What to Wear to a College Interview: Everything You Need to Know | Education News2america

Getting accepted to college can be extremely competitive, and the impression you create by what you wear to an admissions interview or an official campus visit can set you apart – for better or worse – from other applicants. 

It’s called the rhetoric of dress – how your wardrobe choices, as well as grooming, send unspoken messages that others pick up, often at a subconscious level, and respond to. The key is to control your message. So when you’ve accepted a school’s invitation to visit the campus or hop online for an interview, there are ways to use fashion to your advantage and perhaps gain an edge over the competition. 

Understand that your goal is to project that you’re a serious, respectful student with good judgment. Here’s how to use fashion as a tool to send the right visual cues, reinforce your strengths, feel comfortable and confident, and excel in your interview. 

How to Decide What to Wear to a College Interview

Dressing is always about context. Think first about why you’re interviewing or visiting a college – it’s because you want to make a favorable impression on those who hold your fate in their hands. When assembling a winning outfit, you also should consider the climate and weather where you’ll be visiting if the interview is in person. 

So that you don’t underdress or overdress, wear what you would to a job interview in an office setting. That simply means a professional look. You want to feel comfortable but you don’t want to look casual, so remember that comfort is a result of correct fit and quality, season-appropriate fabrics. Worsted wool blends tend to work year round, while khaki and lighter cottons are more suited for warmer weather and heavier fabrics like corduroy are more at home in cool weather.

Remember to inspect everything you’ll be wearing to ensure that it is clean, in good condition, wrinkle-free and an appropriate fit. Pieces that are soiled, wrinkled, too tight or oversized are visual distractions that may suggest poor planning or bad judgment.

Sample College Interview Outfits for Women

  • Knee-length skirt, blouse or shirt, and possibly a jacket or sweater.
  • Knee-length dress, with a jacket or sweater if it’s sleeveless.
  • Dress slacks, a blouse with sleeves, and possibly a jacket or sweater.
  • A pantsuit or skirt suit, plus a blouse.

Sample College Interview Outfits for Men

  • Dress pants, a button-up shirt and perhaps a sweater or jacket.
  • A suit and a button-up shirt.
  • A dress shirt, dress pants and sport coat or blazer.
  • Khaki or chino trousers, a polo shirt and a sport coat or blazer.

What Not to Wear to a College Interview

You want your look to be tasteful and not distract from where the focus should be – on your smiling face and your insightful comments and questions. That means there are some items you need to avoid.

Here are 13 unlucky looks to leave at home because they’re too casual, revealing or otherwise distracting:

  • T-shirts.
  • Jeans and any other denim.
  • Shorts.
  • Skirts and dresses with a hem above the knees.
  • Track suits, sweats or athleisure that looks like yoga wear.
  • Garments with profane, political or provocative words or images.
  • Sneakers or flip-flops.
  • Zany socks or hosiery.
  • Hats and caps.
  • Sunglasses or overly ornate eyeglasses.
  • Too many accessories.
  • Visible high-end designer labels and logos, even if you won’t be applying for financial aid.
  • Backpacks, briefcases, giant purses or wristlets.

Where to Get College Interview Clothes Cheap 

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on quality clothing that’s interview-appropriate. Shop your closet first. You likely already have some pieces that will work, which can save you money even if they need minor alterations or repairs. 

There’s nothing wrong with borrowing clothes, whether it’s a buddy’s jacket or a friend’s skirt. Just make sure the fit is right and they complement the other components in your ensemble. Sometimes you can score wardrobe wins by getting together with a group of friends and having a clothing swap.

If you need to buy something, here are some places where you can score great deals on new or barely used clothes at a fraction of normal retail cost:

  • Thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army.
  • Discount stores like T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Ross Dress for Less and Burlington.
  • Off-price stores like Nordstrom Rack and Saks OFF 5th.
  • Various brand outlet stores.
  • Online sellers on Facebook Marketplace, Amazon and eBay.
  • End-of-season, liquidation and close-out department store sales.
  • Yard, garage and estate sales.
  • Flea markets and swap meets.

