The College Admissions Interview

The admissions interview can be one of the most important factors in the college application process. Students should not fear the interview. Rather, by understanding what interviewers and admissions representatives seek from the interview, students can perform well and catapult themselves into strong consideration for admission.

Most college interviews are conducted by alumni volunteers, not by admissions representatives themselves. The admissions committees therefore seldom meet their applicants. Rather, all they see are reports written by their alumni.

What do admissions representatives look for in an interview report? There is little or nothing that a 45-minute interview can contribute to the evaluation of a candidate’s academic prowess or performance in high school activities. Better and more detailed information is available in the application itself. However, an interview may be the only opportunity for a college to meet and evaluate applicants from a human perspective. Therefore, the interview is valuable for learning more about a candidate’s interpersonal qualities from the relatively unbiased perspective of the interviewer. That is the primary information that admissions representatives want to see in interview reports.

Interviewers, however, have a different perspective about the interview. Alumni choose to interview because they love their colleges and want to see good students attend their colleges. While applicants think of the interview as an interrogation, interviewers are just hoping to meet a great candidate. In fact, the most common complaint of interviewers is that they do not meet good candidates and, when they do, their colleges don’t offer them admission. Alumni get frustrated, believing that their time is wasted when they “find a good one” who is not selected. In truth, interviewers don’t volunteer with the goal of filtering out bad candidates. They want to find great candidates, advocate on their behalf, and help the applicants be accepted by their colleges.

Thus, the first thing that candidates need to understand is that the scary adults they are meeting are actually trying to help them. The second thing they need to understand is that these adults primarily want one thing out of the interview: a good conversation.

Interviews are not the place to emphasize one’s credentials. On the contrary, interviews are really just an opportunity to present one’s human qualities. Applicants too often try to “prove their case” by telling an interviewer everything they think that a college must know about them. That’s the wrong approach. There’s no value added to the overall admissions evaluation by restating what the colleges already know from the applications. Instead, give the colleges and the interviewers an opportunity to appreciate that you will be the kind of person to interact and collaborate positively in their college communities.

One of the greatest mistakes that candidates make in interviews is to talk too much, or rather too long. A conversation is a give-and-take, and if a candidate won’t stop talking, the interviewer cannot participate. Avoid the temptation to present a speech or soliloquy. Over-prepared answers kill conversations.

Don’t fret about what questions may be asked. The general areas of inquiry are not surprising. Applicants are asked about their high school, their activities and interests, their families and friends, their desire for college and, specifically, this college. These should be easy things to talk about. Don’t practice the questions; prepare by reminding yourself about your life, your interests, your past and future. Most students are so worried about what questions they might be asked that they forget that the interview is really about them.

A good interview can make a significant difference in an applicant’s chances for admission to a highly selective college. To succeed, you must truly “be yourself.” That’s what they’re looking for.

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