"The colleges I'm applying to say that interviewing is optional. 1.) How important is the interview in admissions decisions? 2.) Should I do it?"

As far as I'm concerned, the short answers are 1.) an interview can certainly tip the scales in competitive admissions, and 2.) YES -- if you're willing to put some work into preparing.

Let me back up.

The most compelling reason, to my mind, to take advantage of interview opportunities in undergraduate admissions is that you will be required to interview for nearly every other education- or career-related opportunity for the rest of your life. 

In other words, get used to it, get comfortable with it, and, most importantly, get good at it.

I believe that colleges would generally require interviews if it were (a) fair to students (which it's not, given families' varying backgrounds, resources, and geographic locations), and (b) easily manageable for admissions offices (which it's also not, given the amount of time and effort that already goes into evaluating each application).

Why would they require interviews?

Because there is no substitute for getting an in-person feel for an applicant. 

Demeanor, eye contact, tone of voice, sense of humor, thought process, spontaneity, even how interviewees choose to present themselves in terms of dress, handshake, and preparedness with questions -- these things just can't be conveyed fully on paper.

So what should I be doing right now? 

Two things: research your colleges' individual policies on interviewing so you don't miss your window, and then practice your responses with someone you trust.

The easiest way to find your colleges' interview policies is to google "[COLLEGE NAME] undergraduate admissions interview."

There are generally 4 types of interview policies:

  1. Interview on campus in the months leading up to application season. Those who can't travel to campus usually have the option to interview in their local area through the college's alumni association. If you're applying early, the cutoff for these interviews is often November 1st. DON'T wait until you submit your application before requesting an interview! Check out Barnard's or Yale's policy as an example.
  2. Interview once you've applied or during your application. Check out the University of Chicago's and Northwestern's policies as examples. 
  3. Interviews by the college's request only. These also take place after your application has been submitted, except the college selects whom it will interview and initiates the process. Check out Tulane's policy as an example.
  4. No interviews offered / informal interviews only. Amherst's and Pomona's policies are good examples. 

Stay tuned for the next blog's tips on what and how to prepare for interviews.