What You Need to Know About College Interviews
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Visit any college’s virtual information website page and you are likely to see the opportunity to participate in a virtual interview. In the past, the majority of interviews were conducted in person -- often by alumni regional representatives. Now, in the COVID era, interviews are offered virtually and are more widely available across the entire spectrum of college selectivity.
Students may wonder what role the college interview plays in their admissions process. Are they optional? Do they affect their admissions chances? Should they do one?
We’ll tackle the last question first and the answer is -- yes! But maybe not for the reasons you think.
Contrary to popular belief, the admissions interview is not a means to weed out students in the admissions process. In fact, according to the NACAC 2018 State of College Admissions Report, only 22% of colleges surveyed attributed interviews as having “moderate” or ‘considerable importance,” while the remaining 78% gave the interview limited or no importance in the overall admissions decision.
So why should you do an interview?
College interviews are a great way to learn more about the college and to help the college gauge your level of interest.
In general, colleges want to admit the students who are most likely to attend their school (this increases their yield rate which makes them look good). Prior to COVID, in-person campus visits were the best way to measure the level of an applicant's interests. Now, with so many colleges offering only limited or in some cases no tour visits, many have created student-ambassador interview opportunities for prospective students to learn more about the school. Chapman, for example, is offering Fellows Interviews -- interviews with current students.
Information vs evaluative interviews
The majority of interviews are purely informational. They are a great way for students to get a sense of the school’s vibe, culture, and to learn details about specific programs important to them individually.
Most interviews fall into this non-evaluative category. Many are conducted by an alumnus who represents the school regionally.
The evaluative interview, on the other hand, does play a role in admissions decisions. Students are being assessed on their character, personality, and in terms of what they can bring to the campus community. After the interview, the interviewer fills out a feedback form that is placed in the student’s admission file for consideration.
Evaluative interviews are most often conducted by someone in admissions but, if you are applying to a specialized academic program such as engineering or film, a faculty member may conduct the interview. Or an alumnus might interview you. The College of William and Mary uses current students to conduct their evaluative interviews.
Are interviews optional?
In most cases, interviews are “optional” even if they are evaluative, meaning not doing an interview will not hurt or negatively impact your chance admissions.
Keep in mind, especially at more selective colleges, even if the interview is technically non-evaluative, the line between informational and evaluative may be blurred. The optional interview is “an opportunity to be more competitive” and may actually help your case.
MIT, with an overall acceptance rate of 7 percent, states on its website that interviews are not a required part of their application. Yet, 11 percent of applicants who opted to participate in an interview gained admission, while the acceptance rate for those who did not opt to interview was just 1 percent.
Interviews are a way for the colleges to get to know the students better -- beyond the written parts of their application and, if a student presents themself in a positive way, this can add a positive “shine” to their application. Students can demonstrate their intellectual curiosity, their interests, and provide a glimpse of how they will “fit” on campus.
Takeaway - If a college recommends or strongly suggests an interview, do the interview!
How do you know if an interview is evaluative?
Check their website. If they do not explicitly say -- look for clues.
Words like “strongly recommend” convey the importance of the interview.
If the interview is conducted by an admissions officer, the interview is likely evaluative.
Or you could just email your regional admissions rep and ask. While you are at it, ask what percentage of students participate in interviews and what the acceptance rate is for interviewers vs non-interviewers.
College Kickstart creates a list each year of colleges that recommend interviews (note, this is not a comprehensive list, always check the college’s website).
How do you get an interview?
In most cases, interviews are student-initiated. Check the college website for opportunities. In some cases, opportunities are offered after students have submitted their application, but before the application is “read.” Be sure to keep an eye on your email inbox or log in to your admissions portal.
To Sum Up: Why do an interview?
To learn about the college and help them get to know you.
To demonstrate your interest.
In rare cases, to increase your admissions chances.
College Transition's curated list of colleges offering interviews.
Do you have questions about college admissions? Let's talk!
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