You may be invited to interview for US universities that you apply to - but unlike with Oxbridge, not everywhere does it, and it’s not always required even if it’s offered. If you do get the chance to interview, here’s what you should keep in mind.
Evaluative vs Informational Interviews
There are two kinds of college interviews: evaluative and informational.
Informational interviews are for your benefit, not the university’s. It’s a chance for you to ask questions directly about the university and the application process. It’s always important to try to make a good impression, but it’s not an informational interviewer’s job to report back about how you came across or what you said.
Evaluative interviews are part of the admissions process. The interviewer is taking note of how you present yourself, and will ask you a lot of questions to get to know you and also to get a sense of how you think. You’ll also have a chance to ask questions - but remember that these are part of the interview too, and they’ll be paying attention to the kinds of questions you ask.
Should you do one?
Interviews are often optional and if a university says so, then it’s true. Don’t feel that you’ll get marked down for not taking an interview if they say it’s not mandatory.
However, you really should consider doing one if you have the chance. The common saying about college interviews is they probably can’t hurt you, but they may well help you. If a university is on the fence about whether or not to admit you, a really great interview may tip the balance - but unless you use your interview to confess that you plagiarised everything you ever wrote in school and also recently stole a car, a mediocre interview isn’t going to ruin your chances if you’re an otherwise strong candidate. So there’s really no downside to doing them, especially at schools that may be a bit of a reach for you academically.
Each college’s website should make it clear whether or not they offer interviews, and what the process is for signing up for one. It may be that you can reach out at any time - this is often the case for informational interviews - or you may need to wait to be invited, usually sometime after you’ve submitted your application.
As an international student, you might be offered an online interview (make sure to double-check time zones when agreeing to a slot!), or you may be able to arrange an interview with an alumni who lives in your country.
Who’s interviewing you?
That’s right… you might not interview with an admissions counselor. That’s not as strange as it seems: as with so many things in US applications, a big part of the interview is to get a sense for how you’d fit in on campus, and universities sometimes feel that alumni or even current students can be good at assessing that. This also gives you a great opportunity to ask questions of someone who’s actually studying at the university, or did so recently.
Of course, you’ll often be speaking with admissions officers too, especially with evaluative interviews - it gives them the chance to assess every part of your application personally.
How to prepare for interviews
In both kinds of interviews you will be asked to introduce yourself and your high school achievements. This can feel like an overwhelming question if you aren’t prepared, so it can be good to practise a short introduction - tailored, of course, to each university you’re planning to interview with.
You also want to make sure to do a bit of research so you can speak specifically about what interests you about the university, and why you’d be a good fit.
Some typical questions you can prep for:
- Why do you want to attend this university?
- What’s your strongest topic in school, and what’s your weakest?
- What is your favourite extracurricular activity?
- What’s something you’re excited to do or be a part of on our campus?
- What three adjectives describe you best?
- What’s an interesting book you’ve read recently?
Be aware, though, that evaluative interviewers will deliberately try to come up with questions that you can’t prep for, to see how you think on your feet and to get a sense of how you engage creatively with questions - think things like “Which five famous people would you invite to dinner?” or “If you were a soup, what soup would you be?” (One of our Unifrog team members was a college interviewer, and that was genuinely a question they suggested she use!) The point isn’t that there’s a right or wrong - they just want to see whether you’re willing to play along with a silly question, and how you can spin it to create an interesting answer. So if they spring a question you aren’t prepared for, don’t panic - it’s okay to take time to think.
In fact, this is a really important difference between US and UK interviews: in the US, you won’t be deliberately quizzed on academic topics. If you mention a paper you wrote or a book that you’ve read, you should definitely be prepared for them to prompt you to talk about it in more detail. But as with so much of the US admissions process, the interviewer is interested in you as a person and possible member of the campus community, not in you as a prospective scholar on a specific course. So don’t worry about prepping by re-reading all your old coursework - having well-thought-out opinions about the things you’ve read and studied matters more in this context than being able to remember specific numbers or dates.
Another way to prepare is to come up with some questions to ask, as you’ll be given a chance to do so - usually at the end of the interview. Don’t just ask things that you can find out on the website! This is a chance to really get a first-person perspective - especially if the interviewer is a student or alumni.
Here are some questions you might consider:
- If the interview attended the university - what was your favourite course when you were a student?
- What’s one thing you think every incoming freshman should know about the institution?
- How would you describe the atmosphere or energy of the campus?
- Are there any fun or interesting school traditions?
- What’s it like living in [location of college]?
- Think about extracurriculars you might be interested in - questions like, how hard is it to make the swimming team? Will I be able to audition for plays if I’m not a drama major? How hard is it to start a club or society?
- Think about whether there is a social cause or equity issue that you are really passionate about, or is important to your experience - for example, how is the school increasing staff diversity? What are the recycling and carbon-reduction programs in place? Are there gender-neutral toilets in every building?