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In the following article, admissions officer Pam Walton answers frequently asked questions about college financial aid! For more guidance on financial aid and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

One of my favorite times in the College Admissions Process is meeting the student at an interview session. After reading transcripts, test scores, lists of extracurriculars, and essays, I always love to swap that 2-D person on paper for someone right in front of me, smiling, engaged, and ready to tell me more about who they really are.

While I enjoy these conversations immensely, they can certainly create stress for many applicants. As someone who has conducted too many interviews to count, I’ve answered a few of the many questions that arise from students preparing for their time in the chair.

When do college interviews normally happen?

Colleges vary in the way they handle interviews. Some make it a practice to interview anyone who visits the campus. Usually, visits occur in the summer following your junior year, as you will visit the most colleges during this period.

Colleges with larger volumes of applicants will limit interviews to viable applicants after they have submitted their applications. This will happen in late fall of your senior year.

One other type of interview is with an alumna of the college. If you cannot visit the campus, the college will connect you with an alumna in your area. These interviews can occur at any time and may be more informational than evaluative.

How should I approach the question, “What are your strengths?”

Many students worry that they will err on the side of bragging or being self-promotional when answering this type of question. Because of this, they shy away from effectively answering it. It is not self-aggrandizing to talk about what you can do well. Be honest. If you are strong in sciences, emphatically admit, “I do well in the sciences!” If you are great at organizing yourself, tell them, “It’s really important for me to keep things in order.”

Being confident about your strengths is not boasting. It’s something the interviewer will need to know to fully understand your potential. Be prepared with an answer or two. L ead with academic strengths over extracurricular answers, but both are welcomed.

How should I approach the question, “What are your weaknesses?”

As with the question on strengths, it is important to have an honest answer ready for weaknesses. Everyone has weaknesses, and it will show a lack of introspection if you are not prepared with one to discuss. This question can be a bit of a minefield. You don’t want to bring up something that will concern the interviewer. For instance, if you applying as a pre-med applicant and your weakness is biology, then we’re going to have a problem. Suggest something substantial and honest that won’t detract from the direction of your application.

As soon as you lay out your weakness, the interviewer will ask you how you overcome or work with this weakness. Personally, I like to approach this question with a counteractive “glass half full” perspective. For example, “I know I’m weak in languages, so I joined the French Club to make it more fun to practice speaking.” Or, “I struggle with chemistry, but I’m happy, that with tutoring, I was able to get an A-.” Don’t wallow in your weakness, and don’t bring up more than one or two at most.

How can I approach the question, “What makes you unique?”

The obvious answer to this question is that everyone is unique. However, I believe what the interviewer is really asking is that after meeting so many high school seniors, what makes you stand out? This is a question that I can’t answer for you. Only you know the answer.

You are comprised of experiences and stories, and this question will require some soul searching. But everyone has that story, that influence, that class they took that changed their perception or trajectory. What makes you unique is a deep question. Dig in, be honest, and be authentic. Just believe that there is only one you, and the story will surface.

What should I wear to a college interview?

For attire, it is smart to be simple, modest, clean, and ironed. Avoid jeans, t-shirts, flip flops, sandals, and caps. You do not want your clothing to detract from the content of your interview.

What should I bring to a college interview?

I would not bring anything but yourself. The interview should allow the interviewer to consider you and the content of what you are saying. They will have your stats and can consider them at another time, but these components should be considered separately. Some will recommend a pen and paper if you want to take notes, but ideally this should be a conversation and can be conducted without props.

Should I bring a resume to a college interview?

I would not bring a resume. The interviewer will have access to your information. This session should allow you to express yourself outside of your stats. Unless you have a question regarding your transcript or something you need the Administrator to see, leave everything at home.

However, if you have an interview with an alumna outside of the college campus, I would ask beforehand if they would like you to bring a resume. Sometimes these interviews function more like a job interview, so you may want to be ready with something to hand them.

What kinds of questions will they ask in my college interview?

College interview questions vary. Obvious questions include: “What do you plan on studying?” “Tell me about your extracurriculars.” “Tell me about your school and favorite subjects?” “Who would you say is your most influential mentor?” “Why do you feel this College is the right fit for you?” “What books have you read lately?” “What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?” “What are your strengths?”

