Preparing for Admissions Interviews

   by Pat Walsh – College Counselor

 

One of the most overlooked opportunities of the college search process is the admission interview. From the University of Southern California to Yale University, there are a number of Colleges that offer this opportunity. Many universities don’t require, but encourage, students to sign up for this 45-60 minute conversation. Take my word on this: the admissions interview can help in the application review process—a lot—because the admission interview is one of the highest forms of demonstrated interest. Equally important, if you do great at the interview it can assist you in the application process, financial aid process or both.

The admission interview is intentionally vague but most can be broken down into three themes:

  • How well do you know yourself?
  • What are your beliefs, values, and passions?
  • What do you think or know about us (the college)?

 

Tell us about yourself.

Forming a compelling answer to these four words can be tough. There are a number of ways to answer this question. My suggestion is to identify four or five important facts or experiences that are genuine and unique to you. Club involvement, potential academic interests, study abroad experiences and your high school are all examples you could discuss in the interview. Students who can connect those personal experiences into a trajectory will do well, and if you can connect those to your interest in the college, even better.

Example: I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and went to East High School. Since Madison is such an active community, I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in a number of social justice organizations. I also love reading and writing so I’m planning on majoring in journalism. Your school has an incredible journalism department and this is one of the reasons I was so excited to visit.

 

What are your beliefs, values, and passions?

When speaking about your beliefs, values, and passions it is important to not overshare and to keep it positive. Admission Counselors are looking for future students that are informed, thoughtful, and can contribute to the marketplace of ideas. Talking negatively about a perspective that is different than yours can come off as sophomoric and even shortsighted. It is okay to share your beliefs but not at the expense of others. If you are asked a question about your beliefs a best practice is to speak from a place of advocacy.  

Example: In Madison, I have had the opportunity to volunteer with HeadCount, a voter registration non-profit. With the midterm elections this fall, I want everyone to have the opportunity to vote, whatever their beliefs. I personally believe that our community is best served by an informed and active citizens.

 

What do you think about us?

The final theme is what you know about the university. Be prepared to speak and ask questions based on a foundation of research. Yes, you can use the college website but don’t stop there—get creative. The alumni magazine, student newspaper and student clubs on social media are ways to learn more about a school that you are visiting. There is a lot you can research but the best practice is to align your research with your interests.

Your research will inevitably generate questions about the college. Having thoughtful questions to ask the admissions counselor is the best way to end a strong interview. Ask questions that demonstrate your research and passions.

Example: I am really impressed by the number of alumni who started their journalism career by participating in the production of the student newspaper. I was wondering if you could speak to related internships and research opportunities for journalism majors.

 

Final Thoughts

We’ve made it through the complicated parts of the interview and I have a few final pieces of advice.

First, impressions matter so be prepared to shake hands, make eye contact and smile. It may seem weird, but I’d encourage you to practice with a trusted friend or family member.

Dress for the interview. I’m borrowing Zach Galin’s advice (thank you Zach) and suggest that you dress ‘college smart.’ Wear a polo or blouse and avoid sweats, tight fitting clothing, and revealing attire. Whatever you do, don’t wear an article of clothing with branding from another college.

Lastly, pace yourself. I once had a student that spoke so quickly that they ran out of breath mid sentence. The interview isn’t a race, so pace yourself by breathing. If you are asked a tough question, take the time to think and then answer. Nobody, in the history of college admissions interviewing, became a strong interviewer because of how quickly they spoke.