How Important is this Interview? In general, admissions officers will tell you that interviews can do more harm than good to your application. But usually, admissions officers are quite vague in describing what a good or bad interview looks like.

Here’s the truth. There are three kinds of interviews (listed in order of decreasing significance) : (1) admissions officer/dean interviews, (2) alumni interviews, and (3) current student interviews. Each one should be handled a little bit differently, but if you avoid all five cardinal mistakes listed below, then you should be in the clear.

Here are the five cardinal mistakes to avoid in your next college interview:

5 Cardinal Interview Mistakes:

1. It is commonly said that politics and money should never be discussed in public; this is a good guideline to follow for college interviews as well. There do exist exceptions: if you are particularly interested in politics, you may discuss such interests but try your hardest not to marginalize any opposing political views. Try to steer clear of any specific issues that may be controversial and may offend your interviewer. You are much better off staying vanilla than sharing some potentially hazardous, interview-damaging information.

You will also want to avoid discussing other schools during your interview. It is not good etiquette to bad-mouth other schools during an interview as you do not know what your interviewer thinks about such schools. Furthermore, you should never discuss negative things about other schools; your interviewer can too easily imagine you saying the same things about his or her school. This goes for saying negative things about other schools; your interviewer can imagine you saying it to his or her school just as easily.

2. Don’t ever offer contradicting information. Speak truly about your abilities and your application. Don’t get caught up in a lie, discussing a book you haven’t read or a politician you do not know. The interviewer will appreciate your concrete honesty much more than your superficial knowledge of everything going on in the world. If there are certain topics that you’re worried about, prepare for them! If you know you don’t read often, prepare to talk about one book that you love.

3. If a school is not your top choice, do not expose any lack of interest in the school. If you do not know a lot about the school before the interview, do not attempt to explain your love for the school for the first time in your interview. To prevent this from happening, try and find things unique to that school prior to your interview. An interview isn’t a good time to pull things out of thin air. Find ways to connect these attributes to yourself, to your personality, and to the activities you love.

4. This one is rather intuitive, but know yourself! If you know that you’re particularly clumsy, be extremely careful not to spill anything or knock anything over during the interview. If you know that you tend to be late to events, come extra early! Do NOT just show up on time, but make an effort to show up AT LEAST 15 minutes early. The interviewer is a person and can understand that your mistake is an accident, but subconsciously those little mistakes can add up and add a negative vibe to the interview. You want your interviewer to walk away only with good feelings towards you!

5. Don’t hide who you are by purporting to be someone you are not. All in all, it’s vital to remember that you’re being interviewed by another fellow human being. Remind yourself that your interviewer is someone who went through a very similar process to the one you are going through now. Don’t change who you are just because you are now applying to college. Find the things about yourself that you are most proud of and humbly show them to your interviewer. However, just as you have been taught in high school writing classes, SHOW yourself, don’t just TELL your story. For instance, instead of explicitly telling your interviewer that you love to read, describe the various emotions you experienced as you read your favorite book. Your goal is to convince your interviewer of your passion, whether that be in literature, medicine, or technology.

How to Get through Your Interview:

CONFIDENCE:

Don’t worry about your interview too much! As long as avoid the five cardinal mistakes above, your interview already will be fine! Before the interview, try using a power pose, pep yourself up in the mirror, and practice. Remember that even your interviewer can be a bit nervous, especially if they represent a particularly famous school and know they are one of the few  representatives for their assigned district.

IT’S NOT A ONE-WAY STREET:

The interview is very useful to the applicant as well as it is to admissions officers. After all, this is the school where you’re considering to spend the next four years of your life. Take time in your interview to ask your interviewer questions. Learn more about the school! Your interview is a great way to find more about a school through an insiders-perspective. Take advantage of it!

PREPARATION HELPS:

Interview questions can be difficult but often they don’t stray too far from the ones you’d naturally expect. Questions range from the mundane “what did you do this past summer?” to the imaginative “what dead person would you resurrect to meet for coffee?”. Prepare general answers to questions pertaining to your favorite extracurricular, favorite hobby, planned major, favorite high school class etc. Buzzwords to consider are: Extracurricular, Summer, Course, Leadership, Favorite. etc. The tougher questions you might be asked are the broad ones. Ranging from “tell me something that represents you” to the confrontational “why would you be a good fit here?”, be sure to prepare insightful response beforehand so you can stand out. Don’t shallowly list responses; give profound answers, engage with your interviewer, and watch their feedback. Use metaphors if possible to describe your personality, but avoid being cliche or using black and white words when describing yourself. Such words to avoid are: always, never, completely, absolutely, etc. You are a fluid individual who exposes several unique attributes so try and stay away from presenting yourself as one dimensional. If a question reminds you of another answer, don’t feel trapped: use this as an opportunity to transition to another story.

SO TELL ME MORE ABOUT YOURSELF:

Almost all interviews begin with “So tell me more about yourself.” This question does not beg a laundry list of your accomplishments, activities, and courses. It is not a bibliography, either. Instead, this question is meant to gauge your personality–to understand a little more about who you are and how you talk. Try to present your quirky side, humbling yourself while also show your creativity and intelligence. These are all attributes that college interviewers look for in prospective students. Prepare your answer to this common question, but above all else: make sure your answer does not sound rehearsed. Don’t use words that you wouldn’t otherwise use in your everyday dialogue. Share yourself, and don’t be afraid to pause, smile, or laugh. The little things you do in your interview can have the biggest impact on your interview’s success.

 

Ethan Kesternberg

Ethan Kesternberg

Ethan is a member of Columbia University's Class of 2019, double-majoring in Mathematics and Biochemistry. While he's not busy playing Words With Friends or playing with little furry four-legged friends, Ethan enjoys playing tennis, skiing, cycling, and watching Game of Thrones. His favorite type of mammal is the marsupial.
Ethan Kesternberg

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