It’s such a great rush of relief to submit that last college application, but your work may not be done quite yet. Some colleges, and many scholarship programs, will require you to participate in an interview, even after the application deadline.
This can be a scary prospect, especially if you’ve never interviewed before. No one likes being judged, and an interview can feel like you’ve laid everything on the table to be picked apart—-if you let it.
Remember, this interview is for you. You decide where it goes.
Prepare Yourself and Laugh
The way you walk into your interview will likely set the tone for the next thirty to sixty minutes. This is partly due to first impressions and partly your own attitude. Confidence is key, even if you have to fake it.
Your interview will most likely be in a coffee shop or casual restaurant with an alumnus of the college or program that you are interviewing for, a mortal human being just like you, and they will never know about the butterflies in your stomach if you put on your game face. Even if you falter a little, guess what —- they know that you’re human too. Just take a deep breath and remind yourself to laugh about it later.
A simple way to boost your confidence is to simply practice. Think ahead about how you would answer some typical interview questions: Why are you interested in this college or program? What skills or experiences can you contribute to it? What do you hope to gain from it?
The single most common question I hear isn’t a question at all: tell me about yourself. Start as generally as possible and get more specific, beginning with what you think is most relevant to what you are applying for or most important to you. If you’re applying to engineering school and your interviewer is a mechanical engineer, talking about your award-winning wind turbine design you presented at last year’s science fair is probably a better place to start than your four years in band as first flutist, but don’t forget to mention it—-you want to seem as well-rounded as you are.
Ask someone to help you by acting as a mock interviewer. Have them ask you the questions that you think you might be asked, and do this with as many different people as you need to feel comfortable and fluid in your responses.
By the day of your interview, you’ve prepared as much as you can, and there’s only one thing left to do: dress the part. This will vary depending on what you’re applying for, but in general, avoid wearing jeans and a grunge t-shirt. You want to look clean and professional regardless of your goal, so your interviewer could realistically already picture you in the college or program of your dreams.
Take the Wheel
When I was preparing myself for my own interviews, and quite naturally, panicking, my older brother gave me a simple piece of advice that changed everything.
“Remember, you’re happy to be there getting to talk to someone from this great school, they’re happy to be there talking to someone so interested in their school, everyone’s happy to be there. You both want to make it a positive experience.”
I was confused at first—-happy? More like terrified. But then I realized (begrudgingly, since he’s my brother) that he was right. This was a tremendous opportunity for me.
I didn’t have to just answer questions; I could ask them too. So should you. Ask them anything you couldn’t easily find online, especially if it relates back to their personal experiences. What made them pick that school/program? What did they get out of it?
Ask about specific programs or details that you have an interest in; the more specific you are in your questions, the clearer it is that you have done your research. An interview is primarily used for scaling interest, and this is a great way to show how much time you’ve spent looking at this particular school or program.
Hopefully you feel a bit more confident, and even if you don’t, take a deep breath and put on a smile before you step through the door, and they won’t know the difference. You own this.