There are different types of college interviews (alumni, informational and required). Most schools have eliminated on campus interviews in favor of alumni interviews so as not to waste time interviewing thousands of applicants who never end up applying. As a result, offices cut back dramatically on these interviews and instead let alumni interview students once the students’ applications are submitted in the early round.
Either way, interviews DO count in the admission process, but not that much – they basically take a 2 dimensional application and make it more “3-D” so admissions officers can see confirmation of what is already in the student’s file. Often students turn down alumni interviews because they think they are unhelpful but that is a mistake.
THRIVING THROUGH IT
You can leverage your college interviews and leave a good impression as well as gain some helpful information. Here are some of our top tips:
1. PREPARE: Outline your top two academic areas of interest and your top two extracurriculars. You won’t have time to touch on everything you’ve ever done in a thirty-minute interview, but you should be able to give examples of your principal interests and strengths. Thinking about these beforehand will help you weave them into your interview conversation naturally. Spend time researching specific departments at the school that are of interest to you, note the names of specific professors as well as classes and programs. You should also prepare a list of questions about the school that have not been answered in the college literature or on the website. Something specific to your interests is great: “I notice you have a Center for Science and Culture here. Is there an opportunity for undergraduates to take part in this research?”
Don’t be afraid to veer off the straight and narrow if you find a mutual bond with your interviewer. Taking 20 minutes to intelligently discuss your mutual love of Homer’s Odyssey will not be seen in a negative light. Being authentically engaging never goes out of style.
2. RESEARCH: Here’s a good trick: look up the campus newspaper online before you visit and read the headlines from the previous few days. What are the big student issues? Are they lamenting the lack of dorm space? The issue of teaching assistants? Then, weave these issues into your question to show you’ve done your homework. “I noticed in your campus paper that students are upset about the funding cuts to the science department — how will that affect pre-med students?”
3. EXTRACURRICULARS AND AWARDS: Bring a typed list of your extracurriculars and awards to the interview. Not all interviewers will want to see it, but some may be interested. At the end of your interview, you may add, “if it would help you out, I brought a list of my extracurricular activities and my awards that I can leave with you…” This phrasing gives the interviewer a way out if he or she doesn’t want to see anything. Being fully prepared cuts the anxiety because you are in charge rather than feeling vulnerable and reactive to what might occur.
4. DRESS COMFORTABLY AND NICELY: Overdressing indicates you are trying to compensate for a lack of real talent by showing off your dress. Plus, you may be perceived as too preppy or snobby by wearing haut couture. Underdressing may be seen as a sign of disrespect. Go for the middle of the road: boys can wear chinos or pants other than jeans with any regular shoe (as opposed to sneakers) and a button down shirt or polo (no tie necessary). Girls can wear almost anything neat from a skirt and blouse to pants and a sweater. Never wear an outfit for the first time to an interview. And don’t be that kid who brings a briefcase and dresses in a 3 piece suit – it’s overkill.
5. TELL THE TRUTH: There are hilarious admissions stories about students who made up answers and were caught. It’s much better to say you don’t know than to be caught in a lie or out of your field of knowledge. Honesty is the best policy.
6. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EYES: Make eye contact – even if you are so shy it makes you slightly nauseous to think about locking eyes with an admissions officer. You don’t have to STARE, but do shake hands, look him or her in the eye and continue that eye contact throughout the interview. Practice, practice, practice.
7. SMILE: Not the deer-in-headlights variety but a nice genuine smile… throughout the entire conversation.
8. THANK YOU NOTE: Ask for the card of your interviewer following the interview itself and make sure to promptly follow up with a hand written thank you note. Admissions officers receive hundreds of emails. Stand out with a genuine note of appreciation on your personal letterhead or real piece of stationery.
9. IT’S YOUR INTERVIEW: If your parents join you on your college visit, perhaps they could take a walk when you are having your interview. Often parents take up precious time asking the admissions officer questions prior to or after the interview. The interviewer wants to remember YOU, not your parents.
SAMPLE COLLEGE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
- Tell us about your high school
- Tell me about your classes this year, which ones you like, which ones you don’t like.
- Where did you grow up?
- What classes did you take last year/will take senior year?
- What are your favorite classes?
- What have you done of interest over the summers?
- What are you looking for in a college?
- How do you stand out on the extracurricular side?
- How would your friends describe you?
- What world issues do you feel strongly about?
- What do you envision yourself doing 10 years from now? 20?
- What books or works of art have influenced how you think?
- What are you reading now?
- If you could change anything about your high school experience, what would it be?
- What teacher has had a profound impact on you? Other person?
- Where you do think you’d make the biggest impact on a college campus? How would we feel your presence?
- Describe any unique talents you possess.
- Have you done any major research projects? Won any awards?
- What is your favorite book/author?
- If the tables were turned and you could ask yourself any question, what would it be?
- Where do you see yourself contributing on campus?
- Do you have any questions about our school? Please ask me.
BECOME YOUR WHY ESSAY
Many colleges now have a supplemental question on their application that asks why you are applying. BECOME this why essay for the school you’re interviewing with and always say YES to an alumni interview as admission offices would wonder why, if you were offered an interview, you turned it down.