How to Make the Most of Your College Interview
The interview is arguably the most nerve-wracking part of the college applications process. Unlike your personal essays or your standardized test scores, you haven’t had months to strategize on, make corrections to, and perfect your performance in your interview. Usually, when students think about their interview, anxiety is a more common response than excitement (and understandably so!). However, an interview shouldn’t consist just of a stone-faced alumni asking you to clearly and eloquently explain why you’re a perfect fit for their school; it’s an opportunity for you to learn whether the school is the right fit for you, and it can be as informative for you as the interviewee as it is for the interviewer.
Though they may seem daunting and massively significant at the time, interviews are not actually an extremely important component of the applications process. Yes, an abysmal interview can significantly harm your chances of admission, and yes, an outstanding interview can give you a boost, but unless your interview is exceptional in some way (good or bad), it likely will not be a make-or-break factor in your admissions decision. That being said, the interview is certainly not inconsequential.
At the end of your interview, and perhaps even throughout it, your interviewer will ask if you have any questions regarding any aspect of the school they are interviewing you for. Even if you’ve been dreaming of attending this school since you were 10 and you’re sure you already know every possible thing there is to know about it, it’s still strongly advised that you come prepared with at least a couple of questions.
Asking questions at an interview is important for manifold reasons: it demonstrates strong interest, provides you with a former student’s perspective, gives you an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the school, and helps you determine whether this university is actually the right place for you to spend the next four years. The knowledge you gain from an alumni can be vastly different than that touted by the school on their website, on brochures, or in presentations. You can ask your interviewer about anything from academics to athletics to student life, and you’ll usually receive a response with a level of candor and a unique viewpoint not often conveyed through school-sanctioned promotional materials.
In an interview, more is under examination than simply the responses you give to interviewer’s questions. Because interviewers are human, a large portion of what influences the recommendation they write (or their decision not to write a recommendation) for you is their general impression of your intellectual curiosity and capacity and your interest in the school – a metric not easily assigned a numerical value. Asking questions demonstrates a desire to learn more about the school and gives off a clear impression of interest and engagement in the school and the interview process. Interviewers are passionate and prideful of the school they attended – why else would they go through the process of becoming qualified to conduct interviews and donate their time to speaking with potential students? Interviewers want to make the student body as strong as possible, and they’ll appreciate the opportunity to speak about their school, inform applicants, and ensure that years’ class will be comprised of students best suited to and most passionate about that school.
While the information you may read about a school through promotional materials or in official presentations to prospective students is often quantitative in nature, boasting a huge number of majors or impressive admissions statistics, an alumni’s point of view can be more qualitative. As both a student who has attended the school in question and an alumni who has been qualified to interview applicants, they have an intimate knowledge of not only the numbers and figures you read about in pamphlets, but what life is actually like at the school. While it’s probably not advisable to ask your interviewer about whether you can rely on grade inflation to boost your GPA or what fraternity has a reputation for throwing the best parties, you can ask questions that you might not find answers to on the polished homepage of your top choice school’s website. For example, if you’re interested in participating in protests on campus, you can ask whether the culture of the school is generally geared towards activism or whether students keep more to themselves on political issues, and how the school’s administration usually responds to cases of student protests.
You can also take advantage of your interview to ask specific questions about student life, academics, extracurricular activities, or any number of things about which information may not be readily available through provided promotional materials. As former students, interviewers have a wealth of knowledge about the school and can speak to a certain student group’s influence on campus, things to do off-campus, and what dorms have the best reputation.
The perspective alumni can provide about a school may paint a picture of the school different than that you may encounter in official materials, and this knowledge can significantly inform your ultimate decision on where to matriculate. An interview can allow you to realize the school you were always sure was perfect for you may not actually be the best fit, or that the school you were applying to just because your parents wanted you to actually aligns perfectly with your interests and passions. Many of the unquantifiable aspects of a school – the general culture, the political leanings, the level of school spirit – are best learned from an alumnus who has experienced life as a student. The interview does not need to be a panic-inducing hour of interrogation and examination, but rather can be an incredibly valuable opportunity for you to gain exposure to perspective that extends past impressive figures and statistics.
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