Tips so you don’t tank on your interview

The college interview. It was once an important staple of the college admissions process. Young men dressed up in jackets and ties, young women wore short heels and pearls and they sat down for a formal interview inside the college admissions office.

Not so today. It’s just not possible with today’s application numbers. Here are some stats from The Princeton Review’s 2019 Best 384 Colleges guidebook on applications received last year: UCLA: 102,242 (up from 56,670 in 2010); UC Berkeley: 85,057; Boston University: 60,825, New York University: 64,007. Locally, applications received at UNC Chapel Hill totaled  40,918, that is up from 31,332 in 2015, with NC State receiving somewhat fewer at 26,859.

Obviously with these numbers, colleges no longer have the manpower to manage interviewing each applicant, so they have devised a variety of other ways for students to help set themselves apart. Many colleges also feel that interviews had long favored the more well-off applicant who could afford to travel to campus and be prepped by professionals.

Today local, volunteer alumni interviews are much more common. These interviews are not required and students generally need to initiate a request to have one. They typically carry less weight than the old fashioned face-to-face with the Director of Admissions, but they do help students demonstrate interest in a college.

So, if you have the opportunity, here are some tips to ace that interview:

  • Educate yourself about the school. The biggest downfall for most students is that they haven’t done their homework and prepared themselves for the interview. Students can count on an interviewer asking them what they think they’d like to major in and why they think the college is a good fit for them. Students need to make sure that their responses aren’t generic, i.e., “I’m looking forward to attending the football games and being a part of greek life on campus.”

Think of every question as an opportunity to share some slice of your life with your interviewer. Take a look at your resume or brag sheet and identify the two or three things that you know you want to share in the interview. Spend time on the college website and make sure you’re comfortable being able to articulate the fit question.

  • Resist the temptation to overshare. Some students are so eager to have their interviewer get to know them that they share inappropriate anecdotes which were better left unmentioned.
  • Identify questions you’ll ask the interviewer ahead of time. Don’t try to wing it. All interviewers will end the session with a final, “Is there anything you’d like to ask me or anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like me to know about you?” The only unacceptable response to this question is “No.”
  • Send a hand-written thank you note afterwards. Yes, parents you are right about that one! Students may balk, but there is no question it is the right thing to do.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;