How to Ace Your College Admissions Interview: Questions to Expect, Questions to Ask, and What Not to Do
Interviews are a vital part of the college admissions process for performing and visual arts students. Arts applicants come face-to-face with both admissions officers and faculty as part of the audition or portfolio review process. Even if a separate, formal interview isn’t scheduled, performing and visual arts applicants should treat every audition and portfolio review as an interview. What you do on your instrument, or in your song or monologue, or show in your portfolio is very important, but all the other moments (walking into the audition room, the time between pieces, and certainly the interactions after the audition ends) are often just as important because they’re opportunities for faculty to learn more about you.
Use this guide as you prepare for your interviews, auditions, and portfolio reviews, and you’ll know the questions you’ll likely be asked, the questions you should ask your interviewers, and what you definitely shouldn’t do if you want to have a successful interview.
Commonly Asked Interview Questions
The best way to prepare for these important interactions with faculty and admissions officers is to get more comfortable talking about yourself, so we’ve created a list of the most commonly asked interview questions. The point is not to memorize answers to predetermined questions (that may not even be asked!), but rather to be able to speak coherently about your accomplishments, goals, learning objectives, and hopes and dreams for college and beyond and to discuss your challenges and weaknesses in a way that shows you have a growth mindset.
- What would you like us to know about you? This type of question is intentionally open-ended. Either you won’t know where to start, or you’ll find yourself unable to stop rambling on. What are the most important things that you’d like someone new to know about you? Some basic background info is great, but go beyond that by making a mental list of the things (activities, interests, accomplishments, and even struggles) that offer a glimpse of who you are. Aim for no more than 30-45 seconds to answer this type of question.
- What did you do over the summer? The purpose of this question is to get you to feel relaxed during the conversation and to see how you use your downtime. Even if you didn’t do much, think of things that contributed to your growth as a performing or visual artist and as a person.
- Why are you interested in our college in particular? Think about why you applied to this college in the first place: what is it about the school or arts program that appeals to you and differentiates it from other programs? Avoid vague answers that apply to any college; instead, be specific and be personal. Keep your focus on your educational and artistic interests – both how you see yourself benefiting from and contributing to the learning environment offered at this college.
- When/how did you decide that this was what you wanted to do with your life? Tell your story! What factors influenced your decision to pursue this major in college? Was there a particular moment that cemented your decision? If you’ve always known and can’t imagine doing anything else, then consider the moments and experiences that have affirmed your decision.
- What are some of your strengths and weaknesses? A question about your strengths is an opportunity to #humblebrag – to talk about what you do well while remembering that you still have more to learn and room to improve. Talk about your strengths in terms of how you’ve used them to achieve something specific. How do your strengths contribute to your success? Conversely, what have you done to improve on your weaknesses? The weakness question is a test to see if you dwell on the difficulty of a challenge or whether you think more in terms of how you’ve worked to overcome a weakness. Focus most of your answer on how you’ve managed to succeed in spite of the challenge, how you did so, and what you learned from it.
- What has been the most significant accomplishment (artistic, academic, personal, or otherwise) in your life? Revisit your resume before your interviews, auditions, or portfolio reviews to help keep fresh in your mind all of the great things you’ve done. Remember, however, that your most significant accomplishment may not be on your resume. Overcoming an obstacle, improving an important relationship, or persevering through a difficult time are all just as significant as winning a vocal competition or participating in an international exhibition.
- What do you see yourself doing in five or ten years? No one is expecting you to make an exact prediction. They would, however, like to see how you view the bigger picture. Are you working toward any longer-term goals? Maybe you can envision a few different scenarios. That’s great. Just remember to communicate the possibilities with enthusiasm and a sense of open-mindedness!
- What questions do you have for us? This type of question is most likely to appear at the end of an interview. Don’t be caught off guard! Expect that you’ll be asked this question, and have two to three questions ready for every interview, audition, or portfolio review. Avoid asking questions that can easily be answered by searching the website, and don’t ask questions to which you already know the answers. Good questions are ones whose answers will help you decide if this is where you want to spend the next four years.
Questions to Ask Your Interviewer
When interviewers ask you if you have any questions, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm while hopefully learning something new about the college. The biggest mistake that students make is having no questions prepared, so be sure to go to every interview, audition, or portfolio review with two to three questions in mind. Here are some examples of good questions:
- What performance/exhibition or professional opportunities are available to students, particularly during the first few years?
- How do most students in your program spend their time during summers?
- How much interaction do students in this major have with students from other majors and programs?
- How will this college help prepare me for life after graduation in terms of career advising and networking?
- What are the best things about your program that can’t be found anywhere else?
- I noticed ______ on your website and I’m wondering if you can tell me more about that.
What Not to Do During Your College Interview
You’ve put a lot of thought into what to say and do during your interviews, but it’s equally important to know what not to do:
- Arrive ten minutes late. The fastest way to make a bad first impression is to not be there when you’re expected. Admissions interviewers often schedule appointments back to back, so your lateness can be very disruptive to other meetings in addition to yours.
- Dress down. You’re about to meet with the people who may determine your path for the next four years and beyond. Don’t let what you wear get in the way of where you want to go. It doesn’t take much effort to appear neat and well put together. No need to over dress either. When in doubt, go with business casual. Simply dress like you care. After all, you do, don’t you?
- Forget your resume and prepared questions. If you arrive at the interview empty-handed, it looks as though you don’t care enough to learn more about the school. Do some real research on the college and the particular arts program that interests you. Don’t ask the type of no-brainer questions that can be quickly answered with an online search. Use your questions to show that you have a basic knowledge of the school and that you’re curious to learn more.
- Memorize canned answers. The last thing you want to do is come across as mechanical and rehearsed. If you over-rehearse, you’ll sound artificial. It’s important to be authentic and sincere. All you have to do is listen and be yourself.
- Use one-word responses. “Yes,” “no,” and “yeah,” are not the answers your interviewer wants to hear. Answer questions fully and be sure to include the how, what, when, and/or why. You’re smart enough to have made it this far, so share the thinking that led to your successes.
- Distort the facts. College admissions officers are well trained and extremely perceptive. They’ve interviewed thousands of students, and more often than not, they’ll know immediately when you stretch the truth about academic or artistic success. Elaborate, but never exaggerate or fabricate.
- Appear disinterested. If you have a mellow persona, that’s fine, but make sure you don’t come across as lacking interest in the interview process. Even if the school is not your first choice, act like it is because after the dust clears, it may be. There was something that intrigued you about the school when you applied, so focus on that and show the enthusiasm that lies beneath the surface.
- Check your phone. Some students just can’t help themselves. It’s a habit. And during an interview, it’s a really bad one. In fact, turn your phone off. That way you won’t be tempted to look at text messages, calls, emails, or alerts. And you won’t be distracted by Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or anything else that takes your attention away from the interview.
- Chew gum or candy. Your friends may not mind the chewing, but there’s no doubt that your college admissions interviewer will. So keep the gum in your pocket. Listen. Talk. But please don’t chew.
Don’t forget to be yourself!
By now you should have a clear idea of what to expect during your college admissions interview: you know the questions to expect and how you’d like to answer them, you know the questions you’d like to ask your interviewers, and you know the common mistakes to avoid. Remember that the best way to ensure a successful interview is to practice, prepare, and above all, be authentically you. Go into every interview, audition, and portfolio review with a positive attitude and eagerness to learn. Relax, be yourself, and you’ll do great.