When I ask students and families what they know about what they need to do for their college application, I am usually greeted with string requirements eagerly rattled off: "Essays! SAT or ACT! The application, letters of recommendation, and then there's the resume. Transcripts, extracurriculars, and college tours, oh my!"
But there's another piece to this admissions puzzle that is often missing from my students' "Admissions Application Radar", and it's an important one: the admissions interview.
Here's why you want to do an interview:
- It's one of the only chances you have to show off your personality in your application
- You are interviewing the college just as much as they are interviewing you
- It indicates interest
Let's take these one by one.
Interviewing turns you into a human
No, I'm not saying you were a cyborg before, but in an application otherwise chock full of data (GPA, class rank, measures of rigor, SATs, ACTs, number of APs, etc.), an interview is a refreshing personal element. The interview can transform those numbers into a walking, breathing, thinking, dreaming, and aspiring candidate for admission to the university of your dreams. It's true a properly written college essay should also breathe life into your application, and you are certainly hoping your recommenders are doing the same through their letters, but the interview is your guaranteed chance to show off your own unique brand of quirky and awesome, face to face, with a person who gets a say in your admissions decision (or their input is at least considered in the process). So why not take that opportunity and run with it?
Ok, college, I have a few questions for you
Just as the conventional advice goes for a job interview, come prepared with some questions of your own. These questions are designed less to impress than to be a chance to inform yourself about the things you want to know about that school. Notice from the website the school offers "intramural inner tube water polo"? Ask about it! Want to study engineering but worried about big classes in your first two years? Inquire away. Don't be afraid to let your questions fly. Treat the interview as just as much your chance to find out about the personality of the college as the college is treating the interview as their chance to find out about your personality. At it's core, the interview is about getting to know one another. Applicant, meet College; College, meet Applicant. I'll let you two chat for a while.
Colleges want to admit students who are going to accept their offers of admission. The number of students accepting admissions offers is factored into a college's rankings, and colleges are just as into rankings as the rest of us. Taking the time to sit down and do an interview tells the college you are a serious applicant who's more likely to accept their offer of admission than a student who doesn't take a tour, doesn't interview, doesn't do much to reach out to the college other than submit an application. The interview is the best way to demonstrate interest, so if you are serious about a college, you need to be calling to set one up.
When NOT to do an interview and what to do once you are there
If you aren't going to show up on time or aren't going to take the time to do a little research about the college before walking into the interview, don't bother. You need to be prepared and punctual. If you can't be, it's going to hurt you instead of help you. DO practice before hand so you will feel more at ease. DO shake hands with your interviewer, thank them for their time, and look them in the eye while you chat. Dress nicely, but not in a suit. You aren't applying for a job on Wall Street, this is college, so dress the part. I recommend bringing a copy of your resume along with you; it will help steer the conversation and give you a chance to talk about all those awesome extracurriculars you want to highlight. Relax, breathe, and just try to enjoy a pleasant conversation. The interviewer wants to like you and isn't trying to "catch you" in anything bad, so don't stress. Lastly, after the interview, take the time to send a hand written thank you note mentioning something specific you remember discussing during the interview to your interviewer.
Few colleges require an interview (Harvard and Yale being notable exceptions: these schools require all applicants to do an alumni interview. Mt. Holyoke highly recommends an interview, which is Latin for "you should definitely do it"). Not all colleges offer interviews (always call admissions to ask), but among the ones who do, you probably have options. These options might include interviewing in person on campus with an admissions officer or student admissions officer, interviewing locally with an alumni or traveling admissions representative, sitting for an interview via Skype or FaceTime, or interviewing via phone. Interviews tend to fill up fast, so my advice is once you have decided to put a school on your application list, call the admissions department to get an interview booked. Don't miss out on this chance to show off how great you are first hand to the people who matter. Last piece of advice for the moms and dads out there: make sure your son or daughter is the one setting this all up. Your child is the one who's headed off to college and they should be able to get their ducks in a row to make it happen. Admissions offices don't want to talk to Mom and Dad (sorry!); they want to see that your son or daughter is independent enough to get the ball rolling on his or her own. By all means, help, coach, guide, and give feedback, but don't do it for them.
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