In a recent post, we at IvySelect advised rising seniors who aspire to attend a top-tier college to visit as many schools as possible before senior year begins. In this post, we review the benefits of scheduling interviews during these visits. We also offer advice on how to engage with an interviewer. We include examples of the type of questions you should be prepared to ask the interviewer as well as answers to common questions that an interviewer is likely to ask you. IvySelect recommends that you be as well prepared for each interview as you would be for any test that can have an impact on your admission chances.
Not all top-tier colleges treat interviews as part of the admission process. However, many schools consider interviews to be a factor in admission. The interviews may only be offered off campus or conducted by alumni. Other colleges may offer on-campus interviews, so check the schools’ websites. Table A, below, lists a number of top-tier institutions that conduct interviews and weigh the results as a factor in decisions.
Table A: Top-Tier Institutions Using Interviews for Evaluative Purposes
|· Brown||· Bates||· Duke|
|· Columbia||· Bowdoin||· Hamilton|
|· Dartmouth||· Carnegie Mellon||· Haverford|
|· Harvard||· Colby||· Chicago|
|· Princeton||· Duke||· Swarthmore|
|· Penn||· Georgetown||· Wake Forest|
|· Yale||· Emory||· MIT|
|· Middlebury||· Rice||· Union|
|· Pomona||· Trinity||· Tufts|
|· Wake Forest||· Wellesley||· Northeastern|
First bit of advice: Don’t walk into a college interview bathed in sweat with an acid stomach, a nervous twitch, and a sense of impending doom. It’s true that there may be a lot riding on this conversation, but you should feel relaxed, upbeat, and confident in the presence of the interviewer.
Your IvySelect consultant can be instrumental in building your confidence. We understand how each elite college treats interviews and will advise you accordingly. Whether the school is among those that weigh interviews heavily or lightly, you need to speak intelligently about yourself. You also need to ensure that, when you depart, the interviewer has a positive feeling about you. IvySelect helps you through the following parts of the process:
- Expectations – Determine how important a factor the interview will be and, if possible, what the interviewer will be seeking to assess about you as a potential students at their school.
- Research – Find out as much as you can about the school so you can converse intelligently about it. This will prove that you take yourself seriously and that you “do your homework.”
- Answers – Your IvySelect consultant can alert you to questions that individual colleges tend to ask. Your confidence will help in providing cogent ad-lib responses to questions that haven’t been anticipated. IvySelect also prepares you for such common questions as those below.
- Why are you interested in our college?
- What would you like us to know about you?
- Who has influenced you the most in your life and why?
- What do you do for fun in your free time?
- What do you want to major in and why?
- In what ways will you contribute to our campus community?
- What is your favorite book and why?
- Can you describe a challenge that you have overcome?
- How have you shown leadership capabilities?
Don’t memorize prepared answers. You should have talking points in mind so that when one of the common questions is asked, you’ll be able to answer spontaneously and coherently. Know when to stop talking.
- Questions – Interviews are an opportunity to ask questions to see if the college is a good fit for you. If you’ve already determined that this school is right for you, then ask questions that relate to your interests even if you already know the answers. Be sure to reflect your knowledge of the school so that you don’t seem totally in the dark. The interviewer will see that you’re well informed and that you have a healthy curiosity about the college. Make your questions concise and don’t interrupt during the answer.
- Dress – IvySelect will assist you in determining how to dress. Dressy but casual attire is often de rigueur, especially if you’re going to be hiking around campus on a tour.
- Relax – Get there early. Create an opportunity to compose yourself.
- Etiquette – Remember that the college wants you to fit in well with their entire community, so your best manners are in order. Shake hands, make eye contact, be attentive, and make sure that the conversation is two-way. Avoid controversial topics. Be respectful but not obsequious.
- Authenticity – Be genuine even though you’re trying to make a good impression. Interviewers can sense if you’re acting. Be well prepared but don’t seem rehearsed. Express your passions and let your exuberance and joie de vivre shine through.
- Gratitude – Send a brief, hand-written letter of thanks with a personal note so that the message is clearly not generic.
College interviewers don’t play “gotcha”. They use the interview as an opportunity to get to know you as a person. They’ll ask open-ended questions to encourage you to converse freely with them. In addition to evaluating you as a fit for their college, the interviewer also seeks a picture of your educational goals to be sure that their school can help you achieve them.
As noted above, interviewers expect you to ask questions, not just answer them. To fail to ask questions may be perceived as a lack of interest in the school. Below are examples of the type of questions:
- “I plan to participate in the field study program in archaeology, but that may interfere with my ability to play in the school orchestra. Are there any student-musicians who study abroad in pursuit of their major?”
- “I want 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 wish you knew that you didn’t know back then?”
- “You mentioned that there are math tutors who are undergraduates. Can you explain to me what qualifications are necessary to become a student-tutor?”
Here are a few tips on the types of questions not to ask and related advice:
- Don’t ask any question for which the answer is available on the website.
- 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 there’s no time is left to talk about you.
- Don’t shoot from the hip — plan your questions purposefully.
- Don’t ask the interviewer any questions that they may consider personal.
You can rely on your IvySelect college admissions consultant to assist you with all aspects of interview preparation. Interviews aren’t the most important factor in admissions, but they are one facet of the process that you can ace if you’re well prepared.