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The plum opportunity of the college interview

Many years ago as a senior in college, I landed an internship in the admissions office interviewing prospective students. For someone who wanted to go into the field of college admissions, this was a plum opportunity. That internship was my first bold step into the professional world of college admissions. More importantly it provided a life lesson about the power of personal presentation.

Interviewing students has become a staple in my life.  I have interviewed countless students as an alumni interviewer, as an admissions officer, as a dean of admissions, and now as a director of college counseling. While many things have changed in the college admissions process over the years, one thing hasn’t: the interview is the purest form of self-representation there is in the admissions process.

The interview is old-fashioned. It’s about two people sitting down and talking face-to-face. It’s one of the only human interactions left where electronics have no place. For any student trying to breakthrough and become more than a name and a number, this is a key moment. The college interview is the student’s plum opportunity.

"The interview is the purest form of self-representation there is in the admissions process" TWEET THIS

But, not every school offers an interview. State and large public universities rarely offer any type of interview. These institutions receive thousands of applications a year. Interviews take a great deal of time and resources, and large universities cannot accommodate them. In turn, their admissions process is typically based on the numbers—specifically a student’s test scores and high school transcript. Meeting and chatting with a student is nice, but when it comes down to it the numbers matter more.

Many medium and large, private universities practice holistic admissions where they are trying to admit a student based on more than just numbers. Extracurricular involvement, recommendation letters, and extra essays are all considered. These institutions may offer an interview, but it will most likely be conducted by an alumni interviewer. Alumni interviewers are volunteers who represent their alma mater in the area where they live by interviewing prospective students. The alumni interview is helpful for the student and the institution, but it does not carry the weight of an interview conducted by the admissions office.

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Small, private colleges are where the interview matters most. Small liberal arts colleges value the face-to-face interactions with students. They factor the interview into the admissions process and highly encourage every applicant to interview. Opportunities to interview are offered on-campus to students in the summer or fall of senior year. For students who cannot travel to campus, some admissions offices offer interviews by region or by video. The interview is an essential element in the admissions decision at small liberal arts colleges. 

"Never turn down an opportunity to interview because your voice in this process is paramount" TWEET THIS

The college interview is a plum opportunity for students who want to represent themselves beyond what is in their application. Never turn down an opportunity to interview because your voice in this process is paramount. Nothing gives credence to your candidacy more than an interview. Your words and willingness to share just might be the most genuine piece of your application.

I have 5 key tips for any student going to a college interview:

  1. Practice makes perfect—make sure you think about the questions that might be asked and think about your answers. Having a mock interview with a guidance counselor or even a parent can be very helpful.
  2. Be yourself. Don’t try to be the person you think the interviewer wants you to be. Be the person who your friends and parents know.
  3. Open up about the challenges you have faced in life. There is nothing trivial about those things that you have had to overcome. The challenges are what make you a real person in the eyes of the admissions office.
  4. Ask questions. It is important to have questions to ask the interviewer. This shows interest on your part, but also gives you the opportunity to get a better feel for the school.
  5. Have fun. Remember, this is not a life or death situation. Smile. Being nervous is natural. The important thing is to use that nervous energy to rise to the occasion. The more you interview, the easier this will become.