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Survival of the Most Prepared: Rocking your College Interview

The college interview is one of the most awe-inspiring, terror-inducing rites of the college application process. The pressure to perform, sometimes in only a 15-minute window, is enough to cause anxiety in even the calmest of Zen masters. So what if you're a worrywart? Or prone to giggling when nervous? Or you've never gone on an interview before now? Never fear! Believe it or not, there are concrete steps that you can take to ensure your survival through even the most challenging of interviews.

Step 1: Prepare ahead of time

People say it all the time, but preparing for an interview ahead of time is essential to a good experience. If there's only one thing you do to prepare, it should be to research the school you're interviewing with. When you sound like you're knowledgeable about a school that you haven't even been accepted to yet, that indicates to the interviewer that you're serious about attending.

"Most interviews seem to start off with the interviewer telling the student about the school, but it really helps if you can engage in a conversation with them about the school and what you like about it," said April Kelly, 20, an art history/English major at Columbia University.

But just glancing at the school's website isn't going to cut it. Kelly's own research was quite extensive. She often went to school websites to look at course requirements, previous class offerings and school-wide activities. You can be like Kelly by preparing in advance and focusing your research around your interests (be they French, political science or other subjects). You can then use your interview to gain insights about the school that you wouldn't be able to obtain elsewhere. This will actually work to your advantage.

"I think it helped me seem like I was eager to know about the school, and gave the interviewer an opportunity to talk about their own experiences instead of just a list of facts about the school," Kelly said.

Step 2: Practice makes perfect

Chances are you haven't had a lot of practice at interviews yet. Even if you are that rare interviewing prodigy, it never hurts to get more practice. You can look for sample questions online like Patrick Callahan, 23, a prospective law student at New York University, did, or you can even come up with some of your own.

"Think up answers, and then practice giving those answers out loud to a friend or family member who acts as the interviewer," he said.

Your audience can give you honest feedback that you can then apply to your interview. However, if you are too nervous to practice with friends and family, you can find the opportunity to do interview practicing online with LiveStream, a mock interviewing process available through Boston College's Career Center. You'll need a computer, of course, and a webcam; and not only can you film yourself, but you can watch other interviews and send your own interview to others to critique.

Step 3: Be yourself

It's such a cliché: Be yourself. But colleges really are looking to get a feel for your personality and interests. Admission counselors can already tell a lot about your hard work and related character traits through your high GPA and the amount of AP classes on your transcript, according to Chris Bamatter, 21, a senior at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania.

"What they cannot necessarily see is why you would be a good fit as an individual at their college," he said.

Focusing on your passions (be it movies, music, or medicine) distinguishes you from the competition, and allows admission counselors to get a feel for who you are. On the day of the interview, there's no way around the fact that you're going to be nervous. That's a good thing. It means the interview is important to you. Just remember to keep things in perspective.

"I did hear (and my Columbia interviewer even told me this) that interviews don't really affect your application that much unless they are either really good or really bad," Kelly said.

The college interview is just one more part of the college app process. If you come prepared and remember to be yourself (and breathe!), you'll survive and walk away feeling successful too.