By Anne M. Richard, Independent Educational Consultant, amrichardconsulting.com
It can be difficult to find the right college, as at first glance they can all appear the same. They all offer a multitude of majors, have faculties of talented scholars who teach interesting courses and provide students opportunities to become involved in a myriad of student organizations, sports teams and public service activities. However, each college has its own unique atmosphere and spirit. Just as there is not a prototype student who will excel at every college, not every college is the right place for every student.
Focus on fit
You must choose the institution that is the best fit – not only in terms of course offerings and student activities, but also in terms of setting, philosophy and culture.
Likewise, from among thousands of applicants who have strong academic records, impressive extra-curricular activities and high SAT/ACT scores, colleges want to select students who will easily fit into and contribute to their communities. Thus enters the college interview process.
At some schools, interviews with admissions officers or alumni are by invitation only; at others, you may request and schedule an interview. In either case, the college admissions interview can make or break your application.
Prepare for the interview
Even if you are the most academically talented and involved high school senior, actual interview experience is often non-existent during high school. As such, it is a skill you must work on prior to walking in to your first college admissions interview.
If you go into an interview without having thoroughly researched the school, without having prepared both questions and answers to anticipated questions, and without having done some mock interviews, you may very well receive a deny letter shortly after your interview.
You should plan to spend 2-4 hours preparing for each college admissions interview. During the interview, your interviewer will be evaluating not only what you say, but also how you handle yourself.
Questions to practice
Be ready to talk about anything and everything in your application. Since some of your college essays will be quite short, your interviewer might ask you to go into more depth. Questions you may be asked include the following:
- College-related questions: Why are you applying to the school? What do you intend to major in? Are there specific courses, faculty members, programs that are of special interest to you? Have you taken a tour of the school? Have you talked with current students or alumni? In which extra-curricular activities do you hope to become involved? Why do you think that this school is the right fit for you?
- Academic experiences: What course or courses in high school have you enjoyed most? Is there a teacher who has had the greatest influence on you and, if so, how and why?
- Personal experiences: What activity, internship or work experience has been most important to you and why?
- Future planning: What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
- Personal contributions: What are your greatest strengths? Other than being a strong student, what will you contribute to this college community?
- Obstacles encountered: What are your greatest weaknesses? Can you discuss a difficult situation or personal challenge you faced and how you dealt with it?
- Personal interests: What do you do for fun – when you are not studying or participating in formal extra-curricular activities, internships or work? What are your hobbies?
- Personal development: What book are you currently reading – just for pleasure? What is your favorite book? What is your favorite movie?
- Community-minded: What do you plan to do this summer? What impact do you hope to have?
- Personal attributes: If your best friend were to describe you in three words, what would those words be?
Have a parent, teacher, friend or admissions consultant do several mock interviews with you. Practice and get comfortable with an interview setting. If you need more direction on how to craft your answers, check out USA Test Prep’s 12 interview questions you must prepare for. They go over what the interviewer is looking for with each question. Along with the “right” way to answer!
During a college admissions interview
Dress the part
Your attire and demeanor impact the way the interviewer perceives you. You want to present yourself as a mature individual and to show respect for your interviewer and for the process. Dress nicely; a business suit may not be necessary, but do not wear blue jeans, a sweatshirt, a t-shirt or sneakers.
Be Polite and engaged
Sit straight in your chair and do not fidget. Pay careful attention to your interviewer when he or she is speaking. Look your interviewer in the eye and not down at your hands or lap.
Choose your words carefully and speak slowly when answering questions. Stay away from using space fillers, such as “like,” “you know” and “um.” If you do not understand a question, ask your interviewer to please repeat or clarify the question. Speak loudly enough to be heard.
You deserve to be there
Be confident and proud of all that you have accomplished and do not be afraid to tell your interviewer about your strengths and talents. Your college admissions interview is not the time to be self-deprecating. But also be humble and do not be arrogant. Do not criticize any of your fellow high school students or teachers. Even if you are the smartest person in the world, you want to make clear that you are a team player and that you treat others with respect and courtesy.
Appreciate the value of your interviewer’s time
Your interviewer likely will ask if you have any questions. If you have questions about specific programs, majors, opportunities for independent study, etc., ask them. If you do not have specific questions, you might ask your interviewer what he or she likes best about working at College X (if your interviewer is an admissions officer); or ask your interviewer what he or she enjoyed most about being a student at College X and ask him or her to provide insight into the student life experience at College X (if your interviewer is an alum).
Do not waste your interviewer’s time. Do not roll your eyes and try to think of questions if you have none. Do not ask your interviewer to tell you what questions you should be asking or what applicants usually ask. Show sensitivity to the value of your interviewer’s time.
Express strong interest
When the interview is concluding, be sure that you thank your interviewer for taking the time to speak with you and express how strongly you are interested in College X – for example, “I truly hope that I will be invited to join the College X community; College X is my top choice.”
There is a lot to learn about successful interviewing and practice is essential. It is most important that you be yourself, be confident in who you are and be relaxed. Allow conversation in your interview to develop organically. And keep in mind that the interview not only your opportunity to show your interviewer that you are a good fit for the institution, but also is your chance to confirm in your own mind that the institution is the right fit for you.
Anne M. Richard earned her J.D. at Yale Law School; she earned her M.A. and B.A. at Boston College. After practicing law for eleven years, she served as dean of admissions at three top-tier law schools — University of Virginia School of Law, The George Washington University Law School, and George Mason University School of Law. In her work as an independent educational consultant, Anne provides assistance to individuals in developing a list of schools to which to apply, determining programs and majors that will best fit their interests and career goals, perfecting their application essays, completing all facets of their applications for admission, and preparing for admissions interviews.