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Riddle Me This: Do's and Don'ts for Your College Interview

By Robin Wasserman
Harvard Graduate and Noted Author

You may have the savviest application strategy in the history of college admissions, but I've got some bad news for you: You still can't game the admissions interview.

Robein Wasserman - Harvard Grad Robin Wasserman is the author of several original novels for children and young adults, including the popular Seven Deadly Sins series. A Harvard alumna, she swears she got in on her own merits...

Her latest book is Hacking Harvard. Ocean's 11 meets The Princeton Review in this high-stakes admissions satire, as three too-smart-for-their-
own-good pranksters take on the ultimate challenge: breaking into the Ivy League.

You can study for the SATs; you can rewrite your college essay a hundred times; you can suck up for good college recommendations and run for office in every club at your high school. But when it comes to the admissions interview, there are no second chances, no revisions, no memorized speeches or reputations to coast on, no stacks of forms filled with impressive stats to hide behind. There's just you and your interviewer, face to face, one day, one conversation, one shot.

No pressure.

Yeah, right.

But even if there's no foolproof recipe for cooking up the perfect interview, there are plenty of things you can do—and not do—to improve your chances.


  • Schedule an interview—even if it's optional
  • Ask questions (and make sure you prepare a few ahead of time)
  • Let the conversation flow naturally—don't come in with an agenda of topics you want to discuss. On the other hand, you may want to...
  • ... Use the opportunity to explain weak spots in your application
  • Dress well—but make sure you're comfortable
  • Learn about the college ahead of time
  • Have an on-campus interview, if you're given the option. Not only will the admissions officer you speak to be a pro—and so probably better at steering the conversation—but this is your shot to personally impress the person who's in charge of letting you in. Always a good thing
  • Be enthusiastic about the college. Your interviewer loves this college, guaranteed. Make it clear you love it, too. (Which means finding something you sincerely love about the college before the interview, because your interviewer will know if you're faking)
  • Share what you are passionate about… rather than guess what you think they want to hear. Most of these interviews are boring. Let your excitement shine through, and be the applicant they remember
  • Most important of all: Be prepared. This doesn't mean memorizing a series of stock answers. This means being ready to answer questions about why you've made the choices that you have. Interviewers love students who can articulate the thought-process behind their decisions, students who know what they want and why they want it. So make sure you know why you chose to join club X over club Y, or ran for office A over office B, or are applying to colleges J, K, and L, but not M. If you sound like you know yourself, you'll sound like someone the interviewer wants to know, too


  • Be late
  • Whine
  • Ask dumb questions that demonstrate you're either shallow or haven't bothered to learn anything about the school. (eg, "Who's your football rival?")
  • Sound pretentious or try to be someone you're not
  • Eat or drink—unless it would look weird or rude for you to turn down the invitation. (i.e., If you're meeting in a coffee shop, then you should probably order something.)
  • Curse
  • Be rude
  • Lie
  • Treat it like a therapy session
  • Most important of all: Don't freak out if it doesn't go well. Almost every college admissions office will tell you that the interview doesn't count for all that much. (And these days, at a lot of colleges, they don't count for anything at all.) Not every interview is going to be a good one. Personally, I had two interviews with stiff, intimidating alumni who asked me questions I could barely answer and looked at me like they couldn't understand why I would even bother to apply. I walked out feeling like I'd been punched in the gut... and a few months later, got accepted to both schools


Things I said in my own interviews that, according to all common wisdom, not to mention common sense, I probably shouldn't have:

  • Brown: "So, is it really true that Providence is run by the mob?"
  • Harvard: "What's the point of Radcliffe? Why don't they just get rid of it?" (FYI, when I was a senior in college, they pretty much did.)
  • Yale: "Right after I went to visit, the dining hall ceiling collapsed. Does that kind of thing happen a lot?"
  • Harvard: In response to the standard "Why do you want to go to this school?" question. "Um... I'm actually not sure I do."

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