Zen and the Art of College Admission Interviews
A big part of my job as an Independent Educational Consultant is to help students and families understand which parts of the college admission process not to worry so much about and which parts to work hardest on. Often, clients misdirect their worry about what parts of the process to focus on or when to focus on certain parts of applying to college.
One of the areas students and families frequently worry about too much is visiting colleges, which I wrote about in a recent post. Another major area of concern is usually the college admission interview.
In general, students should worry very little about college admission interviews. The best college interviews are those that flow like a natural conversation between the student and the interviewer. This natural conversation comes about most easily when the student is relaxed and willing to be themselves.
That said, here are some specific tips I have for students when getting ready for college admission interviews.
1. Pay Attention to the Basics
One of my favorite philosophers (can you guess who?) is credited with the quote, “God is in the details.” A great college interview experience often gets completely derailed when the student does not pay attention to simple details.
First, be sure you know where your interview is going to be conducted and at precisely what time. If you will be on campus, research in advance the building you need to go to, where you will park, and how long it might take to get to the campus, find a parking lot, and walk to the interview location.
Also, be early. There is nothing worse than rushing into an interview flustered because you are a few minutes late.
Moreover, make sure you are dressed appropriately. Dress nice but not too nice. Be comfortable but not too comfortable. This means, no jeans with holes in the knees and no flip-flops, but you do not need to get dressed up. My rule of thumb is, consider dressing a tiny bit more conservative than you typically do at school.
Finally, bring the phone number of the admission office or the person that you are interviewing with in case of unexpected delays.
2. Do Not Over-Prepare
As a former admission officer, I have interviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of students. As a graduate student conducting dissertation research, I have interviewed hundreds of students and school administrators. And as a poor graduate student, I even had a part-time job conducting employment interviews for a large corporation.
My point is, I have conducted a lot of interviews in a lot of different situations—but college admission interviews are unique.
As I said at the outset, the key to an excellent admission interview is that it does not play out as an interview at all but, instead, is a natural conversation between two people. Unfortunately, many students miss their chance of having a successful interview by insisting on taking elaborate steps to prepare for their college admission interview. I see students who take hours to go through mock interviews or study a long list of interview questions. Some even tape the mock interviews so they can replay them later and find the “mistakes.”
From my experience as a college admission interviewer, most of this activity is nonsense. It is perfectly okay for you to be yourself. Some students are a bit shy or introverted, and that is perfectly fine. There are many shy or introverted students on college campuses. Even if you do not answer a question perfectly, that is fine as well.
3. Do Prepare a Little Bit
While I do not want students to over-prepare, they do need to have some basic preparation and familiarity with some questions that might come up during the interview. And they should also practice a few common habits of good interview techniques.
Here are some of my tips based on conducting more interviews than I can count:
- Take your time answering questions.
- Don’t say, “um” or “like” too much or at all if you can avoid these types of words.
- Don’t try to be funny or tell jokes because it usually doesn’t come across the way you think.
- If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification.
- Don’t take notes during the interview because it is distracting to your interviewer and does not encourage you to keep eye contact.
- It’s okay to be nervous (but the truth is, there is no reason to be because the interviewer wants you to be comfortable).
4. Be Ready for the Most Important Question
In my experience, it is highly likely that a particular question will come up during every college admission interview. Most interviewers will ask: “So, why are you interested in our college?”
The student must have at least one solid, authentic response to this question.
Responses such as, “This is a good school,” “I like the football team,” “My dad went here,” “I always wanted to go here,” “I want to get a good job,” or “I don’t know,” are not proper responses!
When the interviewer asks this type of question, you may want to consider a response that sounds something like this: “Well, I love penguins. I love studying about penguins. And I always wanted to learn more about penguins in college. I learned that Prof. Doolittle has an amazing research center on campus that specializes in penguins. And I think it would be amazing to have the opportunity to be a part of this research because there are no other universities that I know of that have this kind of opportunity for students like me to study penguins.”
Of course, this example is a little oversimplified, but I hope you get the idea.
You must have a spark of an idea that is personal and authentic which leads you to be interested in this particular university. You certainly do not have to profess your undying love for the university because you are still in the research phase in most cases, and that means you’re looking at a lot of colleges. But an interviewer wants to hear that you have narrowed down your choices enough to have at least some good reason to spend your time interviewing with this campus.
5. Follow Up
Get the contact information (an email or business card) of the person you interviewed with and send them a short thank you note. Showing gratitude goes a long way in the college admission process, and it is a good habit to continue throughout life.
As I said at the start of this post, I am an Independent Educational Consultant with many years of experience in the college admission process. It would be my pleasure to help you prepare for and succeed in your college admission interviews.
If you are interested in my services, please contact me or read more about my approach to high school college counseling.