Even for high school seniors who have perfected their applications and standardized test scores, the college admissions interview is often a nerve-wracking experience.
“I tell students, as far as the nervousness goes: The subject of the conversation is you,” says Ian Fisher, director of educational counseling at College Coach, an educational advising firm. “This isn’t a quiz or a difficult calculus problem. They just want to know you.”
Easier said than done, right? Fisher shares his tips on how to prepare for this all-important conversation.
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Don’t sound too rehearsed
“When I was an admissions counselor, my objective was to have a fun interaction with a student,” Fisher explains. “I was trying to ask questions that led them to share a little about who they are.”
The worst thing a student can do is spew out rehearsed answers to basic questions. “I would always ask students what they were reading, and I use those as book recommendations,” he says. “I’m not looking for ‘War and Peace’ or ‘A Tale of Two Cities;’ those are books I already know about.”
Think about the school’s culture
Different colleges are looking for different things, so you should prepare accordingly. “It’s really important to understand the character of the school you are interviewing for,” Fisher says. “You should know your Duke interviewer might be a little more professional, a little more traditional. A Stanford interview is probably going to be more entrepreneurial and laid back than what you would get from a Harvard interview.”
Take cues from your interviewer
Admissions offices often enlist a variety of people to do interviews for them, notes Fisher. Be sure to know if you will be meeting with an admissions officer, an alumni representative or a student worker before heading into your interview.
“A staff member is going to be much more practiced at interviewing. You can expect questions on your high school experience, books you have read recently and your interests,” says Fisher. “With a student interviewer, it’s more about peer-to-peer relationships and student culture, while alumni interviews tend to be more formal.”
Most importantly of all, schools want students who really want to be there. “Schools see an interview as not only an opportunity to learn about the student but also to help the student learn about the school,” explains Fisher. “This is a chance for you to express curiosity about the place.”
Fisher suggests preparing two or three thoughtful questions. “Don’t ask questions that you can get the answers to online,” he says. “Ask questions that are specific to that person’s experience.”
Your enthusiasm could be the deciding factor in selecting you over someone else with similar grades. “One of the all-important moments comes at the end of the interview, when they ask, ‘Do you have any questions for me?” says Fisher. “The worst answer to that is ‘No, I’m good.’”