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Prepare for College Interviews

college admissions officeThe college interview can be a crucial step in the admissions process. While it is true that some schools no longer offer interviews, the practice continues at most colleges. There are also colleges and universities that require an interview from homeschoolers even if they do not for other applicants. Here’s what you need to know to make your college interview a success.

Plan ahead
Take time to carefully look over the college website and any materials you’ve received in the mail. Of course you do not need to memorize how many volumes are in the library or how many clubs are available, but you should though take the time to answer obvious questions on your own rather than wasting time during your interview. Taking the time to do your own research will help you ask better questions during your interview. It also demonstrates you respect the interviewer’s time and that you are taking the process seriously.

Understand your interviewer
Traditionally college interviews were primarily conducted by professional staff in the college admissions office. While some schools still use admissions officers to conduct interviews, they are just one group of potential interviewers. For on-campus interviews, some schools will hire trained student employees as interviewers. Off-campus interviews are most often conducted by college alums. They volunteer their time as a service to their alma mater. Knowing what category your interviewer falls into may help you prepare and make the most out of your interview opportunity. Applicants should ask questions appropriate to their interviewer. It makes sense to ask professional admissions staff specific questions about school offerings such as majors or study abroad. For students and alums, it makes more sense to focus on aspects of the student experience at the college.

Interview etiquette
It sound old-fashioned, but making a good first impression matters. The college interview is a totally new experience for most teens and many have no idea what they should do. Before a college interview all teens should review etiquette and the elements of a making a good first impression. The introduction should include shaking hands, making good eye contact, and calling the interviewer by name. These may sound like obvious things, but many teens do not know these basics and they don’t understand how essential they are to making a good impression. If your child has not had a lot of experience with interviews, encourage them to take the time to practice with an adult. College interviews are a good excuse to practice these important social skills that your child will need for later job interviews and networking opportunities.

Dress appropriately
For campus admissions interviews it is generally appropriate to dress like a college student or at least one of the better dressed students on campus. There are regional and campus variations in style but typically it is best to choose casual, clean, not ripped, clothing that doesn’t stand out. Overly formal attire like a suit and tie may raise stereotypes about homeschooled students being poorly socialized or not fitting in. The rules for dressing for scholarship interviews vary. For scholarship competitions more formal dress from business casual to suit and tie are more the norm.

college campus in fallNo parents
It is fine for parents to join on campus tours, but they should not participate in the college interview. Nothing makes you look less ready for college than Mom or Dad sitting in on your interview. Even if the interviewer invites the parents in to the room, it is best that parents excuse themselves politely and leave. It is best if you do not just exit the room but that you leave the admissions building entirely. This is an excellent time for parents to go visit the campus coffee shop or bookstore. If you do not have the confidence to leave the admissions office it sends a powerful message that you are a “helicopter parent” and do not believe your child is ready for college.

Be prepared to discuss homeschooling
While homeschooling has become more common and well understood, homeschoolers are still less than 1% of the applicant pool at most colleges. Student and alumni interviewers may have little or no experience at all with homeschool applicants. Professional admissions staff may have familiarity with homeschooling or they may not. Ideally your homeschooler will have had previous experience talking about their homeschooling and they are able to present the benefits of homeschooling positively and comfortably. One typical developmental trait for many teens is they tend to frame information negatively. That can make a poor impression. It can take finesse to present homeschooling in a way that is positive but not offensive to the majority of people who have children in public and private schools. Encourage your student to see the questions not as an attack but rather an opportunity to share information about your unique path. Many teens benefit from coaching and practice for college and scholarship interviews. The skills they learn during this process can be helpful during later experiences with interviews for internships and jobs.

3 comments

  1. Trisha

    Great points. It definitely got easier for my daughter to feel comfortable in her interviews as she gained more experience doing them. I think it’s worth it to arrange practice interviews with whoever you can.

  2. Ashley Wright

    Great post! Homeschooling is really becoming popular these days but is it true that many colleges have designated admissions officers who handle and assess applications of homeschooled students?

    1. Barbara Hettle

      Thanks for your comment Ashley. Yes, colleges vary in how they read homeschool applications. Some read applications from homeschoolers by region – just as they do for public and private school students. Other schools have a single person in the admissions office who reviews applications specifically from homeschoolers. Both methods can work well.

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