Insider Tips for the College Interview

February 21st, 2013, 1:45pm, Topics: college interview, interview tips, interview questions, interview preparedness, admissions officers, resume web presense, thank you note

As an alumna interviewer for Brown University, I meet with Brown hopefuls every fall, interviewing them for admission to the university. At Brown and other highly competitive colleges, many factors affect admissions, and the interview is only one piece of the admissions pie. A great interview won't save an otherwise mediocre application, and a poor interview won't bomb an otherwise great application, but in borderline cases, the interview could tip the scale. In general, the interview serves to reinforce the overall impression made by the other application factors: GPA, rigor of course load, SAT and/or ACT scores, teachers' recommendations, and the student's activities and application essays.

I interview students ranging from those who are sophisticated and well-spoken to those who have been poorly advised to apply to an Ivy League college. I'm often surprised at how inadequately prepared many of these students are for their interview, even those with impressive credentials on paper. Here are some insider tips inspired by my experience as an interviewer on how to have a successful college interview.

• Be energetic. Without being untrue to your own nature, show some spark and excitement about the process. Interviewers know you are probably nervous and will try their best to make you feel at ease so they can get to know you. If you are too shy, you make their job more difficult and you may miss the chance to show what makes you special.

• Give specifics of fewer activities to demonstrate your outstanding qualities and interests. You may have a long list of extracurricular activities, but focus on those that are the most meaningful to you and which you can share what you gained from them with your interviewer in the short time you have together.

• Know a lot about the college you are interviewing for. You can be sure that one of the first questions you are going to be asked is "Why are you applying to this college?" If you think you might want to write for the school newspaper in college, then be sure you know that the school HAS a school newspaper! Know more if you can find out. Make it a point to demonstrate this knowledge in a natural way during the interview.

• Anticipate these typical interview questions and be ready to answer honestly and with details:

- Why XYZ University?
- Are you familiar with the XYZ University curriculum?
- Have you visited the campus? If so, what was particularly interesting or noteworthy to you?
- Do you have any questions for me about XYZ University? (I expect every serious candidate to have at least one question, even if it is just because s/he knows it is expected of her/him.)
- Tell me about your most important extra-curricular activities. What is it that most excites you or interests you about it? Is this something you would like to continue in college?
- Are you familiar with the student activities offered at XYZ University? (If so, how did you learn about them?)
- What are you most proud of in terms of academic accomplishments? A favorite project or paper, etc?
- What is/are you favorite academic subjects? What makes them your favorites?
- Tell me about your most influential teacher.
- What are you thinking of majoring in? Why?
- Are you familiar with XYZ's department in that subject at all? Have you seen the course catalog?
- What do you imagine you might study at college that you haven't studied before? 
- What are other new things you think you might want to try or do in college – academic and extracurricular?
- What is important to you about your college and your college education as a whole?
- How have you spent your summer vacations?
- What do you hope to do this summer?
- What do you imagine you might be doing, ten years from now? What would you LIKE to be doing?
- What's scary about going off to college? What's exciting?
- What have I not asked you that you want to tell me about?

• Clean up your Web presence. Don't post weird or copyright-infringed photos on your Skype or Facebook account. (A photo proof of your graduation picture with "do not copy," or the studio's name printed over it is a stolen photo and thus does not say much for your integrity.)

• Be formal and mature in your correspondence with the interviewer. Do not use smiley faces or other emoticons in your email. Be polite, use proper letter form, and use the subject line of the email correctly (not blank and not the first line of your email as the subject).

• Be prepared with a résumé or activity list whether the interviewer requests one or not. Making his or her job easier will make it easier for you to shine, too.

• Don't provide a lot of extraneous information that your interviewer can't absorb. It's great to be enthusiastic about your hobby or religious activity, for example, but realize that your interviewer probably doesn't share that passion. Share just enough to show how you will be an asset to the college.

• Be genuine; don't fawn or brown-nose. Interviewers are very attuned to that and will not be flattered.

• Send a short thank-you email to your interviewer right after the interview. Don't parrot back to him or her in an attempt to curry favor the clever things that the interviewer said to you. It's sad and obvious and hurts your candidacy. Mention one or two points that you learned about the school from your conversation, perhaps, thank the interviewer for his/her time, sincerely, you're done.