What to Wear for a College Admissions Interview

Striking the perfect mix of casual, but pulled together

Businesswoman at job interview

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College interviews are scary enough without fretting over wardrobe issues. Most admissions staffers are more interested in your teen's transcripts, hopes, and dreams than what label they're wearing.

Dress Appropriately

What your child wears should depend on the school and their intended major.

Prospective music performance majors, for example, should wear something approximating concert dress. Music composition, theater, and art majors can wear something a little more creative. For everyone else, think about what students at that specific university wear, and then, bump it up a notch.

Wearing torn blue jeans, exposed underwear, or a plunging neckline is never a good idea. Your child doesn't have to wear a suit, but they should dress neatly and modestly -- think business casual -- and keep the lingerie (or boxer shorts) hidden.

Business Casual and the College Interview

For a typical campus, business casual is the safest choice:

  • Business Casual for Guys: For young men, that means dress pants with a nice belt, collared long-sleeve shirt—an Oxford cloth or crisp, striped style—and dress shoes. A sports coat and/or tie would bump that up another notch. If it's a very casual campus, where your son might feel peculiar walking across campus in anything super dressy, or if he will also be attending a class, he could probably get away with very dark jeans, and roll up the sleeves of that striped shirt for a more casual look, then throw on a sport coat for the interview itself. Dressier is the safer option, but comfort is critical. Better to look more casual and feel really comfortable in the interview room than to fidget madly wearing nice clothes.
  • Business Casual for Girls: Young women should wear dress trousers or a skirt (but nothing too short), and a nice blouse or shell, with a cardigan or stylish jacket, and nice shoes, i.e., no flip-flops. Avoid extremely high heels; they're murder on a campus tour. But your daughter doesn't have to forego fashion. A stylish jacket and a soft scarf will make even dark jeans look dressy, and that can be a good option on a very casual campus.

What Musicians and Art Majors Should Wear

Different rules apply for creative college applicants and auditions:

  • Musicians: Music performance majors should wear something similar to concert dress for conservatory auditions, as well as interviews. Your young musician needs to express consummate professionalism in both their clothing and performance. A tuxedo or gown is overkill, of course, but you're looking for something with a similar degree of polish. Try black dress trousers with a black blouse or shirt, or a white shirt and tie (or shell) with a black jacket. Vocalists can wear something more colorful or elaborate.
  • Other Arts Majors: Composers and art and theater majors need to exude professionalism as well, but they can wear something a little more artsy than the black-clad cellists—add a dash of color, a ruffled blouse, or a soft scarf.

College Interview Appearance Beyond Wardrobe

A look is not just about what clothing you wear. Also consider:

  • Tattoos & Piercings: Many college consultants will suggest your child cover up their tattoos or piercings. But if an admissions officer is so horrified by a nose piercing or tattoo that it impacts your child's chances of admission, it's probably not a campus where your kid's going to be very happy.
  • Accessories: It's good to tote a notebook and pen, and your child may want to bring a bag of some sort to hold campus maps and brochures. If they're carrying a logo water bottle, make sure it doesn't tout a rival campus or questionable product.
  • Scent: It's best to forego the clouds of perfume or body spray. Wear plenty of antiperspirant— nerves will make your child sweat more and they won't want big wet spots on their shirt. If your child smokes, make sure they don't in the hours before his interview—and absolutely not while wearing their interview clothing.

And practice that firm handshake!