10 Steps to Nail Your Next College Interview

We’re very lucky to have the founder and CEO of Story To College, Carol Barash, PhD, as a guest contributor today! Here’s what she has to say about how to have a great college interview:


My daughter had her last alumni interview last week. Before she went to meet the interviewer at Starbucks (a good idea, by the way, you should always meet your interviewer in a public place), she asked me for advice. I told her:

Free your mind: First, write down all the stuff that’s cluttering your brain – from AP homework you haven’t finished to those new jeans you want but can’t afford– and let it go.

1. Who are you? Make a list of 2-3 things you want the interviewer to learn about you. What makes you different from people who – on paper – look pretty much the same?

2. Use stories to connect: This is the fun part! Let’s say you want to demonstrate courage. Think of stories that show your courage, without having to say, “I’m courageous.” Sometimes we overlook the obvious; what do you do every day that is really your own?

3. Share the details: Which one of these people are you most likely to remember?

    • “I organized a really big fund-raising event.”
    • “I started my school’s first Dance Marathon for cancer research. We raised $25,413 and involved 126 students and faculty”
    • “It was 6:56 in the morning, 4 minutes ‘til the end. I leaned over to my sweaty partner and said, ‘I can’t believe a year ago this was just an idea. There are over 100 people here. We are donating more than $25,000 to honor Hannah.’”

4. Own the space:  When you walk into the interview, do things get a bit fuzzy? Remember: that happens to everyone; it’s just your brain’s “fight or flight” response kicking in. Keep breathing and walking. Look around and say to yourself. “I own this space,” and with a smile and wide-open eyes, reach out to shake the interviewer’s hand.

5. Where are you? Research each school you are visiting. Imagine yourself as part of the community, and speak honestly from that place – e.g. “Last summer I worked in a neuroscience lab at NYU. Your website describes opportunities for undergraduate research. Can you tell me some more about that?”  

6. Expect the expected: Prepare answers for the most likely questions: Why do you want to apply to this college? What do you want to major in? Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.

7. Who are they? Connect with the interviewer as a person. Did they go to the school? How long have they worked in admissions? Ask them something that you really want to know!

8. Ask something new:  Come up with a question that’s really your own. Consider it a success when they say, “Wow, never heard that one before!”

9. Follow up: Write a thank you note (not email) and mail it right away. If the interviewer asked for something (your journalism portfolio, more information about summer courses), make sure to send it.

10. And whatever happens, let it go because that one is over and done! Learn for the next one, and keep swimming.

© 2012 Story To College. All rights reserved.


Do you have any experience or stories about college interviews? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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  1. Michelle Cuartelero says:

    This is a great article. You touch on so many points that will help ease the stress of the difficult college process. Hope to hear more of your ideas soon!

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