FAQs

What colors should I wear to a college interview?

You’re safest anchoring your look with neutrals such as gray, brown, blue and white. These work well with each other and with other colors. If you want to add a “fashion color,” you’re probably safest going with just one so that the interviewer notices that you’re appropriately attired and not wearing colors, prints and patterns that fight each other for attention. It’s best to avoid overly bright shades of any color. 

Is it OK to wear the school’s colors to a college interview?

Many people discourage this, suggesting that you may look like an overeager panderer. But if you’ve indicated that you’re super excited about a school – excited enough to accept an interview invitation or visit the campus – there’s nothing wrong with showing your enthusiasm by paying homage to the school colors. The key is restraint. For example, if a school’s colors are red and white, try a white shirt with a red stripe or check under a blue jacket or sweater, or a gray skirt suit with a white blouse and a red bracelet. Wearing something school-branded, on the other hand, may be a stretch. 

What should I wear for a virtual college interview?

The same thing you would wear to an in-person interview. Admissions officers want to see that your level of respect for them and the process is the same in an online meeting as it would be in person. Being remote isn’t a valid reason to be casual or inappropriate in some other way. Even if your interviewer shows up on the screen dressed down, your task is still to project a serious, professional image. Keep in mind that fine prints and patterns can appear blurry or pixilated on screen, so stay away from those. And make sure the lighting around you is good, especially on your face.

Should I dress differently for an elite or highly selective college interview?

Not necessarily. Dressing appropriately professional will work for any college. If you have doubts or uncertainties, contact the school’s admissions office and ask how they expect prospective students to dress for an interview. For Ivy League and other elite, highly competitive schools, it may not hurt for guys to add an understated necktie to your ensemble. That can help distinguish you from other interviewees and make you more memorable. So, too, can a simple white pearl necklace for girls. These accessories are timeless and classic and never work against you.

What kind of footwear is best for a college interview?

You’ll probably be doing some walking, perhaps including a campus tour, so wear shoes that are both professional and comfortable. For girls, a pump, ballet flat or tasteful strappy heel – no stilettos – are good options. Guys can wear a leather lace-up shoe or polished loafer. Depending on the weather, a leather boot may work. Think ankle boots rather than thigh-highs or galoshes, or a Chelsea, wingtip or other dress boot in lieu of Timberlands, hiking boots or cowboy boots.

What if the college interview is part of a weekend or multiple events?

Find out what and where each event is and pack accordingly. While some activities are likely to be more casual, still play it safe. For example, a cookout means you can probably get away with jeans, but it would be unwise to pack a pair that’s distressed, tight or oversized. And don’t forget to take along your carefully curated, deal-clinching interview outfit. 

What are some grooming tips for college interviews?

Intense aromas can be distracting and some people have allergies, so skip the perfume, cologne and strongly fragranced body washes and lotions. Makeup should be kept to a minimum and as natural as possible. A college interview is not the place for glittery eyelids or high-shine lip gloss. In terms of hair, it’s best to wear a style that keeps strands and tresses away from your face as much as possible. The interviewer wants to see you, and hair that obscures can be distracting and even interpreted as a lack of confidence. Ponytails and buns can keep longer hair in check. Guys should ensure their hair is freshly trimmed, especially at the back of the neck. Facial hair such as a mustache is OK, just make sure it’s neatly trimmed and the parts of your face that you normally shave are clean-shaven.

College admissions officers don’t expect perfection. But they expect and appreciate an effort at a tasteful and appropriate self-introduction, which includes how you choose to dress and groom. The way you present yourself to them should communicate good judgment and maturity, putting the focus where it belongs – on the qualities and credentials that make you a pleasure to meet, an asset to the school and possibly someone who just gained the winning edge for a highly competitive scholarship.

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