Acing the Interview

It’s common to get a bit nervous before an interview with a college admissions officer or an alumni representative. Students have an unfounded fear that they need to come across as suave, sophisticated, brilliant, and charming, and once the interviewer discovers that he or she is just another clueless high school student, the masquerade is over and they’ve blown any chance of admission.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Interviews have little impact on admissions decisions. So, relax! You are not going on stage as an entertaining guest on the Late Show or as a sage pundit on a news program. Admissions directors understand that even the most well-qualified students can be extremely anxious and may not come across well in an interview. Also, just like a first date, sometimes the chemistry isn’t right between the student and the interviewer. At the end of the day, well-written essays, and even recommendations from teachers and others who know you well have a far greater impact on admission decisions. Even if you’re nervous and not at your best, your interview won’t ruin an otherwise strong application. Hopefully, knowing that the interview is not “make or break” will help you relax.

Those schools that still offer evaluative interviews generally use them to explain, confirm, or supplement information in other parts of the application. Sure, there are things you could do in an interview that would completely tank your application. But these are things you would almost have to do intentionally do in order to destroy your chance of admission — using profanity, spouting racist or sexist views (especially toward the interviewer), wearing completely inappropriate attire, or answering your cell phone in the middle of the interview.

While having a great interview won’t automatically generate an acceptance letter, it can certainly help.  If it came down to two similarly well-qualified students, the applicant who formed a bond with the interviewer, especially if an admissions officer, may well be the one who is selected. It can’t hurt to have the interviewer become a passionate advocate on your behalf.

So, make the most of the interview opportunity by being prepared. You’ll have lower anxiety and a better experience. What can you do beforehand?

  • Have some clear ideas about your strengths, interests and goals that you can communicate during the meeting.
  • Do your research. Have several questions prepared so that when the interviewer asks if you have any questions. You should be seeking information that can’t be gleaned from the website or school literature. It’s fine to ask, within reason, what students do on weekends, but spend most of your limited time on “serious” topics such as specific academic programs, especially those for which the school is known for, paths to graduate school, or on particular internships or foreign study programs that interest you.

In short, you can “ace the interview” by using it as a tool to communicate that you have a real, genuine interest in the school, and that school is the perfect fit for your undergraduate studies. It’s easy for an interviewer to tell the difference between a mature, self-motivated candidate and a disinterested one who is at the interview because their parents “forced” them to attend. If you approach the interview as a conversation, where you and the interviewer are exchanging information, the process can actually be fun. Also, no one likes awkward silences, including interviewers. Take the pressure off the interviewer by initiating conversation and reduce the time the interviewer has to go through his or her checklist of questions. In short, the interview comes down to attitude. Go into the interview prepared and relaxed, and you’ll come out smelling like a rose.

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