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Interview Do's and Don'ts

  • Don’t chew gum!
  • Get prepared! You need to do plenty of advance study about the college you are visiting. “Lack of preparation” is the Number One complaint of college admission counselors. Be prepared to discuss intelligently exactly why you are serious about that particular college.
  • Do set an interview strategy for yourself; there will be some things you will want to know about the school and some things you will want the school to know about you. The strategy that you adopt should be consistent with the rest of your application. (eg: drama, athletics, research opportunities, community service programs, etc.) 
  • Arrive early. Try to tour the campus before your interview. Once in the interviewer’s office, don’t sit until you are directed to do so, and don’t move any furniture. 
  • Don’t say “like” and “you know” constantly.
  • Do take your lead from your interviewer, who might open the session with any number of questions, including some that are rather audacious: “Tell me about yourself!” “Why do you want to go to college?” “What do you expect to be doing ten years from now?” “Let’s hear about your most valuable experience?” “What do you think about (a current issue)?” “What are your strengths? Weaknesses?” “How would your friends describe you?” If the interviewer is relaxed, you may be, too. If your sense of humor and the interviewer’s mesh, go with it. 
  • Smile; sit up straight; shake hands firmly; make good eye contact. 
  • Don’t give disjointed one-word answers when asked a question. Provide your interviewer with complete responses. Be as concise as possible when the interviewer is simply trying to clarify a point . The dialogue should flow naturally. The best interviews are really just conversations.
  • Don’t take your parents into the interview with you.
  • Don’t say that you don’t enjoy reading or that you read very little. Reading and college are practically synonymous terms.
  • Don’t ask mundane questions. Try not to ask any questions that you could easily find on the web site, view book, or catalog.
  • Do be genuinely enthusiastic about particular activities, but beware of a bragging tone. There is a definite distinction between enthusiasm and cockiness.
  • Don’t come on too strong or appear over-anxious to impress. Remember that understatement is almost always the preferred style. And while we’re on the topic, don’t try to impress the interviewer with your family and friends. The fact that your father is a noted heart surgeon, author, or politician may be important, but your college interview is not the time to bring this up. To a skilled interviewer you are the important one.
  • Do tell your host about the dedication and steadfastness you’ve developed on the playing field; if you are an athlete and how all of this has had a positive effect on your schoolwork. However, if things weren’t so positive and the academics suffered a bit, admit it at once, but stress the importance of the “total learning experience”--on the field and in the classroom.
  • Do have a sense of what’s going on in the world. As a high school junior or senior, you should be reading newspapers and magazines, for example, The New York Times, Newsweek, or Time magazine. A well-informed discussion of current events with your interviewer may win you a few points. One never knows when one might be asked about a recent Washington appointment.
  • Don’t “knock” your high school experience. Telling your interviewer that your high school experience was beat, the education boring, the teachers uncaring, and the student nerds will only get you labeled a malcontent, a quality most admission officers dislike. However, thoughtful criticism of one’s school and the ways in which it could be better can generate interesting discussion, but beware of having an ax to grind.
  • Don’t play games with admission people. For example, pretending that this is your first interview so that you can be credited with your great social ease, telling half-truths about your extracurricular record, and/or leading the interviewer to believe that his school is your first choice are not appropriate or ethical. Admission officers, particularly experienced ones, are very perceptive individuals who have been through it all before and can quickly spot a phony when they see one.
  • Don’t be brutally honest. Your reasons for going to college might well be to earn a lot of money, improve your status, or make your family happy, but these are not reasons that will sit well with an interviewer, nor are they sound reasons—in and of themselves—for choosing any college.
  • Don’t try to extend the interview unnecessarily. The length of a session is not a measure of its success. The length of an interview is often determined by the number of interview appointments for that particular day. You will get a message from your host that the session is coming to a close.
  • Don’t judge the college by the interviewer (or tour guide). Sometimes students get “turned off” to a school because they didn’t like the interviewer. It would be regrettable if an entire institution were judged on a 30-minute session. Keep an open mind. 
  • Do be courteous to everyone. Administrative staff and tour guides are important cogs in the admissions machine. They have access to admissions officers and will remember your kindness and your rudeness.
  • Terminating the interview may be as important as a good first impression. A “thank you for your interest and time” statement and a good, first handshake (males and females alike) with eye contact provides a good closure. If it was “great”, say so. “This was terrific, I really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you again! ”