The college interview process can be a nerve-racking experience for many students. College interviews are crucial for the college to evaluate you and decide your future at that institution in a mere 30-45 minutes. However, if you’re well-prepared about all that you can expect in the interview, your college interviews can become a cakewalk.
To ace college interviews, you need to understand the essentials of an interview at a much deeper level. Interviews are no curriculum that can be covered from one topic to another and hence, most students (even the brightest) dread the process. Well yes, there is no fixed, structured set of questions, but there are some repeats for sure. There is no rule book for ideal body language, but there are a few best practices you must know.
If you are a high schooler wanting to ace college interviews, we have the best of tips in a ready reckoner format for you, right here! Say goodbye to sweaty palms before the interview and prepare like a pro with Talentnook’s expert advice.
Get, set, ace the college interviews the easy way:
1. Do the basic homework right
There are two parts of the homework that every student must do to ace college interviews.
a. Researching about the college and the courses
Every college at some point in the interview checks the students’ knowledge about the courses offered, the legacy of the college, etc. Prepare well in advance for questions like:
- What do you know about this college?
- What is this college predominantly known for?
- Which course do you want to opt for and why?
- Who told you about this college?
b. Preparing for the standard conversation starter questions
There are a few college interview questions that are asked to most candidates alike. Much of the mood of the interviewers is set by the answer to either one or more of these standard questions. Practice answering these questions beforehand by first making a rough outline of your answers and then trimming it down to keep the answer short (8-10 lines) and interesting:
- Personality related questions: e.g. tell us something about yourself, What are your key strengths and weaknesses? What do you want to become as a professional, how will a certain course help in it?
- Anecdotal questions: e.g. what is that one incident from high school where you overcame a significant challenge?
- Achievement related questions: e.g. what was your key project in a certain subject? What was your major extra-curricular achievement at high school?
Related reading: How to build your resume for college applications
2. Nail the first impression
It is said that it takes roughly 2.5 seconds to get noticed and 30 seconds at the most to build a perception. Clearly, to ace college interviews, you must endeavor to nail the first impression.
A large part of this impression is formed by facial expression. Use these pro tips to nail the first impression:
- Approach the interviewer with a confident and calm demeanor.
- If possible address the interviewers by their first name and meet with a firm handshake (if the interview is in person)
- Smile and be genuinely interested in each interviewer
- Don’t meet anyone with droopy shoulders, send a confident vibe by standing/sitting upright in a relaxed manner.
Related Reading: Types of College Applications: A Complete Guide
3. Ace the minutest soft skills
A confident body language does more than you can imagine. 70% of your communication is in fact the body language! While the first impression is about the first glance or the first 30 seconds of eye contact, there are other soft skills or body language practices that you must know to ace college interviews in a breeze:
- Show your enthusiasm for the prospect. Interviews are looking for candidates who are genuinely interested in the prospect and exhibit a passion for their goals. Put all your energy into your interviews.
- Practice good verbal communication skills. An interviewer assesses your verbal communication style and the ability to express your ideas. Before the interview, practice talking about your experience out loud. Try to keep answers clear, concise, and to the point.
- Your attire plays an important role in how an interviewer perceives you as a prospective candidate. Tidy up your appearance and wear formals for your interview. Stick to solid or color-blocked clothes (neutrals like beige, grey, and pastels like lavender, powder blue, etc.). Try to avoid prints, bold stripes, big checks, etc.
Dropping shoulders makes a person perceive you as under-confident
- Maintain eye contact while talking (it is said that 67 of every 100 people interviewed make the mistake of avoiding eye contact)
- Avoid crisscrossing your fingers while thinking or speaking, at most you can steeple your fingers (it’s considered a power pose!)
- Do not tap your feet or purse your lips – both signal nervousness and unpreparedness
- Acknowledge with a smile if you don’t know the exact answer to a certain question instead of spending too much time cooking up an approximate answer
4. Pivot the interview to a constructive discussion
An interview is often thought to be a setup where 2-3 panelists put a candidate through a grueling question-answer round. You can pivot the interview to make it a constructive two-way discussion. In fact, the interviews that transmute to a group discussion usually end up in conversions. But there’s a caveat – don’t force-fit a discussion, use this technique at your discretion (get a cursory reading of the panel’s attitude/preference first!). Do this to interject mini-conversations in between questions and answers:
- Ask about notable alumni
- Share examples to explain your points instead of plain theoretical answers
- Bring up current topics – they’re great conversation starters
- Don’t throw up technical terms or jargon when not required (it might come across as trying-too-hard and might turn off a conversation)
5. Avoid the traps like a pro
In every interview, there are a few traps that are strategically placed to sieve out candidates who are unprepared or nervous. You might be asked some very difficult or irrelevant questions. Remember that such questions are posed only to check your nerve! Stay calm and composed even if you have no clue about a certain question. Humbly acknowledge that you don’t have an accurate answer to it but would like to know more about the topic. Use positive language throughout, for example:
- I am not sure about this, but I am definitely going back and checking more on this
- That is interesting, it shouldn’t have missed my attention but I am going to read up more on this
- One of my friends did mention this topic briefly but I couldn’t read up more, which I am going to do now for sure
6. Additional tips to ace virtual college interviews
In today’s day and age, virtual interviews have become rather the norm for most colleges. For a lot of students handling virtual interviews is much more stressful than in-person interviews. But luckily, there are again a set of practices that you can do to ace college interviews even when they’re virtual.
Do the following:
- Check the internet connection and keep a hotspot backup ready in case the regular WiFi fails
- Check the app/interface you’re supposed to use beforehand for audio and video quality (e.g. Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc.)
- Don’t keep a cheat-sheet or a prompt assuming that it wouldn’t be visible, your expressions while stealing glances at it will tell the tale!
- Avoid background noise as much as possible, inform your family beforehand about the interview and keep your phone on silent mode
- Wear black or slightly darker shades of blue, grey for virtual interviews
- Choose a clean backdrop to minimize distraction for the interviewers
- Do not speak into the microphone of your computer/phone
- Check for white noise interruption by doing a test call 15-30 mins prior to the interview
7. Get professional help to ace your interviews
Sometimes even the most thorough preparation is not enough. If you need any external vetting of your prepared answers or a mock interview, get help from a professional without second thoughts. Through Talentnook, you can gain access to professionals that can guide you in every aspect of college preparation: from resume writing to interview preparation.
An interview expert can help you in many ways. Like:
- Practicing mock interview to take away the anxiety and build
- Structuring your answers to standard questions in a succinct, impressive way
- Tailoring your answers according to a certain college’s interviewing pattern
Get expert advice from Talentnook experts on how you can ace your next college interview.
With these college interview tips, we are sure you will ace college interviews like a pro in no time.
Find even more college interview advice—including resume writing tips, the guide to filling out college applications, and scholarships—in our College Applications section.