Turning college interview prep into a conversation to remember

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Dec 5, 2019

Photo by Dennis Brendal

When my husband and I were navigating the college application process with our son a year ago, we made ourselves a mantra:

“We only get to do this once with Nathan, so let’s enjoy it.”

We were determined to make this task a highlight, and not a lowlight, of our son’s high school experience. Our goal was to increase our connection with him and decrease the accompanying stress he felt about the possibility of being accepted or rejected from the institutions he hoped would give him a bright future.

Probably the biggest surprise about the process for me was how much I enjoyed preparing for college interviews with him. It was an ongoing excuse to have our best conversations. It was my opportunity to ask him questions about himself, his faith, and his future that I often don’t get to.

Tweet this: College interview prep can be an ongoing excuse to have your best conversations with a high school senior.

Whether you have a high school senior at home or you want to serve students and families in your church, here are ten tips that will help turn college interview preparation into a time of connection:

1. Start preparing four or five days ahead of the interview.

If we started earlier than that, both Nathan and I got a little tired of the Q and A. When we started later than that, it felt rushed. Four or five days ahead was the perfect starting window.

2. Treat your preparation like an appointment; pick a specific time and day.

Nathan and I would look ahead to the next day or two and choose specific times to prepare. That worked far better than trying to “squeeze it in” when we could (which usually meant it got squeezed out altogether.)

3. Don’t spend more than an hour.

Maybe your young person’s endurance is different than mine, but right at about an hour, his answers got fuzzier and his demeanor became grumpier. Truth be told, so did mine.

4. Include fun food.

Having a fruit smoothie or a root beer float made the conversation way more fun—for both of us.

5. Look online for possible questions.

The more prepared you are, the more prepared your young person will be. Draw both from your own interview experience as well as from online articles and posts with recommendations to create a comprehensive list of practice questions. Here are 20 questions you can use to get started.

6. Make sure your child knows specifics about the particular school they’re preparing to interview with.

Nathan spent time researching schools online, talking to friends who were students and alumni, and remembering what he saw and experienced during particular campus visits. Interviewers will almost certainly ask prospective students why they are interested in that school and your young person needs to have an honest and compelling answer ready.

7. Encourage your young person to keep track of their answers so they don’t have to start from scratch.

Nathan started an online doc with interview questions and answers so he could add additional thoughts and notes. At times, there was a one-month gap between interviews, and having a record of those answers helped Nathan quickly brush up on his previous work and reflection.

8. Help your young person be themselves.

Your student will be at this school for several years. You want this school to understand their authentic self. Encourage students to give their honest answer to their favorite show on Netflix, and what they like to do with their friends on Friday night.

9. Pray.

Pray with your young person before the interview. Pray during the interview. Pray together after the interview.

10. Debrief after the interview, but only a bit.

Help your young person debrief and learn from the interview, but don’t overwhelm them. We found the following questions helpful with Nathan: What did you do well? What do you wish you had done differently? What questions were tough for you to answer?

With my son now happily settled at one of his colleges of choice, I now look back on last year’s season of stressful but deeply formative college prep conversations with gratitude. Help high school seniors in your life and ministry strengthen their connection with you, even as they prepare to spread their wings.

What are some of your best tips for families and ministries preparing their high school seniors for college?

Tweet this: Whether you have a high school senior at home or you want to serve students and families in your church, use these 10 tips to turn college interview preparation into a time of connection.

Download 20 questions to help a student prep for college interviews

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Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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