ask the interviewer

Lastly, consider these 10 tips while forming the questions you want to ask your interviewer and how you want to be remembered by the interviewer. Being prepared for this part is really going to set you apart from other interviewees. College interviews are two-way conversations.              

DO be specific in answering questions.

DON’T be afraid to ask the interviewer personal questions about what he or she likes and dislikes about his/her alma mater. Remember, people love to share their experiences and if you can get them to talk about what interests them and you can build a connection around that, they might leave the interaction with a positive impression—simply because you took interest in what they had to say and built a connection.

DO be prepared and practice. Having well thought out questions to ask your interviewer is one of the easiest ways to stand out from your competition. And, while this recommendation may sound odd, do talk to yourself in the mirror.  How do you look answering questions?  Do you look calm or stiff, happy or serious? Are you projecting professionalism, eagerness to contribute, willingness to learn? Are you sitting up straight, exhibiting good posture?

DON’T bombard your interviewer with questions. Keep an eye on your interviewer’s body language so you know when to wrap up your questions. But if your interviewer is stimulated by the discussion, don’t be afraid to keep the conversation going.

DO google yourself.  Anticipate that the person you are meeting is going to google you so google yourself first. If there is anything remotely inappropriate on a social media account, take it down.

DON’T discuss politics, religion, or any other highly charged topic.

DO be punctual.  Plan to arrive at the interview site 30 minutes early; doing so allows time for traffic, parking, or other delays.  Enter the interview office 5 – 10 minutes early.

DON’T have your cell phone out at any time.

DO remember that you are making an impression in all environments: the elevator, the waiting room, the bathroom.  Both verbal and non-verbal communication can be noted and reported. Maintain good posture, smile, and project confidence everywhere.

DO be kind, gracious, and confident. You got this!

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About Winward Academy – Winward Academy is one of the world’s leading innovators in the online education space, providing web-based academic support that enhances students’ knowledge, confidence, and competitiveness in middle and high school academics and in college applications. We help thousands of students every year by providing personalized, comprehensive ACT and SAT test preparation and extensive math curriculum support. The Winward Academy learning platform honors over 40 years of education and cognitive psychology research, incorporating proven techniques that promote effective learning.

Winward Academy’s unmatched reputation is wholly attributable to our students’ exceptional success and to the trust earned among students, parents, and schools around the world.

Jennifer Winward, Ph.D.

Dr. Jennifer Winward is a renowned college instructor, a distinguished 20-year veteran of high school tutoring, and the founder and lead instructor of Winward Academy. She earned her Ph.D. specializing in adolescent brain development and adolescent learning. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude with highest distinction honors. Dr. Winward has been widely recognized for her academic success, published research, and philanthropic efforts with awards from the President of the United States, the California State Assembly, Rotary International, the Marin County School Administrator Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Science Foundation.