Now is the time of year many colleges will be calling to ask you to talk with them face-to-face about your college plans. This is a great thing—an opportunity to give the college more than a two dimensional view of yourself, and a chance to let your personality really shine through.
Some colleges require an interview; increasingly they are optional but highly recommended. A colleague that used to interview for Brown University offered these thoughts: “The Brown volunteers work directly with the admissions office, and depending on how well known a volunteer is to admissions, an interview evaluation can in fact impact an admissions decision…You are not supposed to spend time discussing grades, test scores, etc. but rather use the interview to get to know the student personally and provide a chance for the student to ask questions. Interviews are also not supposed to ask where else a student is applying and should not comment on personal appearance. While I think that a bad interview is not that likely to have an effect, I know for a fact that my opinion helped get a number of students admitted. So while a student shouldn’t fear these interviews as potentially life changing experiences, they also should never assume that the interviews make no difference at all.”
Since it’s important to try and make this go as well as it can, here are some tips to make the most out of the experience:
Sometimes you can set up an on campus interview, but more often a local alum will contact you to set up a time to meet. If you find a request for an interview on your voice mail, return the call within 24 hours. This is vital: a former Roeper parent who is an alumna interviewer for a highly selective school once commented to me that the students she called for an interview (NOT Roeper students, by the way) never even bothered to call back. What impact do you think that would have on an admissions decision?
When you call back, work out a time and date that works for both of you. In addition, if you need to arrange a place to meet, it should be a public place that offers relative privacy (like a coffee shop or Barnes and Noble).
The day before the interview, make sure you confirm the date, time and place—this way, everyone knows when the interview will take place—by calling either the college or the alum. If you get voicemail, simply leave your name, the date, time and place where you understand that the meeting will occur, and a phone number where someone can call you if they have questions. This shows both courtesy and organization on your part—always a good thing.
What to wear? Use your best judgment—generally, just look nice and you’ll be fine. For guys, this means a collared shirt and dark or khaki slacks; and consider putting on a tie. For girls, this means a dressier, non-revealing top, slacks or a skirt and shoes or boots that complement the outfit. Generally a skirt of knee length or longer leaves a better impression—if you wear tights and boots you can go shorter (but not too short). You want to be yourself—your relatively professional self—but don’t lose sleep over it…
…and speaking of sleep, get lots the night before. You want to be sharp, alert and articulate!
You want to arrive for interview at least five minutes early. This gives you a chance to catch your breath, get comfortable with where you’ll interview, and a minute for the restroom if you need it. If you get lost on the way, CALL if you can. Being lost is not grounds for being denied admission; being gracious about getting lost is the thoughtful thing to do, and demonstrates your humanity to the interviewer. If the interviewer arrives after you do, stand up, say hello, smile, and offer your hand.
The key to all of this is to just be yourself—really. The interviewer will probably ask you open-ended questions—questions where you will have to supply more than a “yes” or “no” answer. Typical questions are “Why are you interested in our college?” “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done?” or the famous “Tell us about yourself.” Your answers should be complete, and of a good length—about a minute or so. Keep the rules of a good college essay in mind—answer the question, show warmth, humor, intellect, and grace in your answers (easy on the humor—be natural), and show the personal side of yourself without getting too personal. If you want to relate a story you told as part of your essay, that’s fine, but don’t make it the entire answer to a question–this is a chance to add to your application, not duplicate it.
You may be able to use the time to add personal information you did not include or detail in your application: For example, you may want to talk about the unusual circumstances you’ve faced as a student (illness, family issues, boredom with school, learning issues) and how you’ve overcome them; if you’ve taken the tour you may want to ask additional questions (that you’ve written down in advance), to gain inside information and show interest. You might talk about what makes you unique, where you think you want to go in life, and what you have to give to the college. The idea is to gain insights into the college while showing them through your personality and interest why you are a perfect fit for them!
More often than not, you’ll be asked if you have any questions. It’s good to think about one or two in advance, but if you are listening and engaged you may think of some during the interview. Make sure you have reviewed information about the college and don’t ask questions that could easily be found on the college website. Remember, the quality of the question can show you have done your homework, and that you have put thought and interest into investigating the college. You can also ask your alumni interviewer about their perceptions of the college; in addition to showing genuine interest, it can give you good information as you evaluate your college choices.
When the interview is over, stand up, thank the interviewer and shake hands. You definitely want to call or e-mail the interviewer the next day to thank them for the interview, and invite them to please contact you if they have any other questions.
And—we can’t stress this enough—be yourself! You have something of interest to them or they wouldn’t have wanted to interview you—and as we never get tired of repeating, it is all about fit!!
Patricia Bostwick, MA, LPC
Director of College Counseling