The prospect of getting interviewed to gain admission to a college or university as a freshman may seem odd. However, there are many prestigious or specialized schools (like Julliard) that require incoming freshmen to do an interview as part of their application. While the interview is a relatively small part of the admissions process, it should be viewed as an opportunity. A student is getting a chance to have a meaningful conversation with people from their dream school.
An interview will almost always help a student’s application. This is especially true if they have taken the time to prepare. Usually, the student will meet with an alum or a graduate student. (For example: Brown University’s Alumni Interviewing Program deals only with undergraduate applications.) Professors generally only conduct interviews for graduate students.
In most cases where first-year students need to interview to enroll in a US university, it will be the student’s responsibility to set up the interview time, place, and/or format (e.g. Skype, Google Hangouts, phone, or other web-chat service). However, this does not mean that they have to search through a huge alumni contact database and find a person. In the case of Brown’s program, an alum will contact the student first to introduce themselves and start the arrangement. After this, the student needs to work with the alum to find a good time for both to meet.
If the application states that an interview is optional or recommended, it’s a good idea to take that to mean "required." In this case, the applicant must request an interview around the time they submit their application. Bowdoin College, for example, notes on their admissions page that the deadline is strict for requesting an interview, and that it can take a bit of time to hear back, as they have thousands of other applicants to interview as well. Carnegie Mellon, on the other hand, has a rolling calendar on which students can schedule an interview at any time before or after they submit their application.
Remember that the interviewer will not have access to the applicant’s admissions file either before or during the interview. This means that students do not need to worry about talking about a bad semester or their weakest subject unless they want or need to. Interviews, even for prestigious universities, shouldn’t be stressful, but some students are very nervous anyway. If a student we work with has applied to a school that requires an interview, we will help them with practice questions and helping them to articulate their goals.