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How to Represent Your Best Self During the College Interview

College interviews are part of the admissions process at many higher ed institutions throughout the U.S. While not always mandatory, these interviews provide valuable face time with college representatives in which students can make a personal pitch for admission. Learn how to make a great impression during those interviews.

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The college interview process can vary considerably by institution. Some schools require interviews, while others make them optional, and many colleges don't offer them at all. Interviews may be conducted by admissions officials, college alumni or current students. They may be held on campus or - in the case of alumni interviews - at an alternative location closer to prospective students. Despite variations in procedure, there are some universal suggestions students can follow to shine in any college interview.

1. Get in some interview practice.

Good interviewees are not just lucky; they put in preparation time to excel at interviewing. You can hone your skills by answering practice questions with a parent, teacher, school counselor or another adult with knowledge of the college interview process. You'll want to articulate responses that reflect your serious interest in attending, excelling and contributing to an institution.

2. Know what to expect.

While it's impossible to anticipate every question you might be asked in a college interview, there are some basic inquiries you're likely to face from questioners. Most will ask why you want to attend an institution and the reasons you believe you're a fit. You may also be asked about favorite classes, proud moments or personal qualities that set you apart from other candidates. Reviewing information on your college application is a good start for articulating responses.

3. Prepare questions for your interviewer.

In addition to preparing potential interview responses, be ready to ask questions of your own. A few thoughtful, specific inquiries about an institution can show you've done your research on a school and that you're looking for the best fit. Don't ask questions that are easily answered in the college brochure or on the school website.

4. Don't ignore interview basics.

A college interview is a great opportunity for you to show your keen interest in an institution, so do it right. Make sure you're on time for your appointment and dress appropriately for the occasion. Expert opinions vary on dress, but most admissions officials agree that a nice-looking business casual outfit is appropriate.

5. Be polite and respectful.

Politeness and respect should be obvious, but they're overlooked by a surprising number of applicants. Don't be one of them. Shake an interviewer's hand as you introduce yourself and maintain eye contact throughout an interview. Avoid off-putting behaviors like gum chewing, texting, looking at the clock or asking inappropriate questions. Be conversational without using slang or other potentially offensive language.

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6. Showcase your personality and interests.

You're more than a college prep test score or grade point average, and now you have an opportunity to show it. Have a positive, upbeat attitude that reveals what you can bring to a campus. Talk freely about your education interests, displaying your intellect. Also mention any non-academic passions you have, including student activities you're looking forward to participating in on campus.

7. Strive to make a personal connection.

While a college interview isn't the primary factor in whether or not you'll get into an institution, a positive report from an interviewer can improve your admission chances. Show regard for an interviewer's comments and draw attention to similarities you may have in the form of experience or interests. Avoid flattery or insincerity, of course, instead trying to make an authentic connection.

8. Address any negative academic issues on your transcript.

The admissions committee has reviewed you on paper in the form of your transcripts and college application, but your interview is an opportunity to provide background information for any rough patches in your academic career. An interview can allow you to provide the personal circumstances behind a series of bad grades (a parent divorce, for example) or let a school know about a learning disability you've had to overcome.

9. Be relaxed and confident.

It's natural to have a certain amount of nervousness about the college interview - you don't want to do or say something that sinks your admission chances. The truth, however, is that students very rarely take themselves out of the running with an interview - but they can improve their prospects. Go into your interview professional, mature and confident about your abilities and a school's great fit. Avoid arrogance, but be sure of yourself. Above all, remember to just be yourself - you will feel more comfortable and confident if you avoid trying to be something you're not.

10. Take the time to send a thank-you note.

You've put a lot of preparation and energy into the interview process to make your best impression. The thank-you note serves as a bow on the top of your presentation and lets college officials know you appreciate the opportunity to make your admission case. While a generic message of appreciation is okay, do your best to reference a point of connection you had with an interviewer.

Learn how to pick the right school when you have multiple admissions offers.

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