“What are you looking for in a college?”

Remember, this is a conversation. While there are standard questions to expect, other questions may arise from your answers organically. So, if your favorite book is Catcher in the Rye, the next question might be something about Holden Caulfield. Be ready to go with the flow of an interview, and keep it conversational.

I always liked to ask unexpected questions. I’d ask, “What section of the newspaper would you turn to if I handed you the Times right now?” or, “What was your favorite vacation?” These questions helped me to see how engaged the student was in the conversation. They always allowed me to see whether the student was interested and able to talk beyond that which they may have prepared. Be yourself, follow the conversation closely, and share your experiences.

How should I prepare for my college interview?

Start by brainstorming questions that might come up, and practice answering them. While you don’t want to seem too rehearsed, it is smart to not be surprised by questions and to think about how to address them in advance. It is also helpful to be relaxed so that you can express your true persona. Before you go in to the interview, do a little inhale/exhale two or three times to settle your nerves, loosen your shoulders, and center yourself. Enjoy the conversation and be yourself.

Can a college interview hurt my application?

I have always said that an interview can only help your application. By taking part in an interview, you have expressed an emphatic interest in the school. Someone from the campus or extended college community has gotten to meet you and will hopefully add remarkable comments about you to your file. At best, the college interview improves your chances. Unless something goes terribly awry (an untoward comment or a sloppy appearance), negative marks on an application rarely stem from the interview process.

How should I introduce myself in my college interview?

Introduce yourself in the way that you’d like to be addressed. Ultimately, the interviewer should get to know you as you will present yourself on campus the following fall. The tone should be as you would speak to a teacher — formal, respectful, yet still friendly and confident.

I’m an international student. Will I get a college interview?

Yes, international students are encouraged to interview. The options if you can not travel, which is obviously a challenge, would be if the college has an alum or representative in your area, or potentially the student can interview on a Zoom-type platform.

What are your best college interview tips?

Know why you’re there. You are making a big decision in your life, and this college has made it to your list. Know why it is on your list. Know how you will fit in on that campus. Know what programs you want to become involved in. Imagine what it might be like to be part of that community. With this basis of visualization, you can reference any experience or information from your past and apply it to the interviewer’s questions.

Try to enjoy the conversation, and ask your interviewer pertinent questions. As much as they are evaluating you, they are also a resource who knows the school well.

What happens after a college interview?

After the interview, the interviewer generally will write a one page evaluation on your meeting. The evaluation goes into your file and will be considered to cross reference with all the other details of your application.

Should I send a follow-up email after my college interview?

I always appreciated a handwritten card. When I conducted interviews for college, I actually had one handy. I would walk out of the interview, write a personalized note, and drop it immediately in the mail. An email is also thoughtful. No matter what form your follow-up takes, it is smart to be appreciative but brief. State exactly the time and day of your interview, and be sure to reference a few specific things you discussed in the interview and how they have impacted your excitement about the school.

Who can help me prepare for my college interview?

Informally, there are many people who can help you prepare for the interview — your parents, your guidance counselor, or even your friends who are plodding through the same process. They can ask you general questions, and you can practice your answers. These sessions can often be quite fun, and your family and friends will learn a lot about you.

More formally, as a member, you will have access to not only your advisor, but to a former Admissions Officer. You can also work with interviewers like myself who can conduct a mock interview and evaluate your performance. We have a designated, highly experienced team of advisors to conduct interview preparation with our students: first you will have a 30 minute prep session, and following that you will have a one hour mock interview, which will consist of an actual interview followed by specific feedback about your areas of strength and areas for potential improvement. This will let you experience what a session feels like and will hopefully allow you to be more comfortable with the interview format. Unlike sitting with your family and friends, where you can break of role when you aren’t pleased with your answer, these mock interviews are a start to finish dress rehearsal with some great feedback after the interview ends

This informational article was written by Pam Walton. Didn’t see your question on the list? Get help preparing for your college interview from Pam or other Admissions Experts, register with today.