Tip 1: Do prepare for your college interviews

This article is part of a series, 10 Tips for Acing Your College Interviews.


Imagine, for a moment, that you’re Sarah Palin. It’s 2008. You’ve just been nominated to be the Republican vice presidential candidate. The election is in two months. Your advisors set up an interview with Katie Couric, the anchor of the CBS Evening News. The interview is in a week. What do you do?

The very first Do tip in this list is “Prepare,” so, yeah, I think it’s pretty important. The last thing you want to do is walk into what may well be the first important interview of your life and wing it.

If you properly prepare, during the interview, exchanges like this are much less likely to occur:

COURIC: And when it comes to establishing your world view, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this—to stay informed and to understand the world?

PALIN: Um, all of them. Any of them that, um, have been in front of me over all these years.

Think of it this way: going to college is a rite of passage. For many, it’s a crucial first step into the world of adulthood. And a key part of being an adult is performing in these kinds of situations–where, like Palin, you must sell yourself to people you don’t know.

Imagine now that you, Sarah Palin, sit down with your team of campaign advisors a week before the interview. You ask them what you should do to prepare. They cheerily respond, “Just be yourself!”

Is this good advice?

Hell no. If that’s what they sincerely think is the best strategy for such a crucial interview, they should all be sacked on the spot.

Much of the advice you’ll get about college admission interviews centers around that old saw “just be yourself.” Make no mistake, it isn’t true. You need to be a certain version of yourself. We’ll talk about this in more detail throughout the Do’s and Don’ts sections. Just keep in mind that a college interview is a performance. And all good performers prepare before they go “on stage.”

You might be asking yourself: why bother? It’s not like it’s an interview on primetime national television with an audience of tens of millions of people. It’s in a private room–with an audience of one. And besides, the interview only counts for so much. Surely, grades, test scores, and the essay carry more weight.

This may well be the case. But every positive piece of information the admission officers have in their hot little hands helps your cause. This is especially true at smaller colleges where they put a premium on the student as a whole person.

Also, consider this: while this may be the first important interview of your life, it won’t be the last. Think of all the interviews, some formal, others not, that you’ll have to do throughout your adult life. Job interviews. Landlord interviews. Initial meetings with clients or customers. And perhaps if you want to get married someday, the “interview” with your future parents-in-law. Investing the time and energy in learning to interview well now will pay dividends long after you get into college.

Dr. Sean

Dr. Sean

Co-Founder at Readerly
Dr. Sean has over a decade of teaching experience at universities in the US and Asia. He earned a BA with honors from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of London. You can read more about his teaching and research here.
Dr. Sean