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Yale Interview: What It’s Like + My Experience

Like many other selective colleges, Yale offers applicants the opportunity to interview with a local alumnus. 


In addition to giving admissions a clear window into your personality, the interview serves Yale’s yield rates. If you’re admitted, a particularly meaningful conversation with an enthusiastic Yalie may tip the scale in their favor later on, when you’re deciding between Yale and other great schools.


Following the interview, your interviewer will put together a thoughtful report regarding your intellectualism, interests, unique qualities, passion for Yale, and character. This, in turn, is evaluated by the admissions committee.


The interview is optional, but strongly encouraged. The Yale Alumni Schools Committee, or ASC, conducts interviews in locations with associations of alumni volunteers. They have limited members in each area, all with tight schedules. Therefore, interviews are not available in all areas, and priority is given to students for whom the admissions committee requires additional information. If you can’t have an interview, it won’t count against you. 


The interview is typically a sign of demonstrated interest, which Yale doesn’t track. Still, alumni must submit an interview report, even if the student turns down or is unresponsive to their messages. If you decline an interview request, Yale will know. At best, you’ll confuse your adcoms, who will wonder why you turned down this opportunity to make an impression, learn more about the school, and meet an alumnus. 


In most cases the interview can only help, so we strongly advise you to take it if offered! In this post, I’ll go over my interview experience as a Yale admit, and offer my tips for having a smooth interview.


How is Covid-19 Impacting Yale College Interviews?


In a typical year, Yale would hold off-campus alumni interviews in a quiet, public place like a local cafe, school, or library. Limited on-campus interviews are usually conducted in the admissions office by a current Yale senior. Most interviews are conducted by alumni, but it’s slightly possible a senior will interview you.


However, this is an atypical year, so all interviews will be conducted virtually. Videochatting or calling someone offers a markedly different experience from sitting across from them in person, so be sure to read our tips for the virtual interview.


Setting Up Your Yale College Interview


Please don’t try to reach out to set up an interview yourself; your alumni will do that! You may not be contacted until weeks after your application is received, so don’t stress if it’s been a bit.


My interviewer emailed me in early February, about a month after I had submitted my Regular Decision application. 


“Do you have any time to meet at a cafe sometime this week for a casual conversation of about 45 to 75 minutes?” Heather* said following a friendly introduction.


She later suggested Saturday morning, saying “It will be about an hour or so and very casual.”


Her email tone, too, was casualpolite, but as relaxed as emails I’d received from laid-back teachers. We decided to meet at a small cafe by the ocean.


Note: I am name-changing for privacy and paraphrasing for clarity.

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What the Yale College Interview is Like


I suppose my business-casual attire bordered too firmly on the business side, because right before we sat down, Heather reiterated, “Just so you know, this interview is very casual. It’s more like a conversation, an opportunity to get to know you.”


And that’s exactly what it was!


It really was just a talk: a back-and-forth exchange of ideas about Yale and more broadly, education systems as a whole. If you and your alumnus find a common interest, this may happen to you; one of my classmates bonded with his interviewer over Batman comics!


Our seemingly shared interest in education led us to a discussion about favorite teaching styles. She told me about her immersive experience in a Yale introductory French class, which was entirely taught in pure French. When she asked me about my favorite teachers and what made their educational style effective, I got pretty enthusiastic. 


I regret getting too casual when relaying an entertaining anecdote about the time my English teacher acted out East of Eden by pretending to smack his head against the whiteboard before physically laying down on the classroom floor. I don’t think Heather was looking for amusing stories as much as interesting ones, so this one definitely did not land as intended.


So yes, be yourself, don’t be shy, but please, know your audience. Your interviewer is still older and more experienced than you, and the interview is a great place to showcase your maturity and self-awareness.


Of course, the inevitable “Why Yale?” question came up. I told her how much I’d resonated with Yale’s student culture, most especially with its heavy emphasis on the arts; many other “top” schools struck us both as purely academic, with less appreciation for creative pursuits. I also mentioned that I’d first seriously considered Yale when my high school’s academic counselor suggested it to me.


Heather was particularly interested in the fact that I liked to paint at all—many share the impression that the artistically inclined aren’t usually academically invested in the way that, say, robotics team captains may be. 


