A college admission interview, whether conducted on campus or in your hometown, is your opportunity to shine on your own terms. Here are some helpful college interview tips geared toward Ivy League admissions.

For most Ivy League schools, you’ll have either one or two interviews. Only one is usually required, but if you can hone your interview skills, you will only increase your chances of acceptance by pursuing the opportunity to have two interviews. That means two different voices advocating on your behalf.

The first interview is at the college itself, in the Admissions Building. Of course to take advantage of this college interview, it means you’ll need to get there, and also go on a campus tour.

The first question we typically hear is, “What do I wear?” It’s a good question. For men, a suit and a tie and dress shoes, polished. For women: a dress or a top and a below-the-knee skirt. Totally not your style? So what. There’s very little difference between an Ivy League college interview and applying for a high-powered job with a Fortune 500 company. You’re in the realm of the elite of the elite. Sure, walking around campus everyone is in sweatshirts and ripped jeans, or maybe in a monkey costume. For the most part, college students have very little sense of style (at least during the day), and typically wear whatever’s comfortable and reasonably clean. Again: so what. You’re not in yet. Plenty of time for ripped jeans later. Right now, you dress up, you look sharp, and you look 100% serious about the task at hand.

At this point you might be wondering – but won’t they appreciate my individuality, my uniqueness – I’m not a cookie-cutter, everyone else is going to wear a stupid tie, so can’t I make myself stand out? Plenty have tried it before – it never ever goes over well. Put the idea out of your head. Be utterly brilliant and unique and unforgettable in your college admission essay, but not here, not now, not during your interview.

Next, you’re probably preoccupied with wondering (or worrying about) what questions they’re going to ask you. That’s a reasonable concern, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But the next bit of advice is a chance to set yourself a bit ahead of your competition: make a list of questions for you to ask them. And don’t just wait for the end of the interview, when you’re asked, “So, do you have any questions about – fill in the name of the Ivy League School?” Pepper them throughout the conversation.

Because, to master the art of the interview, you must learn one single thing: the best interview does not feel like an interview. It feels like a conversation. You know what a conversation is. It’s what you have for five hours every night on the phone (or via iChat) with your best friend. What goes on in a conversation? Think about it. Back and forth. Give and take. A natural flow. Nothing stilted. You’re interested in what your friend is saying, and then she’s interested in what you’re saying. You agree about stuff. Sometimes, you disagree about stuff. After a good conversation, you walk away feeling happy, satisfied, and like you got to know the other person a bit better. It was an enjoyable experience – and you look forward to talking to them again the next time.

And that is precisely the feeling you want to leave with your interviewer. Forget about impressing him. Forget about listing all your awards, GPA, after-school activities, community service. Oh – all that stuff will come up – your interviewer will have already studied every single word on your application and committed to memory every detail of your life. He’ll ask you about that stuff, and you’ll have a chance to shine. So again, it’s worth repeating, forget about impressing him. Instead, focus on being natural, relaxed, being yourself.

You’ve heard people say a million times that when you’re nervous you should picture the audience naked. No nudity here. Instead, truly actively picture that your interviewer is your actual best friend from back home. Talk to him or her the same way you’d talk to your friend. Disagree, when you disagree. Laugh at jokes. Tell jokes. Drink if you’re thirsty. Be natural.

Your other interview takes place in your own hometown. If you live in a fairly close-knit community, there’s a chance that your interviewer will know your parents or some other family member. If so, that’s a good thing – and definitely spend plenty of time talking about your family – in positive terms, of course. Either way, this interviewer will not be an official member of the Admissions Board, but rather will be an alum of the Ivy League school who has elected to set aside some of their busy time to interview potential candidates to their alma mater.

The advice is 100% the same. Have a conversation. And remember, a good conversation is about specifics. Don’t B.S. Say really specific things. Know that you’ll be asked where else you’re applying. You’re not cheating on your significant other – there’s no shame in answering honestly. Know you’ll be asked why you’ve chosen to apply to this particular Ivy League school. Don’t give Miss America type answers: oh, great academics, great teachers, beautiful campus, great reputation. That’s true about 100 schools in the U.S., and certainly all of the Ivy League schools.

No. Be specific. Do some homework. If you’re planning on majoring in English, know the name of the head of the English department. Mention his name – and the name of the last book he wrote – and bonus points if you go out and read it. Say what you think of him, of the chance to work with him, to study under him. Know the names of all the tenured professors or visiting lecturers in the department. If you’re a baseball player, know the name of the coach, know their big rival, know the name of the current MVP.

An interview is a form of courtship. “I love you” is never as impactful as “I love your eyes” or “I love how amazing you are with animals.” Ivy League Schools are beauty queens who’ve been told I love you countless times. They know they’re pretty. Tell them WHY they’re pretty. The new cyclotron in the physics department. That’s what you’re excited about. The briliiant biologist or poet or concert master they’ve just imported from Vienna. That’s what’s got you weak in the knees.

Don’t worry too much about making excuses about your own shortcomings. Maybe you have a great GPA but not the most stellar SAT scores, or vice-versa. Maybe you’ve done tons of community service, but have pretty much avoided sports, or vice-versa. You’re courting them, too, so show off your good stuff. Focus the attention where you want it to go.

Be conversational. Imagine you’re talking to your best friend. Be specific. And smile.