You read the email. See the date. Time. Location. Panic sets in.
Welcome to the unpredictable world of college interviews.
Most of the selective, private universities still interview. And if you applied Early Decision or Early Action, there is a good chance an alumni interviewer has contacted you or is about to set up an interview.
I don't know what it is, but these interviews cause a lot of stress. Maybe it's because you weren't expecting the interview to happen this fast. Maybe it has to do with the fact that this random person is contacting you. Maybe it's the weight of this process.
No matter what, I want students to feel empowered and confident going into these interviews. Here's how to prepare the night before:
1. Review your application.
Alumni interviewers do not have access to any piece of your application. It's important to refresh your memory on what you included and highlighted, especially if you submitted your application weeks ago.
2. Review the college's supplement for the major choice you listed and the array of supplemental essays you wrote.
Again, the alumni interviewer does not have access to this information so you need to know what you plan to study, how you plan to do it, and why you applied to that college.
3. Go to the college's website and, specifically, the department's website for the major you listed on your supplement.
Knowing the ins and outs of the program you applied to is key. It shows knowledge of the university and the specific program you want to pursue.
4. Prepare or brush off your resume—only if the alumni interviewer asks for it!
Some alumni interviewers treat the college interview as if the student is applying for a job and they often ask students to bring a resume. The resume is really just for them, not for the college admissions process. But it's smart to have one in case you get asked.
5. Come up with a few broad questions you can ask the interviewer at the end.
Alumni interviewers can be recent graduates or even members of the Class of 1961. Their range of knowledge about what's going on at the college can vary tremendously. Ask questions like "What made your college experience special?" or "Why did you choose to attend?" or even "What types of students thrive at the college?" If you ask questions that are too specific and detailed, the interviewer may not know the answer.
6. Pick out your outfit in advance.
You don't need to dress like you are meeting the president. But you do want to look presentable. Dressing on the conservative side of your own style is always a smart approach knowing that the alumni interviewer may not be as open to fashion trends as you are.
7. Check the date, time, and location of the interview.
Seems obvious, right? It's so easy to make a mistake about the details of the interview, so read over the confirmation email so that you don't miss this opportunity.
8. Know your surroundings whether the interview is taking place virtually or in person.
If the interview is over Zoom, make sure your set-up is in place by testing it out. I still test out my lighting, check if I'm centered within the camera frame, and adjust my backdrop before every Zoom call! And if the interview is in person, review the location with your parents in advance so you don't get lost the day of the interview.
9. For those of you who have a Soundbite, it's your secret weapon in the interview.
Circle the nouns in your Soundbite and write them down. This is your cheat sheet if you need it. This will give you four, five, or six important elements of who you are that you can bring up and weave into your answers during the interview. And if the interviewer asks at the end of the interview, "Is there anything you want the admissions committee to know about you?" just state your Soundbite and you will floor the interviewer with the power of your own words!
10. Finally, remember that while these interviews seem super important at the moment, they aren't as influential as many think.
These interviews are done by volunteers and not every student gets one due to volume, so they are usually not required. As long as the interviewer writes a positive write-up (and most do!), the interview is somewhat of a non-factor in the process.
RELATED READING: 3 Answers to Uncomfortable College Interview Questions
I know you're worried about these interviews. But this is a chance to make this process more personal. Most interviewers aren't trying to trip you up. If they do, shame on them. No adult should ever use their status as leverage over a young person. Make the interview your own by embracing your application, supplement, Soundbite, and voice. It will not only carry you through the interview, it will impress even the most cynical alumni interviewer out there.