What is the best interview advice for students?

Informational, evaluative, alumni, admission office, scholarship— there are several different types of interviews. Students may be talking with an admission officer on the college campus, an alumnus at the local Starbucks, or with a scholarship committee over Skype. So this month, we've rounded up a group of high school and independent counselors to offer their best advice for students, whether you're a junior thinking about a practice interview next spring or a senior finishing up college and scholarship interviews. Read on...
"The Question of the Month" for December is:

What is the best interview advice for students? 

Rafael S. Figueroa
Dean of College Guidance
Albuquerque Academy
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Don’t panic. Some years ago, one of our most articulate seniors was so flummoxed by a college interviewer’s question and the rambling response that the student totally panicked and ended up singing, “I love you, you love me…” That’s right. The Barney Song.


Any time you are confused or overwhelmed by a question, you should do the following. Pause. Say something like, “I am not sure how to answer that. Let me think for a moment.” Then actually DO think. Take your time. And give your best answer, “I have never thought about that, but my answer might be…”

When a student I am interviewing takes a few moments to think about his or her answer, it makes a good impression. I usually will write, “student took time to think about his or her answers,” or “student was very careful and thoughtful.” That is a good thing.

An interview is a chance to convey how you can contribute to an academic setting. Teachers don’t expect you to blurt out answers without thinking. Neither will college professors. And neither will college interviewers.


Good luck!


Susan C. Chiarolanzio
Director of College Counseling
Flint Hill School, Oakton, VA

Each year, legions of high school juniors and seniors head to college campuses, Panera and Starbucks, nervous, self-conscious and hoping to find a friendly face as they encounter an important rite of passage, the college interview. Easier to say than to do but take a deep breath and relax before settling into the interview chair.

Here's some advice to help you do that:

Setting up the interview is the start of the interview.

BY PHONE: practice what you will say when calling the admission office or your alumni interviewer before you hit the “call” button so you are prepared to speak with a live person or to leave a message.

BY EMAIL: Remember, your interviewer could be your parents’ age or even older. Take care to be professional in your writing. Start your message with “Dear Mr. or Ms. …”, capitalize “I”, and sign with your full name.

Be Prepared! Think about yourself and the college.

YOU: Chances are you haven’t told anyone what makes you, you lately. Spend half an hour a couple days before your interview thinking of five things that you want the interviewer to learn about you before your time is up. When you’re asked the dreaded, “So, tell me about yourself,” you’ll be able to quickly think of at least a thing or two to share.

THE COLLEGE: While it’s impossible to predict what questions you will be asked, chances are the person you are meeting with will want to know why their school caught your eye. Spend half an hour coming up with five things the school you attend must have. Use this list to identify how the school you’re interviewing with meets those criteria. Don’t forget - have at least two questions to ask about the school as well. These questions should be meaty – no, “how many kids go here?” questions that indicate you didn’t spend a minute preparing. Instead, you might ask how the school’s English department is distinctive or, in the case of an alumni interview, how the school’s career services office or alumni network has helped her find professional direction or a first job.

Practice Your Handshake.

Seriously, a “wet-fish” or vice grip could start the interview off on the wrong foot. You want a firm grip that shows your confidence but you don’t want to leave the interviewer wringing his hand trying to get the circulation flowing again.

Your Look.

Dress modestly and professionally. Maintain good eye contact. Sit up straight. In other words, recall the advice your mom has been giving you for years and put it to work in your favor.

The Follow-Up.

Remember, your interviewer has shared his or her time with you so it’s important to say thank you. An email is fine – remember the “rules” above – but a handwritten note stands out even more.


You are ready for this!


Todd Weaver
Strategies for College

First and foremost, relax. You will not blow your interview.

Dress nicely! Some senior admissions folks may be put off by excessive body piercings or tattoos.

Do your homework. Visit the school’s website and read as much as you can about the school beforehand. Asking questions, the answers to which can be easily found within the college’s own material, may give the impression that you haven’t made an effort to learn about the school.

Remember, you are the consumer. The interview is a two-way street. The admissions folks need to make as much, if not more, of an impression as you. Think of specific questions which would help you decide if that college is the right one for you. It’s fine to challenge the interviewers and make them think. Be an informed consumer and you will impress them! For example: “What kind of feedback do you get from alumni in terms of the most important and unique benefits they received from their education here?”

Think beforehand about the points you want to make about yourself. This is not a time to be modest. Don’t make the mistake so many students make by spending too much time talking about your leadership qualities or talents and not showcasing your scholarship and academic strengths.

That said, the words to remember are “passion” and “initiative”. Colleges look for students who are passionate about their work or interests. They also value initiative in projects you have done, the detail in which you describe them, or your ability to “make things happen.”


Moira McKinnon
Director of College Counseling
Berwick Academy
South Berwick, Maine

Be yourself.  The purpose of the interview is to allow colleges to get to know who you are and what you care about, so show them!  Choose clothes that reflect your style and also demonstrate that you are taking the interview seriously.  Allow your sense of humor to shine through.  

Relax.  Make your interview a two- way conversation.  Not only will it be more interesting for you, but it will be less work for the interviewer who will appreciate your ability to engage in a dialogue.  One good way to make this happen is to ask your interviewer if they attended the school and, if so, how was their time there.   What were his/her three favorite parts of the experience?  What were three things he/she would have changed about the college?

Brush your teeth.

Be ready for some of the common questions, like why you want to attend that school, what academic areas interest you most, and what you can add to the college community.  Also have a plan to cover the topics that matter to you.  That may include both successes you have achieved and obstacles you have overcome.  The interview is the time to expand the snippets of information you are able to provide on the application.  Fill in the blanks so the college gets the full picture of your strengths and contributions.

Remember: it’s not bragging if it’s true.  A strong interview requires you to talk about yourself in the most positive terms possible without exaggerating the truth.  Are you the lead in the school play?  Class president?  Running an impactful community service project?  Describe those roles in detail and reflect on the qualities that make you successful in them.


Our experts' responses reflect not only the wisdom of their experience, but also their schools' philosophies and policies. There is a great deal of diversity in American education and some of that will be on display here. Make sure to check with your own school about their policy on any particular subject discussed here.

We would like to extend a special thank you to the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools (ACCIS), who partnered with us on this post, and in particular counselors Marie Bigham of Greenhill School, Jody Sweeney of William Penn Charter School, and Sarah Markhovsky of Severn School.


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