How To Help Your Child Ace College Interviews


I am an alumni interviewer for a prestigious college in the Northeast. I continue to be baffled by how students come into these interviews completely unaware of interview etiquette. I of course blame it on today’s society, where kids have less social skills because of phones and social media. However, maybe it’s partly the fault of the people sending them on these interviews blindly without proper preparation (read that as you, mom, and the college counselor’s fault).  

But regardless of the reason, an interview can make or break your child’s college application process, tipping the scales to one side or the other. As parents of “big kids” on the verge of adulthood, your child may be less than interested in taking advice from their mom, but you may want to have a discussion about proper conduct during an interview anyway. When they get into the college of their choice because of your tips and sage advice, they’ll thank you (even if they don’t really want to say it!).  

Tip 1: Be Prepared

It won’t take long to prepare but there are a few key things to do get ready before showing up for the interview that can give your kid a real edge. Research where you are going beforehand and how long it will take, nothing sheds a bad light on an interview like tardiness. Second, know something about the school, be able to show you’ve been there, or done the research about it. Tell your interviewer that you like the teacher/student ratio or that you’re impressed by the sports complex, whatever honestly attracts you. Then, prepare some specific questions to ask that are related to that college. All of these ideas will show your interviewer that you are serious about the possibility of attending the college.  

I had an interview with a young lady that when asked, couldn’t say anything about the college! When asked why she wanted to attend the school, she said she liked the city it was in. While being honest is important, I knew she knew nothing of the college and really had little intention of attending, should she be accepted.  

Tip 2: Dress To Impress

I’m not saying you have to wear a suit to meet an alumni in a coffee shop to talk about a college, but remember, first impressions count. Leggings or sweats may not make me think you’re serious about the meeting. A nice sweater and actual pants will take you far. Take your hat off when you arrive, coat too. Sit down, stay awhile.  

Tip 3: Be Honest-ish

I’m a mom and a teacher so, of course, I don’t condone lying. But there’s the whole truth and then there’s the appropriate, best version of the truth. Teach your teen to provide truthful answers that provide the interviewer a positive peek into the person they are and the educational journey they want to take. If one is asked if you are also applying elsewhere, interviewers already know more than likely you are. Listing 17 other colleges in your answer, however, may make it seem like the college is just another one in a large pile of “maybes.” Instead, be direct, yet concise. Try something like, “I have put in applications with one or two other schools just to be on the safe side, but I am really interested in making <insert college here> my future home. It really matches everything I want in a college.” If asked how your friends would describe you, “Wild party girl of the group” may not be the best choice of descriptors. Instead perhaps say, “They would probably say I am energetic and always up for adventure.” There’s a reason, “Put your best foot forward,” has been a saying for years, it’s best to highlight the best in you.  

Tip 4: Know Yourself and What You Want To Say

A quick google search will lead you to a ton of common interview questions. (I even did the hard work for you, click here for some common questions). Why not sit down with your child and have them go through a mock interview with you. Let him think about the answers to, “What do you think you may want to study?” or “What are you passionate about?” If there is resistance to practicing with you, maybe a high school teacher or guidance counselor would do the trick. Knowing the answer to the these common questions quickly can be impressive, while starting with hmmm and ummm may have the opposite result. Interviews are hard, even after college. Practice may not make perfect, but polished responses make a difference.  

Tip 5: Mom and Dad, You Can Come Too.

Yes. It’s true, you can hold on to your babies a little longer. It is quite common for a parent, or both, to accompany their young one on an interview. This may provide your student with comfort. If it is an alumni interview, which are often held in local public spots, choose a seat a comfortable distance away where your student isn’t distracted by you and you can’t overhear. Be prepared to ask some questions should the interviewer invite you to join in the conversation. Often the alumni, or admissions officer, will have a one on one conversation with the student first and then invite parents to join. Keep it simple, ask about something you’re interested in knowing about the college, while also seeming like you too have knowledge of the basic college stats for the school.

Tip 6: Show Gratitude

By all means, if you listen to little else, listen to this tip and pass it on to your teen. Make sure to end the interview with a sincere and hearty thank you. Shake hands, thank the interviewer for their time and tell them you look forward to hearing from the college in the future in regards to your application. Then go home and immediately write and send a personalized thank you note. In the days of electronics, you may not have an address for a physical thank you note if you were interviewed by an alum. However, you should have an email address. Keep it simple, sweet and sincere. Thank them again for their time, tell them you enjoyed speaking about <insert random college fact or school name here>.  It takes very little time and effort to do this, yet it shows your interest in the school and the steps you’re willing to take to get in. Plus it will show your student was brought up to have basic common courtesy and manners.

(Tip 6a: Don’t overdo it though. There’s no need for a gift basket etc., that just makes the alumni laugh, it won’t “sweeten the pot”). If you need some good examples of a great thank you note, check out this article.

Overall moms, the fact of the matter is, interviews don’t really change. Manners don’t either. The same expectations when you were a bright-eyed teen with the world in front of you still hold true for your child today. Help your teen to take this step in the college process seriously. You won’t regret it when they are jumping up and down looking at that acceptance letter!

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Kristen is the proud mom of two wonderful, smart and sassy daughters (born in 2007 and 2011). Raising her kids as a single mom is a challenge and an adventure and she loves every minute of it. Kristen loves bringing up her girls in the same area of Westchester that she grew up in, having only moved a few miles from her childhood home. A long time passion for working with children led Kristen to pursue a career in education and she has been an elementary school teacher in the Bronx for over a decade. Her teaching career has taught her that every day is a new experience and to "expect the unexpected." If she can find any spare time between teaching and motherhood, Kristen likes to read, binge watch horrible romantic comedies on TV, bake, and go on road trips with her girls.