When thinking about what to wear to a college interview, it really can become a question of: how many teenagers know what ‘business casual’ is?
For some students, the game of knowing what to wear is fun. It’s a way to express your personality, show your professionalism, and make a good impression. For others, it’s a labyrinth, and you’re lost without a candle.
Wondering what to wear to a college interview? We’re here to help — or at least give you a few laughs along the road.
First Things First: Do College Interviews Even Matter Any More?
There is a rumor flying about forums and between students that college interviews don’t matter. The basis for this is, roughly, that there are so many applicants to big-name schools that they don’t have the time, resources, or desire to process so many interviews. Is this true?
Some people know the answer to this: the admissions counselors. The rest of us don’t know what goes on in the room where it happens, though, and colleges don’t release data on how ‘good’ their interviewees were, or how that factored into admittance. So the long and short of it is that we don’t really know, and have to rely on rumor and anecdotes.
In that regard, I missed the email telling me to interview for the college I committed to, and they still accepted me.
But then I tried quite hard on another interview and wound up getting waitlisted.
Why are College Admissions Interviews Important?
College admissions interviews are another way (in addition to your essay) for the school you’re applying to put a face and emotion to your scores. It’s meant to help you, not add stress — although inevitably, talking to a stranger about your hopes and dreams is a little scary even when your admission doesn’t depend on it.
The theory of admissions interviews is this: If you can win over your interviewer, great! If you can’t, your interviewer is probably a nice person, and it’s unlikely they’ll give you a distinctly negative review — unless you’ve given them solid negative evidence, such as telling them you don’t intend to actually attend their school, use drugs or drink alcohol, or anything you wouldn’t include in an admissions essay.
Also, admissions interviews give you a chance to talk about matters prescient to your application which you didn’t have the ability to include in an essay. This would be something like a recent project you’ve embarked on, a hardship you’ve overcome, or another facet of your life which you weren’t able to highlight in your application, such as a great passion for a certain extracurricular.
Note that an admissions interview isn’t the place to discuss any financial hardship or personal issues — if you’re having a rough time because of a breakup, best to keep that to yourself.
What Should Men Wear to a College Interview?
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I may be carrying a bias, but ‘business casual’ for men is fairly straightforward: nice pants, a polo or button-down, and dress shoes — that is, if you have them. If you don’t, don’t stress it! You can look into cheap stores — your interviewer won’t notice and shouldn’t care if your shoes are from a thrift shop — or contact a local organization to borrow an outfit. There are groups out there that are built to help young people succeed.
If blazers are your thing, it’s fine to add that too. If old-school tweed jackets are your thing, for that matter, play it up — your interviewer will remember you.
In cold climates, it’s probably fine to wear a hoodie, though if you have a more formal coat, go with that instead.
What Should Women Wear to a College Interview?
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For women, especially young women, what to wear to a college alumni interview is a little more nebulous. A dress? What length? Will you be rejected if you show your shoulders?
In our day and age, pants are fine. If you search ‘business casual,’ you will find that the results are all over the place, from jeans with a suit jacket to a pencil skirt and heels. It varies, so really all we can do is offer guidelines: flats or low heels, no sneakers. Nice pants, or nice jeans (see below), but avoid leggings. A shirt with buttons, a high collar, or long sleeves is preferable, but you can work with pretty much anything.
How Professional is Just Right? What’s Too Much?
Let me let you in on a secret: you’re somewhere between sixteen and eighteen, dressing for what is quite possibly your first professional meeting. Your interviewers know that. They aren’t expecting perfect chic; more than likely they aren’t expecting anything, save that you have good grades. And while particular sloppiness or showiness will stand out, there is a very wide range of acceptable attire.
Note as well that most interviews take place in public settings, particularly coffee shops. So as you choose your outfit, keep in mind that you’ll be deciding what to wear to a college interview at a coffee shop. Which is to say: business casual. You’re good at dressing casually. You’ll be fine.
You don’t need a three-piece business suit, or the perfect set of heels. This shouldn’t take as long as senior prom, or even as long as homecoming. All you need to do is look neat, put-together, and emotionally present — and the last of those is difficult if you’ve been panicked over your outfit.
Tips to Be Confident Before, During, and After a College Interview
The first thing to remember is that the person interviewing you is just another person. They’ve put together a list of questions — which in my experience are fairly open-ended, allowing you to show the best sides of yourself. At the end of the line, however, your interviewer isn’t passing divine judgment or anything. Hopefully they’ve made a connection with you, and if they haven’t, they certainly aren’t going to trash-talk you to your dream school.
Remember, you’ve made it this far. You’ve put in the work, got the grades, earned the scores. You’ve polished and primed your essay. This is the very last step, so take a deep breath and tell that interviewer how much you care.
Before a college interview: arrive early if you can, before your interviewer is there. Step in to the bathroom, stretch and smile at the mirror. Tell yourself you’ve got this. Stand tall.
