How to Nail Your College Interview

Come Prepared

First things first — what should you bring? Your interviewer may tell you in advance if there is anything you should bring, but in any case it’s always a good idea to bring two copies of your resume (one for your interviewer and one for you to reference), a notebook and pen, and a small bag or purse to hold these things and your phone (which should be on silent and out of sight).

Aside from bringing the right things, coming prepared to your interview really boils down to knowing two things: yourself and the college you’re applying to.

Know Yourself

It sounds like a silly concept, but knowing yourself (or at least knowing the self that you want to present to an interviewer) is critical. You need to feel comfortable talking about yourself in a way that distinguishes you and highlights why you deserve to get that acceptance letter. This is no time to be modest about your accomplishments — obviously you don’t want to come off as cocky or conceited, but don't be afraid to talk highly of yourself and all that you’ve done.

Brainstorm real life examples and experiences that can serve as evidence and support for what you are saying about yourself. “The college counselor at my high school always told us ‘show, don’t tell’ when we are being interviewed, meaning don’t just list your qualities, but prove them with anecdotes that demonstrate how you put those qualities to use,” says Jamie Goddard, a junior at the University of Michigan. For example, instead of saying “I am a great leader” you could say something along the lines of, “I always take initiative in group assignments. For a group project in my History class, for example, I suggested that we divide the work based on our strengths and then meet after school every other day to check in and collaborate, which was a very effective strategy.”

Check out the list below of common interview topics that you should be prepared to discuss.

  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • How you would describe yourself
  • Your extracurriculars
  • Why you want to go to this school
  • What you could contribute to the school or student body
  • What you want to get involved in
  • What you’re interested in studying and why
  • What you see yourself doing in the future
  • Challenges or obstacles you’ve overcome in the past
  • What you do in your free time
  • Favorite book

You should also be 100% comfortable with and confident in talking about everything that is on your resume. Don’t have a resume? Read this Her Campus article on how to make one! Even if the interviewer doesn’t ask you to, it is always a good idea to bring two copies of your resume to the interview so that you and the interviewer can reference it throughout or after the interview.

As with Jamie’s “show, don’t tell” policy, when talking about something on your resume don’t just reiterate what is already listed; instead, elaborate on the information in meaningful ways. For example, instead of just mentioning that you were on the debate team and what your responsibilities were, talk about what skills you developed through those responsibilities and what you personally contributed to the team.

Since these answers should be well thought-out, you should absolutely practice them before every interview. Run through some of the questions above with a parent, sibling, or friend and pretend like it’s the real deal. The more you practice, the more prepared you’ll be, which will help you be more natural and less nervous during the actual interview.

Know the School

Knowing the school is in many ways related to knowing yourself. Knowing the school does not just mean knowing the admission stats or what the mascot is—it means being able to articulate why you want to go there and why the school wants you. Spend a solid amount of time surfing the school’s website so that you can bring up specific information to demonstrate your interest to the interviewer. For example, research the school’s core values so that you can discuss how you identify with them. Or look into some classes you’d be interested in taking or clubs you’d be excited to join. This will show that you care about and would take advantage of the opportunities that the school offers, making you a valuable addition to the student body. Definitely make sure you know what majors the school offers so that you don’t embarrassingly say you plan on majoring in something the school doesn’t have a program for. Take it from Her Campus’s very own editor-in-chief, Stephanie Kaplan. “During my Harvard interview I said I might be interested in majoring in political science, when at Harvard that major it actually called Government,” she says.

Here’s an example of a response that shows the interviewer that you truly want to go to the school and didn’t just apply because their application had no supplements:

“The university’s emphasis on action-based learning really appeals to me because I love the idea that I would actually be able to apply what I learn in the classroom to real-life situations and grow from those experiences, rather than just memorize information.”

And here’s one more for good measure:

“I can see myself getting really involved in the Global Health Club because it speaks to my interest in promoting global health equity and increasing access to health care around the world, so I would love to connect to and learn from others who share that interest.”

Want to know the easiest way to show the interviewer that you did your research? Ask a question! “Make sure to ask a few specific questions to show you’re interested and knowledgeable about the school,” Taylor says. A huge purpose of the interview is for the interviewer to be able to help you learn about the school and answer questions you have, so definitely have a few questions in mind in case the interviewer wants to spend a lot of time telling you more about the school. Don’t just ask something you could easily look up online; instead, ask more meaningful questions like some of the ones listed below.

  • What about X University has made you stay so connected to and involved in it?
  • What makes X University different than everywhere else?
  • What makes it stand out?
  • How would you describe the student body?
  • What were your favorite aspects of your college experience?
  • What do you advise students do to make the most of their time at X University?