Answers from the Experts

Managing the College Application Interview
By Bem A., Undergraduate Ventures Scholar

Although most colleges require a personal statement, some will use interviews in the application process. Depending upon the school, the interview can be a luxury, an encouraged necessity, or a critical step. Generally, highly selective colleges and universities with large applicant pools (e.g. Ivy League schools) have applicant-alum interviews, but you should always check with the school.

There are as many types of interviews as there are schools. Some schools have an interview between an admissions officer and the applicant, while others have an applicant meet with an alum. Some interviews are done by phone; others are done in person. There really isn't a general mold that college application interviews fit into. There are, though, some general tips that can make the interview run smoothly.

  • Plan to arrive ten minutes early. This rule needs little explanation. Hardly any adult wants to wait on a high school student.
  • Shake hands, speak clearly, and send a thank you note. You can't ignore this basic social etiquette. It tells the interviewer that you're mature and confident. He/she has to write a report on the discussion (the interviewer will probably be taking notes as you're talking) so make sure that you speak clearly. After the interview, express your thanks by sending a card.
  • Dress accordingly. Your interviewer may ask you to dress casual; in that case, dress casually. If he/she doesn't say anything, dress as if you were going to a job interview.
  • Get directions to the site. Some interviews are held at the college, the interviewer's home, or even a coffee shop. Make sure you have reliable directions and give yourself ample time to travel.
  • Expect both the eccentric and introverted. On my first interview, I expected the alum to be really energetic and full of ideas. I was wrong. He was in his seventies and very lethargic. We had a difficult time communicating (so much that the school scheduled a second interview). It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great. In short, be prepared.
  • Be yourself. Although it's generic advice, it's useful. Many people can see through a fake laugh or false compliments. The interview is supposed to highlight your best personal qualities; show them.
  • Tread carefully. You never know what personal beliefs your interviewer holds. Don't start an interview with your criticism of the Vietnam War or your beliefs on abortion. You shouldn't alter your personal convictions, but settle into the conversation before introducing controversial topics. (Note: your interviewer might introduce a controversial topic. If so, don't simply agree with him/her on the issue. Opposing viewpoints make for an interesting discussion.)
  • Talk. This is the last and most important piece of advice. Ask questions and encourage discussion. Your interviewer may be very shy or very talkative. Either way, try to probe interesting facts about the college. Ask questions that only an alum would know. It is important for both you and the interviewer to have a rewarding conversation. From experience, it is very awkward when you and the interviewer share long moments of silence.


courtesy of Saint Michael's College
© 2006 Ventures In Education, Inc.