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Admissions Interview: the Do's and Don’ts

Student interviewing with admissions staff

Many elite colleges include an alumni interview as part of their application process. The practice dates back for as far as some of these institutions’ histories. In general, the interviews are meant to be both informative and evaluative. You can ask the alum questions, and they can learn more about you through conversation. These interviews are reported and filed away as supplemental material for your application package.

There is a common misconception that, if offered an alumni interview, you have practically sealed your admission status. This is not the case.

Alumni interviews are part of the admission process, offered to any applicant if schedule allows. If no alum is available in your area for the interview, there would be no interview, and your chance of admission wouldn’t be affected.

Alumni interviews are also entirely optional. If you are like some of the quieter, more introverted students we have worked with, you may think about opting out. We are of the opinion, however, that you should always opt in. These interviews can always help you if you carefully prepare by following the steps below. A well-conducted interview could potentially be a deal-breaker in your final admission decision.

In recent years, the option for virtual interviews have become common. We are of the opinion, however, that in-person interviews are best if available to you. Many things can go unexpectedly wrong during a virtual interview: weak internet signal, unexpected noise in the background, phone or laptop going out-of-battery, etc. In an online setting, it is also harder to understand the subtle non-verbal cues from the interviewer, potentially leading to miscommunication or confusion.

You want to prepare for your interview as you would a job interview, and prepare well-thought out questions in advance. Prior to embarking on an interview, try going through the following Do’s and Don’ts checklist to ensure preparedness. We do mock interviews at Peninsula Academy. Feel free to reach out if you need help.


Be Prepared to Answer the Fit Question

The question asked in every interview is why you choose this college or university. The alum conducting the interview wants to know that you’re genuinely interested in attending their alma-mater. Learn about the history, the majors you are interested in, the specialty programs, etc, in other words, the unique aspects about the college that are appealing to you. Give succinct answers backed by examples. Show you have done your research.

Be Prepared to Talk about Who You Are

Be prepared to talk about who you are, your interests and goals. If you have something for show and tell, bring it and prepare to talk about it in both technical and plan language.

Ask the Right Questions

Ask for information that matter to you and you can't find elsewhere. It is OK to Google the interviewer beforehand and frame the questions so the interviewer has something to share. But keep the focus on you.

Be Nice and Conversational

Show your confidence in a polite and humble manner. Talk in a conversational way, not too nervous or too casual.

Dress Appropriately

Don’t dress casually or overly formal, but dress in a way that shows you care about how you present yourself. Dress as if you’re giving a presentation at school. And remember, first impression lasts.


Don't forget to respond promptly to emails, texts, or phone calls from your interviewer.

Send a Thank You Letter

Most alumni Interviewers are conducting interviews on a volunteer basis. Let them know you appreciate their time and loyalty with a thank you letter!


Fixate on Prestige

Avoid focusing on the brand and prestige of the college or university. Don't leave the impression that the main reason you are applying is the name.

Bring the Application

Don't bring in application related materials such as test scores, transcript, and personal essays. The institution doesn't share your application with the interviewer on purpose.

Re-State Your Application

Use the interview to supplement your application, not repeat it. The alumni interview gives you a unique opportunity to discuss things that may not have appeared on your application due to word limits. Use the interview as a way to complete your application portrait!

Ask Simplistic or Disingenuous Questions

Forget to ask questions or ask simplistic ones where you can easily find the answer online. Avoid asking disingenuous questions simply to make the interviewer talk about themselves or their college experience.

Appear Arrogant or Overly Friendly

Avoid curt, arrogant ,and rude answers or behaviors. Avoid requesting last-minute changes. If you have to, wait until the admission cycle is over to send friend requests on social media.

Bring Your Parents

The interview is specifically for you and the alum. Do not make the mistake of inviting your parent, regardless of what the interview format may be. You want to present yourself as an adult with ambitions and dreams that were developed as an individual.

Ignore Interview Invitation

Even if you choose to decline the interview invitation, send the response promptly and politely.


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