How to Ace a College Interview: 10 Easy Steps

College admissions officers use college interviews for two main purposes. First, they want to get a better sense of you as a person. In other words, in part, the interviewer is conducting the interview to assess your personality, sociability, and likeability. Second, as with the “Why us?” supplemental questions you are required to answer when applying to most colleges (“What is it about Yale that has led you to apply?”, “How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania?”), the interviewer is looking to assess how well you know the college, its departments and programs, and its special assets, and to evaluate how well you can make a case for your admission. In other words, to ace the interview, you have to flatter but not brown nose, and you need to show off your accomplishments and strengths without bragging all while proving that you are likeable and capable of conducting yourself with poise.


Not if you prepare. Here are ten things you can do to make sure you ace your college admission interview.

Before the interview:

1.  When you arrange your interview, remember to be formal and mature in your correspondences with the interviewer. While I am becoming more impressed with the potential expressive value of using a combination of visual and alphabetic symbols in daily discourse, in college admissions interview correspondences, emojis and emoticons just don’t strike the right note of seriousness ☹. Instead, use standard conventional English and be formal and polite. Also, make sure you use the subject line of the email to clearly and concisely indicate the information contained in the body of the email. (In other words, if you want to impress your admissions interviewer, consider writing “Confirming date of interview” not “Comin’ back at you.”) Also, if you are agreeing to something and need to use the word “yes,” use the word “yes” not “yeah.” As during the interview, decorum matters.

2.  Prepare a resume or activity list to take with you to the admissions interview whether or not the interviewer requests it. Although you may not need a resume during your interview, you may have an opportunity to present and refer to it so better to have one than not.

3.  Before the interview, learn as much as you can about the college for which you are being interviewed. One of the first questions you are likely to be asked is “Why are you applying to this college?” Be prepared to offer specific information about the college and its programs.

4.  Before the interview, in fact before you start applying to college, clean up your social media presence. Your personal integrity and the admissions officers’ perception of your self-respect (or lack thereof) matter.

5.  Pick out your clothes before the interview. Remember that the admissions interviewer, whether she is an employee of the college or an alumae/i interviewer, is evaluating you for possible admission to a scholarly academy. As such, you need to demonstrate your respect for the college and the interview process. Does that mean you have to dress in conventional business clothes? No, but you do need to present a neat, clean, and (I generally advise) neutral appearance. If the clothes you pick out are uncomfortable, practice wearing them at home before the interview so you’ll be less likely to squirm during the interview.

6.  Create an interview playlist for yourself. You will probably be asked questions concerning your extra-curricular activities, the academic subjects that interest you, your summers, your visits to the campus, the college’s appeal for you. For a full list of common interview questions, click here. When thinking about answers to these questions, choose those that are the most meaningful to you. Once you’ve determined which are most meaningful to you, pick three or four from that list that you think will most appeal to the college.

7. Rehearse. Before your admissions interview, rehearse conveying the details of those topics clearly, concisely, and specifically. In other words, be prepared to identify and explain the activity and its impact on you in a way that will show your enthusiasm but not bore the interviewer.

During the admissions interview:

8.  Do your best to be engaging, confident, and genuine. Interviewers know you are probably nervous and most will do their best to put you at ease. Remember, the main goal is to appear likeable.

9.  Don’t fawn, grovel, or act obsequiously. Admissions interviewers are not keen on toadies.

After the admissions interview:

10.  Send a short thank you email to your interviewer within 24 hours of the interviewer. Twelve is better. Don’t parrot back what the interviewer told you or attempt to curry favor by repeating the clever things she or he might have said. Instead, mention one or two points that you learned about the school from your conversation, note why they are important to you, and thank the interviewer.


Need some help prepping for your college admissions interview, call me! I’m always ready to help you achieve academic excellence!

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.