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Growth Strategies / Interviews

#7 Tips That are Sure to Help You Ace IVY College Interviews

An interview is more of a two way conversation and one doesn't need a script to put across his or her views
#7 Tips That are Sure to Help You Ace IVY College Interviews
Image credit: Shutterstock
Co-Founder, Collegify
10 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur India, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

First of all, let's answer the two most common questions: what is a college interview, and why does it matter? Many schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, and certain other places to which you might be applying include an interview as part of the admissions process. The goal of the interview can depend on the school, but there are some general similarities.

Research and awareness

Many schools in America include interviews as a way for admissions officers or alumni acting for the admissions committee to get to know a student better and learn who they are beyond the limitations of the application.

A very common question asked is how much does the school weigh the interview when making their decision? Again, this depends on the school. Some colleges weigh it heavily, and some see it as one of the many things that can help them gauge the potential of the student. For international students, the interview can often be the only opportunity the student has to express their individuality.

Because of the vast difference in educational systems, applications from American students and International students often look wildly different, so the interview is a chance for international students to even the playing field a little, and to give the school a stronger sense of who they are and what they bring to the community.

Know your strengths

Just like the college essay, the interview is an opportunity to show who you are as a person, and explain through your individuality what you bring to a college campus. Beyond that, it's also an opportunity for you to meet someone from the school, to ask questions and get your own personal sense of whether this school would be a good fit for you or not. Remember, this goes both ways!

For schools in Hong Kong, the goals of the interview from the admissions side are very similar to those of the goals of a US admissions committee. Then there are schools in the UK. Oxford and Cambridge weigh their interview very heavily, and it can make or break your application.

This is not an informative interview, but an academic one, designed to show the school how you as the applicant think and respond to new ideas and intellectual issues. While some aspects of the applicant's life, and certainly the field of study they intend to pursue, will come up, the questions are often more abstract.

The interview questions for these interviews can range from "Why do some habitats support higher biodiversity than others?" to "Should there be a salary limit for bankers?" to "Imagine the only historical records left on earth concerned sports. How much about the past could we find out?"

For these interviews, what matters most is not that you get a right or wrong answer, for many of them don't have a single correct response but that you represent your thought process, that you are able to consider, reason, think critically and engage in a dialogue about abstract and practical concepts.

Get into the head of your interviewer

What your interviewer is looking for, essentially, is your ability to learn, not a recitation of what you already know. You are demonstrating curiosity and interest in the world, not listing knowledge you've already gained.

Although they have different formats, all of these interviews on both sides of the Atlantic have the same essential goal. The admissions committee wants to know what kind of thinker you are, what kind of student you've been, and what potential you hold for intellectual and social growth.

After all, if you were already done growing academically, you wouldn't need to go to college at all! So the goal for you, in whatever interview you find yourself in, is to show who you are, where you've been, and where you want to go, with passion, candor and clarity.

So, let's start with that, shall we? How do you talk about yourself? More importantly, how do you talk about the accomplishments you might be justifiably proud of without sounding arrogant or superior? How do you connect and share your passions in ways that show off who you really are? And how do you talk about your accomplishments and passions without simply listing them?

The worst thing many students do is just try to list all the things they do, or prizes they've won, or tests they've scored well in. Don't fall into this trap! This doesn't tell the interviewer anything about you they couldn't find out from your resume and application. This interview is about the rest of you, not who you are on paper. Resist the temptation to list things, and try to actually connect.

It's never about your performance

Students often try to repeat the "buzzwords" they've heard, like leadership opportunity or learning experience, trying to shape their every story into what they think the admissions officer is looking for. Trust me, it isn't. They want to get to know you, not a version of you that is performing.

So, often students are taught not to talk much about themselves, their individual interests and desires, especially here in India. On the other hand, the academic pressures on so many students mean that everything boils down to academics, and it's hard to develop interests and passions outside of the classroom. Not every school truly encourages their students to be independent creative thinkers, but that's just what the interview is looking for.

So how can you do that? The first step is to consider the school itself. Here is where you have to do your homework. You need to research the school, and not just the statistics or the teaching staff. Look into the philosophy of the school, look up alumni testimonials, find out what the true nature of this program and place seems like to you, and think about how you will fit within that, and what you can bring to that community.

For example, if you are applying to a liberal arts college, what about it that appeals to you? Maybe it's the nurturing community and the opportunities for working closely with professors in seminars and research labs. If you are applying to a large State school, maybe you love the resources, opportunities and options. Go deeper than a glance at the website, and be prepared to talk about the school and why you see yourself there.

Live your experiences

It's also important to take some time to think about what you want out of college, and that might mean reflecting on your current high school experience. What do you like about it? What frustrates you? What can you bring from this experience that will help you in the next one? What have you always wanted to study but never had the chance to?

Think about these things, especially if you are someone who is typically shy with new people or adults. You interview time is limited, usually an hour or less, and you want to break the ice quickly and connect in a way that makes you comfortable and able to talk about yourself.

Another way to prepare is to practice. Get together with a friend and give each other mock interviews. Ask questions, and challenge each other by trying some out of the box ideas. Here are a few sample questions often used in admissions interviews for schools in the United States:

"What three adjectives best describe you?" Remember, when you answer this question give examples of why these adjectives work for you. Saying I'm brave is less interesting and informative than saying I'm brave because I love to try new experiences that force me to depend on myself, like when I went hiking through the Himalayan foothills with nothing but a backpack and a camera last summer.

"What are your strengths and weaknesses?" While it's tempting not to admit weaknesses, think about answering this honestly, and in a way, that talks about how you've dealt with and work to improve these weaknesses.

Talking about what excites you

"What activities are your favorites?" Always talk about why describing what interests you about the things you spend your time doing.

"What is your favorite book?" Even if you aren't much of a reader, it would be worth it to try and answer this question. If you can't think of a book, how about a newspaper, or a movie! Try to engage and talk about why you like whatever it is you've chosen. I love Twilight because it's the best is a far less interesting response than I love Twilight because of the way it takes these myths and superstitions and puts them in a modern relatable context.

The interviewer also might ask you questions about current events, your fields of interest, the city you live in, anything really to get to know you and get a sense of how curious- minded, conscious and aware you are of the world around you.

Let's talk about some other basic dos and don'ts. You want to make sure you show yourself to be a mature independent person, so be on time and presentable. You don't need to wear anything too formal, but try to look clean and put together in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident.

Putting your responsible foot forward

Going to college outside of your hometown means you will have to be responsible for yourself, and especially with international students from India, interviewers want to see that you don't rely heavily on people around you but have in fact developed a sense of self-sufficiency. Questions about your life, how it works, how you feel about your hometown and country, can reveal your independent abilities or lack thereof.

Be your best self, but be yourself first and foremost. Don't lie to your interviewer, don't pretend to know or care about things that don't interest you, and don't agree to everything they say or every opinion they have. They want to know who you really are, not a version of you that you think they want.

College is about finding a good fit for everyone. There are a lot of schools that would be great for you, and some that just might not be as good for who you are. There are a lot of schools that will be interested in you, and some that won't be. It's about finding a match. So be yourself, in a polite respectful way, and you will be respected for it.

Tempting as it might be to rehearse your answers, don't! It's a conversation, not a movie. You don't need a script. Feel free to prepare with notes or readings, but when you get into the interview space, let it go and respond to what's in front of you.

What to Do When You Make One of These 5 Common Interview Mistakes