While the college interview can feel looming, everything is temporary, and you will get through it.

Although some students grimace at the thought of writing the college admissions essay, others dread the interview.   

An interview can feel like an artificial set up, and essentially, is an audition. You don’t know what to expect–for people who love to feel in control, the college admissions interview may be daunting. And it’s not like, as a high school student, you don’t have enough on your plate. But it’s okay. Everyone else is going through this too. 

The pandemic yielded challenges for students, exacerbating the stress they already face. In fact, recent research shows that roughly 80% of Gen Z teenagers face greater school-associated stress due to the pandemic. 

college interview prep

Luckily, there are several ways you can calm your nerves and more effectively prep for your interview day. First things first, take a second and try to remember the reality of the situation: one bad interview isn’t the end of the world. There will be more interviews. In actuality, a bad interview is helpful, because you’ll come away with ways to improve. 

If you only ever have good experiences with interviews, you’d maybe never tap into your potential. Along with recognizing that one interview is simply that, remind yourself that almost anyone who applies to college, jobs, or schools has experienced an imperfect interview.  

They all recover—and so will you.

At the end of the day, an interview is just a conversation. And if you make it the only thing you’re eating, breathing, speaking, you’ll probably just stress yourself out too much and likely won’t have that perfect interview that you’re conjuring up in your mind. 

The thing is, you probably won’t ever have that perfect interview. Because really, you can never perfectly curate an interview.

1. Mention information not on your resume

While you should mention your academic background, achievements, and work experience, you’ll have plenty of time to do this. Since your interviewer will ask you questions that warrant these discussions, you don’t have to bring them up at every pause in the conversation. In fact, your interviewer will probably enjoy hearing about something that’s not on your resume (which is likely in front of them). 

Interviewers hear about the standard resume information all day, so you’ll actually want to actively try to go off-resume in order to stand out a bit.

For instance, you might note that outside of school, you’re dedicated to creating green clothing, or that in your free time you volunteer at a local hospital. Whatever it may be, just show the interviewer that you are not your resume—and you have things to tell them about yourself that they don’t already know. 

2. Research

Your interviewer you will be happy to note that you took time to do some research on the school. This indicates that you’re not simply going through the motions, but that you’re here because something about the school stands out to you. Think about it like this: if you’re picking teams for a sports game, no one wants to be the last choice—because it’s not a choice, it’s just the only option. You don’t want your interviewer to think that their school is the last option—you want them to think that you’re actively choosing to pursue this school. 

On a side note, hopefully you’re doing research for these schools when you’re applying, anyway, since you do want to think critically when weighing your options.

When you’re answering questions regarding the school, demonstrate what you’ve learned in your research by tying together information about the school with details about you as a student. 

For instance, if the school has a rapidly developing arts program, you can praise this, and then discuss how taking a design class in high school inspired your interest in pursuing a career in fashion.

3. Don’t memorize a script

Your interviewer wants to have a flowing, comfortable chat—despite what people may tell you, they (in most cases) aren’t trying to intimidate you. If you go into it with your nerves through the roof, ready to recite a script, you may end up making your interviewer feel on edge. Remember—they are human too, and can get nervous. Both of you likely want this to be a comfortable space to discuss. 

While it’s great to come into the interview prepared, that doesn’t mean you need to go full-on audition mode. If you let the conversation flow naturally, both you and your interviewer will feel more comfortable.  And in turn, you’ll probably have a better discussion, and thus leave a better impression. 

4. Prepare answers to common questions

You should be pretty confident that your interviewer will bring up some common questions. And luckily for you, lots of helpful college-prep websites can guide you in the right direction. To get you started, below are some common questions to expect:

  • Why are you interested in this school?
  • Describe a time where you were in a leader position?
  • How can you contribute to this school?

Simply having some answers ready will make the process a bit easier, since you’ll go into the interview feeling at least a little prepared. 

5. Ask questions

A great way to feel more comfortable when coming into an interview is by having some of your own questions ready. Asking your own questions allows you to feel more in control of the conversation—plus, your interviewer will be excited to note that you’re interested and curious, and not just waiting to get out of there.

Some examples of questions you may ask include:

  • What does [insert college] offer that others don’t?
  • What sort of career preparation programs do you offer? 
  • What are some extracurriculars at this school? 

6. Seek help 

One final way you can destress when it comes to the college interview is to seek help. You can reach out to your teachers, mentors, or parents and see if they’d be willing to help you prepare. Their methods may include doing mock interviews, helping you research the school, or preparing questions with you. 

While the college-admissions process can feel like the biggest thing ever, it’ll be over before you know it. Remember that, even though you might feel like this interview isn’t a privilege, you are blessed to be able to go through this whirlwind process.  Embrace the mistakes you make, learn from your experiences, and don’t sweat the little things (too much).  

Author: Lydia Schapiro