Make the Most of Your College Interviews
If you’re a high school senior, you’re now fully engaged in the application phase of your college admissions campaign. As busy as you are, you may still wish to take a little time to plan for interviews.
Are you likeable? No doubt you are, but it’s especially important to be perceived as being likeable to college interviewers… likeable and well informed. Be sure to reflect these two characteristics, be relaxed, and avoid a few common mistakes.
It makes sense to schedule an interview at each of your targeted colleges, if possible. You should be as well prepared for each interview as you are for any exam that will have an impact on the accomplishment of your educational goals. But don’t stress over interviews. Not all top-tier colleges consider interviews to be part of their admissions process. Many elite schools conduct interviews only for their information-gathering value for prospective students. They don’t evaluate them. However, some schools consider interviews to be a factor in admissions, although a minor one. Colleges that score the demonstrated interest of applicants are likely to weigh interviews in that calculus.
Interviews have been de-emphasized in recent decades because, to some extent, they’re considered evidence of the perceived power imbalance between the haves and have-nots in obtaining admission to top-tier schools. Students who have access to SAT tutors, admissions consultants, and essay counselors are viewed as having a leg up on those who don’t. This chasm is further widened by offering optional in-person interviews with geographic constraints that tend, because of travel costs and time requirements, to exclude many international applicants and those in remote areas of the U.S.Interviews aren’t a major factor in admissions, but it’s unfair if some students get the chance to show a more personal side in a one-on-one interview while others have only the essays to reveal more about themselves. Top-tier institutions do their best to remedy any imbalance.
Research by the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) shows that interviews are given different weights in college admissions, or, in the majority of cases, no weight at all. A survey conducted by NACAC in 2016 revealed that 8.4% of colleges afforded considerable importance to interviews, 16.2% afforded moderate importance, 29.8% afforded limited importance, and 45.5% assigned no importance at all to interviews or didn’t even conduct them.
Nevertheless, some of the most selective institutions either require an evaluative interview or recommend one. Table A, below, is a partial list of top-tier colleges and universities that either require or recommend an interview.
Table A: Selective Institutions That Require or Recommend an Interview
On-campus admissions officers conduct fewer interviews than they did in the past. For the most part, alumni located in various regions around the country conduct the in-person interviews. In-person interviews are recognized as the best way to learn about the personality and attitudes of an applicant. For applicants not located within traveling range of the campus or an alumni interviewer, there are less desirable, but more efficient, media for interviews, including Skype, other teleconferencing software tools that schools may use, or even telephone.
IvySelect, as a college admissions consulting firm specializing in Ivy League and similarly elite institutions, provides expert assistance in preparing for college interviews. Our students are relaxed and confident in their interviews. Due to diligent preparation, our student’s conversations with interviewers don’t sound robotic. They sound natural even if they are, in fact, well rehearsed with us. The student’s high confidence level also enables them to provide cogent adlib responses to questions, whether the questions were anticipated or not.
Interviewers expect students to ask questions, not just answer them. To fail to ask questions may be perceived as lack of interest in the school. Below is advice on the type of questions to ask as well as what not to ask.
The first two examples are questions that indicate that you did your research. The third gives interviewers a chance to talk about themselves, and the fourth shows that you were listening when they were speaking. These questions, as yours should be, are worded so as to “assume the close” in the sense that they subtly anticipate your attendance at the school.
- “I plan to participate in the field study program in archaeology, but that may interfere with my ability to play in the school orchestra. Do you know if there are other student-musicians who study abroad in pursuit of their major?”
- “I would like to participate in the internship program that you have for fine arts majors, but I didn’t find examples of what these internships would entail. Can you give me some examples?”
- “When you were an incoming freshman here, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?”
- “Earlier, you mentioned that there are undergraduate math tutors. Can you explain to me what the qualifications are to become a student-tutor?”
Here are a few tips on the types of questions not to ask:
- Don’t ask anything that is answered on the website or in the course catalog.
- Don’t focus your questions on campus life to the exclusion of academics.
- Don’t ask, “What are my chances for admission?”
- Don’t ask so many questions that not enough time is left to talk about you.
- Don’t shoot from the hip — aim each question with purpose.
- Don’t ask the interviewer any questions that they may consider too personal.
You can rely on your IvySelect college admissions consultant to assist you with all aspects of interview preparation. The interview may not be the most important factor in admissions, but it’s one that you can hit out of the park with sufficient preparation and practice.