As you wait for your interviewer to arrive, mentally go over your responses to the questions they are likely to ask. Don’t memorize a script: just be prepared. They will likely offer to buy you a coffee — will you accept? Either way is fine, so long as you aren’t awkwardly deciding at the counter. What points do you definitely want to hit? Are there any questions you’d like to ask them?
During the interview, do what is so easy to say and apparently quite difficult to do: be yourself. The friendly, smiling version of yourself. Make good eye contact, don’t fidget too much, and generally behave as adults are expected to — which, of course, is very easy every other occasion, and seemingly impossible now.
After the interview, take a sigh of relief, then talk with someone you trust — a parent, a sibling, your friend — about how it went. Let all your psychoanalysis flow. Did that cough mean you’re rejected? Did that dumb joke you made get you definitely rejected?
Wallow in this panic for an hour or a day, then drag yourself out and force yourself to stop thinking about the interview. You’ll get your response in a few months, and until then there’s nothing you can do to change it. So let it go, and live life while you’re young.
5 More Tips for Preparing for Your College Interview
Can you wear jeans to a college interview?
Yes! This may be a novel notion, but you don’t actually have to sell your soul and your family’s wealth to get into college… any more than you already are, between application fees and APs and sixty bucks per SAT test.
There isn’t one ‘interview dress code.’ So dress like yourself, albeit a little classier than usual. If you don’t own dress shoes or pants, or heels for that matter, that’s okay — be confident and show your interviewer the real you.
What about tattoos and piercings?
You already know this, but college students are, as a rule, the most outrageously dressed generation — save perhaps middle schoolers (by the way, if you happen to be looking for college admissions tips for middle school parents, check out our post on that here). Most college campuses have students with piercings, tattoos, and hair dyes galore. So most places, you’d probably be fine fitting in with the students. But what about your interviewer, who may have attended college forty years ago?
At that point, it’s up to you. Ear lobe piercings are standard, and even second earlobe piercings are becoming very common. As for a nose or cartilage piercing, you’re probably okay, though there’s nothing wrong with slipping a piercing out if that will make you feel more at ease.
More edgy stuff, like face tattoos or gauges or tongue piercings, are harder to hide — but as you enter the job market, you’re going to have to decide between covering those up, taking them off, or seeking out jobs and communities where you don’t have to. And that’s okay. Wear it to your interview if you like; if not, try covering piercings with long hair, or tattoos with makeup.
Finally, if you know you are applying to a more conservative school, you may want to take a closer look at your piercings — but you’d have to do that anyway, if you get accepted. And if you have to change how you look to fit in, make sure that that’s really the best school for you.
How conservatively should you dress?
I think of it this way: you want your interviewer to be focused on what you have to say. You don’t want him or her to be protesting, mentally, that he or she is not a creep for noticing your low-cut blouse, because that distracts from what you’re actually saying.
Fair? Maybe. Maybe not. But you’re not here to fight the patriarchy — yet — you’re here to get in to college.
Most blogs will advise you to cover your shoulders and collarbones, and to wear a skirt that reaches your knees. These are not really rules so much as guidelines
Look online for inspiration.
There are lots of cute internship outfits, business casual outfit ideas, and — if that’s really your thing — online sales to take advantage of. Doing ‘research’ in this way may or may not help — the top Instagram post for “business casual” is a blazer on top of lacy lingerie — but feeling like you are prepared will definitely boost your confidence.
Avoid wearing insignias from other schools.
Your interviewer is here to talk about your desire to go to their alma mater, so on a personal level, allegiance to another institution is likely to rub them the wrong way. On a professional level, you wouldn’t talk about how great your past jobs were to your current boss. And as you probably know, admissions decisions are based in part on how the admissions office sees your ‘fit.’ Colleges like the students they admit to attend that college, otherwise they will have a low class size and accordingly low funding. So if it’s clear that you have a different first choice, all your non-first-choice schools are a little more likely to pass you over in favor of someone they think will attend their school.
Don’t mention your parents’ schools, either, unless you’re a legacy kid and you think that knowing that would swing the interviewer in your favor. If you’re a first generation college student, or if your parents got their degrees in foreign countries, do say so — it shows you’ve managed the college admissions process with less parental guidance than your peers — but otherwise, it’s not relevant.
What Does College Confidential and Reddit Say About College Interview Attire?
College Confidential and Reddit are two forums which are great for anecdotes from users who have about as much information as you do, and small snatches of data which prove nothing. Pardon my bias. Peruse them to your leisure — but take any hard advice with a grain of salt.
In the vein of anecdotes, though, real talk: I don’t quite remember, but I’m pretty sure I took my Harvard interview in short shorts, a T-shirt from Goodwill, and sandals held together by safety pins. And my interviewer? She was wearing gym clothes because of a schedule mishap.
Wrapping Things Up: What to Wear to a College Interview
To summarize: wear something nice, not too fancy, but not as casual as you would wear to school. When in doubt, opt for non-jean pants, button shirts, and dress shoes. Dress conservatively, and cover tattoos or piercings if you see the need.
Then, take a deep breath, plan what you’ll say, and shine.
You’ll be fine.
If you found this post helpful, you’re definitely going to like our other college study tips here.