High School 2 College

August 2, 2010

All You Need To Know About College Interviews

According to a recent Washington Post article, college interviews are on the rise. I agree with the article’s assessment that class grades and  SAT scores are more important, but I think most students and parents will be surprised to hear that an interview can have a bigger impact on the admissions decision than National Honor Society membership or even participation in sports.

Here are some information, advice, do’s and don’ts about college interviews:

1.  Not all interviews are equally important. Many colleges allow students to interview with local alumni instead of having an interview at the school itself.  Take advantage of these if they’re offered, but don’t stress — they don’t count for much.  These local interviews, often in a local Starbucks or in the house of an alumnus, allow a school to take pressure off its own admissions department while keeping donation-giving former students tied to their alma mater.

2. Interviews at the school are serious, but so are the meetings admissions officers hold in the fall at your high school during the day.  They may look like a fun way to get out of class or just another way to pick up some free pens, but they count!  These admissions counselors keep track of the kids who attend these sessions (more about them later).

3.  Treat ALL contacts with colleges, whether in person, by phone, by email or text or tweet or Facebook, as an opportunity to place your name higher or lower on the prospective student list. Yes, Facebook groups count, even if they’re run by students.  Many colleges use their own seniors to interview and gather information.  Resist the urge to brag about all the schools you applied to when you’re on Facebook. Don’t post photos of your parties.  When you email a college, don’t use abbreviations, like “u” for “you.”  It’s better to be a bit too formal than to be too casual.

4.  Dress right. No dirty, torn, or sloppy clothes, even if they are fashionable.  Khaki pants and a collared polo shirt is perfect for boys; skirt, dress, or nice pants and a sweater or blouse (keep your cleavage covered!) works for girls.  Many adults have something against flip-flops, so don’t wear them.

5.  Be prepared. Go to the interview with a folder with a copy of your transcript (your guidance department can provide that for you), a copy of your resume (you’ll most likely prepare one the first quarter of senior year, but let me know if you need help with that), and a list of questions to ask the interviewer.  Review the school’s webpage thoroughly before the interview so you don’t ask something you should know.

6.  Anticipate questions. Here are some questions an interviewer might ask:

  • Why do you want to go to our school? (Answer:  My friend/uncle/teacher went here and loved it, or my guidance counselor thought it would be a great fit.)
  • What do you want to study?  (If you don’t know, say, “There are a few areas I’d like to explore before I decide,” and name a few.)
  • Tell me about your favorite class.
  • Tell me about your least favorite class.  (Try not to blame poor grades or lack of interest on a bad teacher.)
  • What activities do you do?  (Lean forward and sound passionate.)
  • Tell me about your best friend.
  • What do you do in your spare time?  (Hanging out and chillin’ don’t count.)
  • How can our school help you in your path to a career?
  • What other schools are you applying to?  (Name only 2 or 3 others, but say this school is your favorite.)

It’s okay to say, “Let me think about that for a minute.”

7.  Have some questions ready. Make sure you won’t find the answer on their website.  Here are a few:

  • How easy is it to change majors?
  • Do you house freshmen together?
  • Do most students in my major get jobs after graduation or go to grad schools?
  • Do you have academic advisors who will help me choose classes?

8.  Go to admissions visits at your school. Your guidance department has a schedule.  Go as prepared as you would for an interview at the college itself. Ask and answer questions.  Smile.  Listen to the questions that other students ask.  If the admissions person offers a business card, take it – you may want to direct future questions to that person.

9.  Act adult. You don’t need your parents with you.  Stand straight.  Smile.  Shake hands firmly.  Stand until you are asked to take a seat.  Use the interviewer’s last name (Mr./Ms.) unless told otherwise.   (“Call me Ted.”  “Thanks, Ted.  Nice to meet you.”)  If you are in the interviewer’s home or office, find something to compliment, especially photos of children or pets.  When sitting, keep your feet on the floor, or cross your ankles.  After the interview, smile, shake hands again, thank them for the opportunity.  Ask for their contact info in case you have any additional questions.

10.  Believe it or not, thank you notes after interviews aren’t necessary.  A quick email is more than sufficient.

Interview season is anytime from May of Junior year till October of Senior year, so start visiting colleges and setting up appointments.  Check with your guidance counselor the very first week of school to find out when schools will be visiting your high school.

And let me know if you need any help along the way.

Wendy Segal


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