What to Wear for a College 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, too...and tales of "campus interview fashion shows," especially ones held at Ralph Lauren stores, don't help! Perhaps there are colleges somewhere at which Gossip Girl-esque garb impresses admissions officers, but most deans and admissions staffers are more interested in your teen's transcripts, hopes and dreams, than what label he's wearing.

That said, wearing the opposite – torn blue jeans, exposed underwear, or a plunging neckline (if your child is female) – is never a good idea. Your child doesn't have to wear a suit, but he or she should dress neatly and modestly – think business casual – and keep the lingerie (or boxer shorts) hidden. 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 (see below). 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.

What to Wear for a College Interview

  • Business Casual for Guys: If every kid on campus looks like Blair Waldorf, then going the Gossip Girl fashion show route might not be a bad idea! But for a normal campus, business casual is the way to go. For young men, that means dress pants with a nice belt, a collared shirt – an Oxford cloth or crisp, striped, long-sleeved shirt, for instance – 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's going to be attending a class too, 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. Thing is, when it comes to campus interviews, dressier is the safer option, but comfort is critical. Better to look more casual and feel really comfortable in the interview room, than to sit there, madly fidgeting in 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 style here. 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. You'll find those clothes at stores such as Banana Republic and J. Crew, not Hot Topic.
  • 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 his clothing and his 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. (Yeah, you laugh now, but when you go to your first audition, you'll see! I've seen sopranos in everything from black suits to elaborate gowns.)
  • 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, a soft scarf
  • Tattoos & Piercings: You'll hear a lot of college consultants suggesting your child cover up his tattoos or piercings, but my feeling is that if an admissions officer is so horrified by a nose piercing or tattoo that it actually impacts your child's chances of admission, it's probably not a campus where your kid's going to be very happy. (That said, all bets are off if your child is sporting a swastika or anything racist.)
  • Accessories & Stuff: 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 he's carrying a logo water bottle, make sure it doesn't tout a rival campus or questionable product, and do not carry a Pepsi can onto the Emory University campus!
  • And Finally: 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 his shirt. If your child smokes, make sure he does not do so in the hours before his interview...and absolutely not while wearing his interview clothing. And practice that firm handshake!