Interview Tips

Interview Tips

Written by Jill Buccola

Do you find yourself frustrated by college applications that consist mainly of grades and standardized test scores? An admissions interview is a perfect opportunity to lessen that frustration. Some colleges allow or even require students to interview with alumni or admissions representatives. This is highly recommended in the admissions process at Hillsdale College. An admissions interview can be a crucial way for you to showcase your interests, abilities, and character, and it allows your application to “come to life.” But the word interview can cause even the most extroverted and confident of college applicants some serious butterflies and sweaty palms. So here are some tips to make the interview work for you:

  1. Relax and be yourself. Choosing a college, and a college choosing you, is about best fit. You don’t want to trick a college into thinking you are someone you are not, because then the next four years of your life will be highly uncomfortable. In addition, a false front is difficult to keep up and could make the whole interview nerve-wracking for you. Your admissions representative wants to know who you truly are, because they have your as well as their college’s best interests at heart, and only the truth is going to advance both of those causes.
  2. Be willing to go deep, but don’t over-talk. An interview should show more about you than your other application materials can, so don’t settle for shallow, three-word answers to each question. Open yourself up and allow the college admissions representative to see and hear more of your thought processes, attitudes, and interests. We are each very complex human beings with unique ways of gathering and processing ideas and experiences, and almost every college admissions representative is the type of person who is fascinated by understanding individuals on a deep level. Let them in. However, beware of talking too much! Allow the interview to be a two-way conversation, and make sure not to bore your interviewer by droning on. Say what you need to say, and stop. Going deep does not necessarily equal talking for a long time.
  3. Know why you are interested in a college, and be able to articulate it. Why in the world did you even schedule this interview? If you don’t know, then both you and your interviewer are wasting your time. Know what you want to get out of these four years, and learn to articulate those goals. You’ll begin to see which colleges’ missions align with your idea of what college ought to do for you, and then you’ll know which colleges should still be on your list. And you’ll be able to better process things you learn about colleges in interviews and articulate to them why you want to attend that college. Your interviewer will appreciate your work ahead of time as a possible indication of a strong student and proactive participant in campus life. However, beware of over-preparing! Your interview will be very uncomfortable if you recite memorized answers or read from notes you brought with you. Talk honestly about your opinions and keep a comfortable conversation going.
  4. Be ready to answer questions about what you are involved in and why you choose to spend your time that way. Again, the purpose of interviewing is to show a college more about yourself than your paper resume can. Show your passion for the sport you play, your excitement for things you learn in school clubs, your interest in international work, or your love for a hard day’s work, just to give some examples. Articulating an answer to the perennial question “why?” can show your ability to be thoughtful, introspective, and purposeful, attributes colleges want in their students. Thinking through why you do what you do is not only great interview preparation, but also a precious opportunity to assess your life choices and make sure you’re on the track you want to be on. However, beware of bragging! Do not use an interview to toot your own horn, even when you think you are masking the bragging in humble language. A truly interesting person always has others who speak well of him or her, and colleges will see that in letters of recommendation. Use the interview to show why you do what you do rather than to pat yourself on the back for the number of things you do or the awards you’ve earned.
  5. We’re not looking for “right” answers. We want to know the real YOU. There is a range of correct answers to any question an interviewer asks. Most colleges will put way more weight on how something is said than what is being said. College admissions representatives understand that you are a high school student still in the middle of figuring out where your life is headed, and we simply want to know your hopes and dreams and why you have those hopes and dreams. Show the real you rather than what you think a college wants. More often than not, you don’t know what that college is actually looking for in its students, because you haven’t lived on campus or taken classes with its professors, so it’s safer to show your true colors and find a college that actually wants YOU on campus.

We hope these tips help you in your upcoming college admissions interviews. Just remember that stressing out about preparing and trying to figure out how to put on the best show for your interviewer will only result in an uncomfortable interview and land you at the wrong college. But of course, not having prepared at all will just waste everyone’s time. Do your research, and then have fun and show your interviewer who you truly are. Good luck in your interviews!


Jill Buccola is the Assistant Director of Northwest and Great Plains Recruitment for Hillsdale College. She is a native of the Seattle area, and as a Hillsdale student, served as co-president of the Honors Program in addition to many other extra-curricular activities. She graduated in 2013 with a major in history and a minor in English. After teaching junior high and high school history and literature and coaching football, basketball, and track at a public charter school in the Phoenix, AZ area, Jill earned a Master of Arts from the University of Chicago, studying nineteenth-century German religious history.


Published in August 2018