While the number of institutions using college interviews as part of their admissions process continues to diminish, there are things every senior (and even junior) should know.
First and foremost, I love a quote that one of my former colleagues used regularly. "An interview should be viewed as a conversation; not a confrontation." This resonates with me because I firmly believe that interviewers are not trying to stump interviewees with their questions but rather they are in search of candidates that fit their institution...just as you are in search of institutions that fit you. Keep this in mind as you enter any interview, be calm, confident, and most importantly be yourself...if it is a fit, you'll both know it.
There are essentially two types of Interviews; Evaluative and Informational.
Evaluative Interviews are used as one facet of the admissions process for the schools that use them. While they rarely get a student in or get a student denied they do offer students and schools the opportunity to get to know each other in a more personal way. Take for instance what Georgetown University says about their required, evaluative interview process.
Informational Interviews on the other hand are typically opportunities for applicants to learn a bit more about the school to which they are applying. The goal from the college side is to provide information to prospective applicants as they continue to work through their decision-making process. We really love what Colgate University has to say about their informational interview process (and all of the other tips they offer as well)!
So, if these are the two types of interviews, who conducts the interviews. Well, that all depends. The most common interviewers are Alumni. Alumni can often offer local interviews to applicants, they also have a deep desire to stay connected to their school. A good example is what Vanderbilt University offers.
Other schools offer interviews with members of the admissions staff. Take, for example what Wake Forest University says about their Admissions Committee Interviews that are offered either in-person or via Skype.
And then other schools might have current students conduct their interviews. There are not many schools that offer these as an option but some still exist, take for instance the on-campus interviews offered by Yale.
When to interview? The timeline for interviews is very institution specific. Interviews can take place at anytime from late spring/early summer of junior year through mid-senior year. It is massively important to track these dates especially if you're planning summer/fall visits to schools and on-campus interviews are an option.
What will be asked? As we mentioned before, the interview is a conversation and really there are two general things to know: yourself and the school where you are interviewing. In knowing yourself think academics, extracurriculars, what can you add to the college you're interviewing with, and why is it a fit. You might also think about the last book you read, current event stories you're following, your experiences over the summer, and why you're unique. When considering the school don't ask questions easily found on-line, don't ask about rankings, think more about opportunities you're looking for, undergraduate research opportunities or most popular study-abroad destinations.
Most importantly I advise interviewees to make it personal. To find out what I mean by this contact us and we can discuss. The ability to connect with an interviewer can be important and give you the opportunity to stand out amongst your fellow applicants.
Post-Interview. Get a business card, prepare a thank you e-mail, possibly a follow-up question and get it out within 48 hours.