Mastering the Interview Mindset

By Jovan Ellis, Assistant Director of Admissions

Fall is here, and for many high school seniors, autumn means two things: pumpkin-spiced everything and college applications. Specifically, I would like to focus on what is, to many prospective students, the most nerve-racking step of the application process: the dreaded college interview.

Many colleges recommend these Admissions interviews—some even require it. However, as someone who has interviewed dozens of young scholars, I’d like to share some advice for how you can make the most of your interview experience. It starts by getting into the interview mindset.

“You think outside the box. I like that.”

Why are you setting up the interview?

Here are a few things to consider when scheduling an interview. Remember, each college interview will be slightly different. Do you know what to expect? And, if not, have you asked?

  • Does the college require an interview, or is it something you asked to set up yourself?
  • Does the college offer admissions decisions on the spot?
  • What do you want to learn about the school?
  • Is there something you believe the Admissions representative really needs to know about you?
  • Or are you simply hoping to demonstrate your interest?

Advocate for yourself. This is the perfect time to be your own champion and the most important thing to remember to do in your college interview.

People might forget facts, but they always remember stories. Consider in advance what you want from the interview—and from the college—and tell us the story that we may not see in your essay and letters of recommendation.  

Interview because you want to. Don’t schedule a college interview, especially an optional one, because you think you have to—if you don’t want to be there or you’re not ready, it shows.

Know thy school. Much like you would with a job interview, take a moment to research the basics of the school before your meeting. Having some general knowledge about the college will come in handy. You don’t have to be an expert. Just be sure you have your schools straight—I have no shortage of clever responses for interviewees that ask me to tell them about Champlain’s Nursing program. (Hint: we don’t have one.)

What excites you?

Excitement intensifies.

Be ready to talk about your interests. They don’t even have to be strictly academic. You can talk about your favorite clubs, your love of fun environments and close-knit communities. You can talk about pumpkin-spice lattes (with whipped cream, in case you were wondering). Not only does an awareness of your interests give us Admissions Counselors a snapshot of who you are, but it will lead to a much more fulfilling interview overall.

More is better. Being interested in lots of things makes you stand out much more than not being interested in anything in particular. You never have to have it 100% figured out, but do be thoughtful about what your responses might be saying about you.

Don’t curb your enthusiasm. Let it show. Your energy and passion will definitely stick with us long after you head back home.

Remember, we are human.

Artist rendering of me in a blue tie.

Admissions counselors know what it’s like to go through the college search process, getting those precious few moments to visit with your dream school, and then the agonizing wait for a decision letter. We’ve been in your shoes, too. Believe me, we get it. So, keep in mind, we’re people, too, and we have a lot more in common than you might think.

Our goal is just to get to know you. So this is your time to open up and build a connection with us.

Ask questions. More specifically, think about types of questions you should ask. This does not mean that you need to prepare a long list ahead of time. (However, if you have some written down, that is okay.) Dig deep and tap your curiosity. You can ask us to elaborate on certain things, you can ask for advice, or you could even ask us something about ourselves if it’s relevant.

Asking questions has benefits. First, asking questions demonstrates interest—particularly if you ask a question that hasn’t already been answered. And it demonstrates active listening, which is a very valuable skill for any young professional to have. (If I just finished telling you that we superscore the SAT, your next question should not be asking if we superscore the SAT. Don’t be that person.) Also, questions help the interview feel more like the conversation it’s meant to be.

In short, college interviews should be dialogues, not interrogations. We genuinely want to have a conversation with you, and the more engaged you are, the more memorable our interaction will be. Getting into the interview mindset may take more work than hearing “don’t be nervous.” (Despite that phrase’s obvious 100% success rate in making you freak out more than you might already be.) But, if your mind’s in the right place, you can get a lot out of the experience while also leaving a lasting impression.

Besides, you already know rest. Arrive well-groomed, have good eye contact, start with a firm handshake, and you’re golden. A pumpkin spice latte won’t hurt either (extra whipped cream).

Want to know more about prepping for a college interview? For our top five tips for acing college interviews, check out this post by our most-excellent former Senior Admissions intern, Rachel Hatem.