“You’re probably unusual in that way,” she said, almost musing to herself. “And you’re right—Yale does have a good art program.


Heather asked to see my paintings, so I showed her my art Instagram page, which she scrolled through before showing me one of her favorite abstract painters. She then asked me why my counselor had encouraged me, specifically, to apply to Yale.


“Uh, well, he just had gotten to know me and felt I’d be a good fit,” I mumbled.


“Yes, but why? What exactly was it?” she asked, pressing further.


I struggled a little to explain exactly what traits he had identified in me. After all, why not any other school? Why me for Yale? 


It felt a bit strange to explain to someone what someone else thought of me, to relay another’s perception of my personality. Actually, I did not like it at all. 


However, doing this effectively is a valuable skill. The introverted or self-effacing are eager to talk about anything but themselves, but in an interview, you must express yourself well, describe your personal qualities and their origins, and convey depth of mind and character.


Be able to talk about not only why you like Yale, but also why you would fit there. 


By the hours’ end, we’d already covered our shared transition from a warm-weather state to snowy Connecticut. (“I know the move would be a bit of a shock,” I’d said, to which she’d replied, “Well, shock isn’t a bad thing.”) We’d talked about Yale student culture, its academic life and traditions. We’d shared outlooks on the educational experience from grade to grad school, and she’d given me advice on picking the right classes.


Most of my Yale-specific queries were well-addressed by the time she asked me if I had any, so I just asked her the question I asked all my other interviewers: “Why did you choose this school?” 


I don’t quite remember her response, but I do remember wishing I had more in-depth questions prepared in advance. If you’re struggling with this yourself, you may enjoy our suggestions for meaningful questions to ask your interviewer.


Overall, I think it went pretty well! I was an imperfect interviewee, but here I am now, having survived the college app inferno, Yale acceptance in hand. 


I believe all interviews should be followed by a bit of reflection upon its highlights and opportunities for improvement. After that, it’s best to move on—no over-analysis or mental replays. It’s near-impossible to gauge what others truly think of you, and your energy isn’t best spent trying to. Go in, do your best, and then move on to the other things you can control. 


Tips for the Yale College Interview


Know your school! You don’t have to be an expert on Yale’s 319-year history, but you should at least be able to answer the “Why Yale?” question in verbal form. If anything, knowing a bit about famed Yale traditions and quirks will give you guys something to talk about.


Secondly, try to get a feel for your alumnus’s individual attitude towards the interview. Find common ground with them and match their interview philosophy. It would be awkward to stiltedly rattle off your resume at someone seeking a meaningful conversation, similarly strange to crack jokes at a stern, serious interviewer.


I’d assumed that Heather stressed a “casual” conversational tone entirely because she was tired of over-rehearsed interview responses from nervous seniors. However, as I read over the ASC overview for alumni in preparation for this article, I realized this approach was actively encouraged by Yale itself. The ASC overview expressly asks for interviews that are “conversations, not interrogations” so alumni can uncover personal “themes” like academic interests, flexible thought, distinctive circumstances, and expressive abilities.


I realized why she’d been so interested in my “unusual” interest in the arts and in understanding exactly why my counselor had pegged me for Yale. She may have been following the overview’s emphases, gauging my fit for Yale. 


To properly convey your “Yaleness,” come in well-rested, well-fed, and in good spirits. Be willing to open up a little, showcase your interests and a bit of how you think. You’ll likely end up relaying not only the extent of your activities, but also your personal motivation and reasoning for completing them.


At the end of the day, interviews are just a small part of the application process. They’re certainly considered, but they don’t hold nearly the same weight as your essays, stats, and letters of recommendation do. A good one will certainly give you a small boost, while a bad one will hardly make or break your application—barring exceptional cases, i.e. you offend your interviewer.


If you approach your alumnus with confidence and empathy, however, that likely won’t happen. So best of luck, aspiring Bulldogs! Let your openness and intellectual energy shine!


If you have more questions about the interview process, check out CollegeVine’s Q&A forum. There, you can get answers from peers and verified experts. Best of all, it’s free!

Michelle Foley
Essay Breakdown Writer

Short Bio
Michelle Foley is currently taking a gap year before starting at Yale College in Fall '21, where she is considering majoring in Art, English, or Cognitive Studies while earning her Spanish certificate. In her free time, she likes to paint, run, and read!