Originally Posted: Feb 5, 2019
Last Updated: Jul 24, 2020
The first few months of the year are when many students receive alumni interview requests. This means a graduate of a university (an alumna or alumnus) is willing to meet and discuss the applicant’s interest in his or her alma mater. Typically, the meeting will last between 30 minutes to an hour, and it will often take place at a public location (such as a restaurant or coffee shop). If the alum lives too far away from the student, the interview can be conducted over the phone or via Skype.
Students who aren’t invited to interview with alumni shouldn’t worry. Admission officers won’t penalize a student who isn’t contacted. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough alumni volunteers available to meet with every interested student. An interview, however, can put a positive spin on an application, and students should make every effort to accept an invitation if offered. It allows them to demonstrate their interest in the school, and it enables the interviewer to “put a face” to the student’s profile. This is an opportunity for students to enthusiastically portray their reasons for wanting to attend a particular college or university. Students should come prepared to share an interesting hobby or anecdote. Interviewers love to hear about unique interests and personal stories. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts along with some common alumni interview mishaps to avoid.
What to do at your interview
There's a lot of things you can do during and after your interview that will make you stand out, but these are the basic actions and talking points you should take to make sure your best foot is forward and you're making a good impression.
- Shake the alum’s hand with a warm smile and make eye contact. Introduce yourself with your first and last name.
- Bring a one-page résumé. Many alumni interviewers appreciate this cheat sheet and formulate questions based on the student’s interests.
- Prepare to discuss what you love about the school, why you’d like to attend, and how you plan to participate in the campus community.
- Have three to five questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Examples include: What do students enjoy most about the college? Is it easy for freshmen to get involved in research? What are your favorite memories about your time at the university?
- Remember to send a short, personalized thank-you note after the interview (email is fine) reiterating your interest in the college. Do so within 24 hours if possible.
What not to do at your interview
These are the key actions and talking points to avoid when going in for your interview. Doing any of these could result in a negative perception of you and a potential rejection.
- Arrive late. The interviewer is voluntarily taking time out of his or her schedule to meet with you. Don’t make them wait! In fact, plan to arrive five to 10 minutes early (which will also help you relax).
- Dress inappropriately. Business casual is advised; there’s no need for a dress or a suit. And never chew gum!
- Speak negatively about your high school, your teachers, or your classes. Stick to positive experiences throughout the interview.
- Start a discussion about politics, gun control, abortion rights, or any other highly controversial subject. You don’t want to risk offending the interviewer.
- List other colleges you’re applying to and may want to attend. Focus on the school you’re there to discuss.
Practice makes perfect
Make sure before going in for your interview you do one important thing: Practice! If you don’t have a school or independent college counselor who can offer you a mock interview, ask another adult (a mentor, teacher, or coach) if they'll participate in a trial run for you. That person should be on the lookout for grammatical errors, filler words, and unrelated tangents. Ask them to critique everything from your tone to your body language to the content of your answers.
Mock interview mishaps
These situations actually happened at One-Stop College Counseling during our mock interviews. We’re sharing them so other students can learn from these mishaps.
- A student applying to Barnard College explained that her “top choice” Early Decision school was either Cornell University or Dartmouth College. She went on to discuss the pros and cons of each school. Had this taken place during an actual interview, this wouldn’t have resulted in a Barnard admission.
- A Yale University applicant spoke as though he were consulting a thesaurus. Speak from the heart and be natural!
- A prospective Tufts University student delivered a five-minute speech on how her parents found the school, her parents believe it’s a good academic fit, and her parents think she would love Boston. Get the idea? Colleges want to know why you think the university is a great choice, not your parents!
- A student applying to Princeton University droned on about plans to major in Business…except Princeton doesn’t offer an undergraduate Business degree! Be sure to do your homework and know important details (like majors offered) about the school you hope will admit you.
Interviews in general can be stressful, and alumni interviews can be particularly stressful because you could be in that person’s position one day trying to gauge if other students are right for that school. So while you should be professional and prepare, don’t stress too much. They’re a person just like you, who is trying to help their alma mater find the students that are the best fit—and that could very well be you!
Find more advice on mastering every aspect of getting into college in our College Admission section.