A few tasks typically come to mind when preparing to interview for college:
- making yourself an expert on the school using print and online resources
- researching campus life (ie, what club you’ll join, what you might study)
- reviewing your application and activity list to find material for conversation
- developing insightful questions to ask your interviewer
But, what about deciding what you are going to wear?
This important to-do is often overlooked, but your attire and appearance are vital to making a great first impression.
You don’t need to go overboard, though; in a nutshell, you want to be memorable—you don’t want your outfit to be. The best outfits are those that the interviewer doesn’t even notice. In my time as a college admissions interviewer, the most memorable interviews were those in which I was able to focus exactly on what the student was saying without being distracted by what the student was wearing.
You need not wear a full suit or purchase expensive clothes for interviews; you still want to look like a high school student! Since this is easier said than done, I’m going to share a few suggestions of clothes that are appropriate for interviewing.
Top: high neckline, cap sleeves or longer. Make sure it’s not see-through. If it’s a buttoned shirt that tends to billow out, be sure to wear a shirt underneath.
Bottom: nice pants (jeans or jeggings need not apply) or a skirt (one that hits or falls below the knee).
Shoes: preferably closed-toe. If you can’t walk in heels, this is not the day to try it—flats are fine!
Accessories: If you’re wearing a skirt, stockings are a nice touch. Keep jewelry to a minimum so it’s not too distracting.
Make-up: Keep it simple and natural. Avoid colored eye shadow, heavy eyeliner, and unnaturally red lipstick.
Top: a button-down, long-sleeve shirt in a conservative pattern (no Hawaiian shirts!). A tie and/or jacket are optional, but not necessary.
Bottom: slacks in any color. NO jeans or cargo pants.
Shoes: dress shoes or boots. NO sneakers or flip flops.
Make sure that you’re polished head-to-toe. If you’re layering, make sure that each layer underneath is just as appropriate, so that in case you get too warm and need to remove one, you still look ready to interview. One student whom I interviewed removed her blazer to reveal an appropriate tank—that is, until her hot pink bra strap slipped down and stayed out for the entirety of the interview, thereby counteracting any originally professional aspects of her outfit.
Run a comb through your hair or bring a travel-size hairspray if you get bed head while traveling. Do you have a tendency to play with your hair? If so, put it up, so it’s not a temptation during the interview. Putting in a few extra seconds of effort to ensure that you look polished can go a long way. If you’re coming from far, you don’t have to travel fancy; plan ahead. Arrive early and locate a public restroom where you can change or freshen up before your interview. I once interviewed a student who came straight from his soccer game—grass-stained uniform and all. It felt more like we were still on the field than in the admissions office.
These suggestions should provide you with a solid starting point for your perfect interview outfit. Once you’ve got something picked out, run it by your parents or a teacher just in case. Remember, once you put a great outfit together, you can re-wear it to every interview! (No one—except maybe your parents—will know.)
Keep in mind that while it is important to dress appropriately for an interview, it is also important to act appropriately.
If you have a tendency to fidget with your fingers when nervous, wear a ring to serve as a reminder; every time you touch it, put your hands down. Putting your feet up on the table? Not okay. Using slang and/or curse words? Definitely leave those at home.
Another thing to leave at home: your cell phone! If you need it with you to meet up with your parents after, make sure it’s off before the interview begins. I once had an interviewee check his texts in the middle of an interview—needless to say, this did not make a good impression.
Although you may experience many types of admissions interviews, it's important to take them equally seriously. Even if you have a student interviewer who is only a few years older than you, you should not act any less professionally than you would with an adult.
Remember, for a college interview—even if it’s optional—you want to leave behind a solid impression with the admissions officer of the type of student you are capable of being: mature, professional, and ready for success.