College Interviews: How to Prepare (Part 2 of 2)


The single best way to prepare for an interview with a college is to:  

1. Write the three essay supplements below, even if the school hasn’t requested them

  • "Why us" statement
  • "What do you want to study and why" essay
  • Short extracurricular essay (150-250 words)

Why should you write these essays no matter what? Because writing them is essentially a chance to think-through your answers to three questions you're likely to be asked:

  • Why our school?
  • What do you want to study and why?
  • What interests you besides academics?

Plus, it'll lead to interesting questions for the interviewer (more on that in a moment).

A few quick tips:

  • Make sure that your "Why us" statement avoids these pitfalls.
  • Your short extracurricular essay should incorporate these six techniques.
  • Have at least one unexpected answer to the "What do you want to study and why" essay 

Once you're written (or re-written) your supplements...

2. Develop your “message box”

What’s a message box? A message box (you can look this up) is basically a PR-term for the 3-4 points you definitely want to hit no matter what the interviewer's question is.

So let’s say, for example, you worked in your dad’s restaurant since the 8th grade, learning the ins and outs of a business while helping to support your family. Notice how that could apply to any of the following questions:

  • What have you been involved in that you feel pleased about?
  • What’s the largest challenge you’ve faced and how did you resolve it?
  • What makes you unique?

How do you develop a message box?

a. Ask your family or friends: what’s the most impressive thing about me?

b. Take a blank piece of paper and spend 20 minutes filling the page with everything you’d want a college rep to know about you. Fill it with adjectives. Doodles. Memories. Basically everything that makes you, well you.

Then pick 3-4 of those things. That’s your message box.

3. Come up with three really solid, specific questions for the interviewer.

Why? Because it’s the single best way to communicate your intelligence, IMHO.


You don't have to raise your hand. It'll probably just be you and the interviewer. And that would weird them out.

Think about it, when I'm interviewing a student and I ask, "Do you have any questions for me?" and the student says, "Not really," how do you think that sounds? In short, it's not positive. I'm not saying it reflects negatively, I'm just saying it doesn't add anything to the student's application that I can write down.

What kind of questions should you ask?

A. Ask a question that shows you’ve done your research

How? Ask great school-specific questions:

  • Can you help me understand some of the specific differences between studying in the International Political Economy program at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service vs. majoring in political economy through the Georgetown College department of economics?

B. Ask a question that shows you're serious about your area of interest

How? Ask an advanced-level question in your field of interest/expertise:

  • Do the school's theatrical productions tend to focus more on interpreting existing works or creating new ones? How about in-class work?

Tip: it’s okay if the interviewer doesn't know the answer to your question. It may lead to an interesting conversation, in this case for example, on the difference between "interpretation" vs. "creation," something you happened to write a paper on last semester.

C. Ask a question that makes a personal connection

How? Ask questions only the interviewer could answer: What did you love most about studying at CMU? (or) What would you do differently if you could do college over again?

Remember that you're talking to a real person--not just a college rep--and that person has hopes and dreams, regrets and wishes just like you.

This post began with a life lesson, so I’ll end with one:

Be brave and dare to make a real connection.


Written by Ethan Sawyer – In addition to being the College Essay Guy, Ethan is a writer, teacher, speaker, and voice actor. He has worked at Elite since 2003 is also the coordinator for the Elite Community Scholars Program, a program very close to his heart. You can email him at The views expressed in this blog post are Ethan's and don't necessarily reflect those of Elite Educational Institute.