Acing College Admissions Interviews: Part 1 of a 2-Part Series
Many universities, especially those that are highly selective, offer college admissions interviews as part of the application process. Often the interview is with either an alumnus or a staff member from the admissions office. If you receive an opportunity to interview, it is a chance to show that you are highly interested in that school. It is also a chance for you to put a face and a voice behind your application, and talk about your accomplishments, passions, and future plans. It is another way to differentiate yourself from other applicants.
Preparation is the key to a successful interview. Most high school students are not used to selling themselves and have difficulty talking about themselves in a positive, engaging manner. Therefore, it’s important to do a good bit of self-reflection before an interview. At PFA, we give students a comprehensive list of self-reflective questions to answer, and this prepares them to confidently address whatever topics might come up in the interview.
Here are more interview tips for college admissions:
- Craft a “Tell me about yourself” statement
This is a less-than-a-minute introductory summary that gets to the heart of who you are and what you want out of your college experience. It isn’t something you memorize—you simply want to use it to nail down exactly what you want to say about yourself. You do not need to tell your life story, or go into great detail about any single thing. The object is to concisely focus on your interests, accomplishments, and goals in order to create a platform for discussion.
- Why this school?
You’ll inevitably be asked this question. Most students tend to be too general and generic in their responses and talk about the beauty of the campus or the ranking of the school. This should not be the focus in your discussion; instead, pick topics about specific programs or activities that will enhance your educational experience and career path. For example, “At Northwestern I get the opportunity to study engineering, and continue with my passion for music in one program with dual degrees.”
- Have a list of questions to ask
This shows that you’re serious and engaged. Ask questions that are not answered on the website, such as: What types of students are most successful at this college? How active are the alumni in career networking? How has the campus changed over the years? If it’s an interview with an alumnus, ask about that person’s experience on campus. College is a happy time for most people, and giving the alumnus an opportunity to reflect on that period creates a positive vibe in the interview.
- Be mindful of your body language
Body language is extremely important in an interview. You can say all the right words, but if your body language is not positive, you run the risk of leaving an unfavorable impression. Be sure to make eye contact, project your voice, sit up straight, do not cross your arms (it makes you look closed off), and slightly lean in to conversations to emphasize a point, or to show interest in the interviewer’s discussion. Nod your head in agreement, and don’t forget to smile.
- Don’t speak in a derogatory manner about anyone or anything
It’s okay to touch on difficult topics, but your presentation is key. Steer clear of negative verbiage and take a softer approach. Choose phrases such as, “it was a challenge” verses, “I am not good at…” If you did poorly in a math class, don’t say, “The teacher didn’t give me a chance.” Blaming other people never goes over well. Instead, say something like, “The class was a challenge, and if I had it to do over again, I would have sought extra help earlier in the semester.”
Try to relax. Most admission interviews are discussions that develop organically based on your activities, experiences and plans for the future. Most interviewers are cognizant that you are a young adult and probably have not had much experience in interviewing—they do not expect you to be perfect.
This is the first part of a two-part series about college admissions and scholarship interviews. The second part discussing scholarship interviews will run next week.
Georgia Boepple is a College and Career Counselor at Partners For Achievement. Read more about Boepple and the rest of the Partners For Achievement team.