Many universities, especially competitive ones, offer students the opportunity to interview with a member of the admissions committee, alumni, professors, or other school afﬁliates. This adds a face and a personality to an application with a lot of data and an itemized list of accomplishments. These are generally 30-minute sessions with one interviewer. They may take place on campus, at a local coffee shop, or on Skype for international students.
There is no need to be nervous. Most admissions interviews are extremely relaxed and conversational in nature, and they are not designed to trick or test you. Their importance really depends on the university. Some require an interview; it is optional at others. Some do not interview applicants at all. The amount of weight an interview carries in the admissions process varies widely. Regardless, be excited and look at it as an opportunity for you to learn more about the university and to discuss what makes you unique.
Review your application and know it extremely well. The best answers to interview questions are rooted in solid examples. If an interviewer were to ask you about your ambition and what you are like in the classroom, the best way to be convincing is by providing thorough illustrations of your impact. (Review the practice questions post for more on this.) Your application, which contains a pretty detailed account of your academic and extracurricular résumé, is a great source for these examples.
Do research on those that are interviewing you and the school itself. When given the name of your interviewer, whether it be an alum or a professor, do some research on who this person is. What is their profession or area of research? You may ﬁnd that you have a lot in common with them. This is obviously helpful when building rapport. It is, also, very ﬂattering to have someone read a paper you published or have intelligent questions prepared about your career. As much as they are interviewing you, you should look at this as an opportunity to see if this university is right for you. How did they get to where they are today? How did the university help them? You will only know this with a little research about their journey.
Try to smile, even in a phone interview. Being positive helps you in so many ways. Sometimes, this is tough to do, especially if you are nervous. However, your mental state will follow your physical posture, and vice versa. Sit up straight (or stand for phone interviews) and smile. There is the old saying of "fake it until you make it." People that stand and sit up straight appear to be more energetic and engaged.
Dress well. Most interviews are very relaxed. There is no need to wear something as formal as a dress or a suit and tie. Wear something that you can be comfortable in and does not look sloppy. There is no dress code, so try not to overthink this.
Listen closely. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by anything. Most admissions interviews do not last longer than 30 minutes, so try to be as engaged as possible. If you ﬁnd yourself getting distracted, try to focus on the bridge of their nose and squeeze your toes. You will likely be doing most of the talking so this is usually not too much an issue for most applicants.
Try not to babble or answer questions in one or two words. There needs to be a balance between saying too much and saying too little. Even a yes-or-no question deserves some explanation. It is OK to err on the side of talking too much; one or two-word answers make an interview awkward for both parties. You will be well prepared, so spending extra time talking about a service trip or being the captain of the basketball team as an example of your leadership qualities should be ﬁne.
Cite, but do not dwell, on your accomplishments. You do not want to list your accomplishments. This is already in your application so the admissions committee does not need this information. What they do need is why you chose to do particular things and what you are like as a person. If you are explaining your passion for politics, talking about a model UN program is impressive, but it sounds even more impressive when you discuss it as though it was just something you love, rather than a bullet point on a résumé.
Do not bring up your weaknesses or insecurities. It is unlikely that you will have to justify, defend, or validate your past experiences. This is an interview to learn more about you, not to uncover a flaw in your application. You do not need to address any part of your application (standardized test scores, grades, etc.) that you think is a weakness. Some interviewers are given so little information beforehand that they might not even be aware of them. Their job is to ﬁgure what type of student that you would be on campus. Let the other things take care of themselves.
Do not try to memorize responses. Deﬁnitely spend some time preparing for questions, but do not try to memorize responses. This should be a free-ﬂowing conversation. There is nothing further from that than a break in the dialogue so you can try to recall what you previously scripted.
Prepare questions to ask them. First, you should always have questions if this is a university that you are actually interested in attending. Questions are good because they express interest. If you really want something, you spend a lot of time learning about it so coming up with some solid questions should not be too difﬁcult. Secondly, take advantage of the opportunity to interview them about their journey or experience with the university. Alumni will gladly share their experience. After all, they are volunteering their time to interview candidates. They must take pride in their alma mater and want others to have a similar experience.