The College Admissions Game, Part 8: The Interview

One part of the college admissions process that you may encounter is the interview. Some colleges require it, while two out of the three high schools that Number One Son applied to required interviews. Although The Daughter did not have any college interviews, I have been an alumni interviewer for my college for several years and will pass on my experiences. As with everything, some preparation can go a long way with making the admissions interview a positive experience.

Does the Interview Matter?

Before getting started on the interviewing process, you might ask the question: does the interview matter? College admissions officials say that interviews are only a small factor and rarely make or break an application, and usually this only happens when someone doesn’t show up for a scheduled interview. They are, however, used by some colleges to gauge how much interest an student has in a school, which has become an increasing factor when deciding between thousands or applications for a limited number of slots. I look at the interview as a last chance to get in applicant information as well as an applicant’s chance to ask questions.

Do I think that the interview matters? I think that it does, but as I previously mentioned, it isn’t a huge factor. I have interviewed students who I thought would get in but didn’t. I have interviewed students who I thought would not get in but did. Still, I interviewed a student who I gave a negative report and did not get in but got into Harvard.

Interview Preparation

Despite that the fact that interviews are not a huge factor in admissions, it is still a factor, and preparation is important. While there are people willing to take money for coaching college interviews, I think that basic preparation can meet most students’ needs. Some applicants brought a resume to their interview for informational purposes. I have always thought that was useful to me as an interviewer as a way to focus some of my questions, although it is by no means required.

Be ready to answer questions a certain questions like why the school should admit you. If you can’t answer that question, the school won’t be able to answer it either. Another one to prepare for is “if you get into  other schools, what is the chance of you actually attending our school?” Number One Son got asked this at each of his high school interviews.  It’s good that he had prepared an answer. While it is good to prepare, don’t sound like a robot playing canned answers though. As an interviewer I have always hated that. This list of questions is a pretty good one, as is this list.

Be prepared to back up your statements with an example or supporting reasons. If you say that you are a leader, you might get asked to provide an example of that leadership. I like ask for examples. I had one interviewee say that she didn’t want to be an engineer like her dad. I asked why she thought so.  She sad “uh, are you an engineer?” and then did not answer the question. I wasn’t offended – I really wanted to know why. There could have been a couple of good reasons why, including ones like he was worked too many hours or working or he didn’t feel creative on his job. Instead of portraying herself as a someone with convictions and reasons for those convictions, she came across as someone who was judgmental and was simply looking to tell me what I wanted to hear.

Getting your questions ready

Toward the end of the interview, there is always a point where the interviewer asks if you have any questions. Always have questions to ask. If you don’t have questions you can come across as not being interested enough to research the school and figure out what you want to know. If you are interviewed by an alum, you can get a feel of how that school affected their loves. Good questions are ones like “how did the school affect your career.” Another good one that I have heard a few times is the following: what would you have done differently on college knowing what you know now. It’s your chance to turn the tables on your interviewer, so take advantage.

Tune in for Part 9: Aftermath




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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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