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Ace the College Interview

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If all the essays, applications, and research weren't nerve-wracking enough, the admission process isn't really over for many prospective college students until they've completed an interview. This may be the first interview you've ever participated in, but don't crack under pressure. It's not as scary as you might think!

You may encounter any of the three most popular types of admission interviews: the Admission Information Session, the Applicant Admission Interview, and the Required Admission Interview. If you know the general rules, you can sail through all three.  

  1. Bring your credentials! Don’t forget your résumé, transcript, and test scores. These three documents allow the admission counselor to better guide you in the application process. They also serve as a “friendly reminder” on the counselor’s desk when it comes time to review your admission application.
  2. Dress to impress! Business casual is a good style to go with, and you’ll make a great first impression. If you plan to tour campus after the interview, you’ll want to wear something comfortable (but still appropriate) or pack a change of clothes and/or shoes.
  3. Do your research! You don’t need to spend hours studying the college or university, but you should know the key facts. Specifically, familiarize yourself with the programs that interest you and the school’s admission process. You should also come prepared with some thoughtful questions of your own. A question like “What kinds of undergraduate student-faculty research opportunities are available?” is great, because it shows your genuine interest in the school and its programs. “What is the average SAT score of admitted students?” is not a good question—you could easily look that statistic up on your own time.
  4. Rock the interview! Some people are more comfortable than others when it comes to meeting new people, expressing their ideas, and staying calm in stressful situations. Admission counselors know this, so just do your best. Start and end with a firm handshake. Make eye contact. Try to avoid “ummm,” “like,” and super-casual comments (“I totally love your school!”). If this is your first interview, share that with the admission counselor. They are there to help and guide you along the way.
  5. Prepare for questions! Check online for some examples of typical admission interview questions. Think about jotting down your answers or practicing with a parent, friend, or high school counselor before the real thing.
  6. Thank your interviewer(s)! At the end of your interview, make sure you have the admission counselor’s business card so you can send a thank you note. A handwritten note is best; second choice would be an e-mail. Tailor your message to each school/counselor and try to be specific—you shouldn’t be able to reuse your message word-for-word for every school.

The Admission Information Session

Probably the most casual of the three types, many colleges and universities conduct Admission Information Sessions (AIS) with prospective students. Typically one-on-one or conducted in small groups, these are opportunities for you to learn more about the college and for the college to learn more about you. Smaller colleges often rely on this form of interview, but there is no real weight attached to the AIS in terms of the admission decision. However, think of it as a way to get a “gold star” next to your name when it comes time to review your application. If you made a favorable impression on the admission counselor, it may help tip the scales in your favor!

The Applicant Admission Interview

For some colleges and universities, all applicants must interview with a member of the university’s community. Sometimes, this happens on campus with a member of the admission staff, an upperclass student, or a faculty member. Colleges usually try to provide potential students a few other options as well, particularly for those who live far away. They may conduct the interview over the phone or arrange for the applicant to meet with a local alumnus. The ultimate purpose of this interview is finding out if you will be a good fit for the university. This is also your chance to brag: what makes you stand out from the other applicants? That may sound hard, but the best piece of advice is to let your personality and your story shine!

The Required Admission Interview

Sometimes in the application process, the admission committee wants some questions answered before making their final decision. You might be asked to come to the college for a Required Admission Interview (RAI) because your test scores and GPA are borderline for admission. Or maybe your test scores are great, your GPA is okay, but your sophomore year grades aren’t so hot. The RAI is the admission office’s way of letting you explain what, if anything, happened, and it’s your chance to explain to them what you’re doing to improve. For this interview, there might be two or three admission counselors interviewing you. Here are some RAI-specific tips to help you knock this interview out of the park.

  1. Show the committee that you’re taking this opportunity seriously by wearing a suit/dress/shirt and tie for this interview.
  2. If you’ve made mistakes along the way—and who hasn’t?—own them. Don’t blame your grades on a teacher or your school’s grading system. Be factual and tell them exactly what happened; then explain what you’ve learned from the situation. Talk about what you’re doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again. For example, “I am now staying after school once a week with my math teacher, and my grades have significantly improved. Here’s my latest report card.”
  3. Bring any updated academic information with you—test scores, a recent report card, additional letters of recommendation, etc. Campaign for yourself!

Sometimes you can avoid the RAI if you’re proactive. Use your essay to explain any “missing links” or holes in your transcript that may be misunderstood. Ask the people who are writing your letters of recommendation to comment about how much you’ve improved or how you handled the strenuous situation, if they can. And remember: admission counselors are people too! If you broke your leg during first semester of your junior year and your grades slipped, the admission committee will understand.

Last, but not least

Be yourself. Enjoy the opportunity to learn about a school, to practice your interviewing skills, and to take that next step in life. There are a lot of great free online resources with admission interview tips and sample questions. The school you’re interviewing with might even have a few tips or at least what to expect on their admission website. Good luck and have fun!

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