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by Pat Walsh


It was week 10 of application season and I was in the second hour of a four-hour admissions committee meeting. The applications were starting to look the same. The admissions team was tired, and we had hundreds of applications to still review in the next two weeks. Reviewing applications is a time-intensive exercise that many offices measure in minutes. Reading applications takes absolute concentration. Side chatter, email, or nearly any disruption is frowned upon because it leads to delays and mistakes in the application review process.

That is why it came as a surprise when I was called out by name during the meeting. My head popped up from my laptop when I was called on to elaborate on my notes concerning a candidate’s admissions interview.

Being invited to speak to an admissions committee about a certain candidate is like watching Netflix at half-speed: the same content is being delivered, but the viewer is given more time to absorb and reflect upon it. For one of those rare moments in the admissions review process, time slows down and the committee collectively considers a single applicant.

Here is another important consideration: most people don’t realize that the interview notes are authored by the admissions counselor. College applications are filled with testimonials from teachers, counselors, community leaders, and other advocates, but only a tiny portion of application materials have feedback from a member of the admissions committee.

Admissions interview notes are different than a recommendation because they are not just an additional perspective, but also a trusted viewpoint. My notes are filled with words like “talented,” “socially just,” “wise,” “gifted,” and “prepared.” Our interview notes go far beyond student candidacy. Interview notes may speak to fit or an aspect of a candidate that the college is seeking to acquire or bolster.

It is the promise of an admissions committee thoroughly understanding a candidate that outweighs the potential consequences for delays.

With the committee’s attention directed at me, I reviewed my notes on the candidate. I broke into a smile as the memories of that interview came to mind. Yes, that student had a 4.0 GPA, but they were also passionate about their involvement. Before I know it, my review to the admissions committee shifted from detailing the interview to advocating for the candidate.

I am regularly asked by students and families about what I think is the most important part of the application. While that answer will vary depending on the college, I believe that one of the most impactful aspects of a college application is the evaluative admissions interview.

With that in mind, impact can be both good and bad. Here are some suggestions on how to have a strong interview:

  1. Google, but don’t creep. Like any interview, you want to know the basics of the person interviewing you. For an admissions representative, you will be able to find most of their information on the website, including their education, professional role, and even interests. Alumni interviews are different. Yes, you can find a lot of details on an alumnus, but that doesn’t mean you should. Best practice here is to stick to the basic information that you will find on a LinkedIn profile: type of employment, year of graduation, and advanced degrees.
  2. Find the basic points of connection. Like any conversation, the focus cannot entirely be about you. Now, you may disagree, but showing an interest in the person you are speaking with by exploring points of connection is a great way to make a formal conversation engaging and inviting.
  3. Be Distraction-Free. Our world is saturated in sounds. Admissions interviews are designed to be distraction-free. Nothing interrupts a good conversation more than the buzzes, pings, and rings of a cellphone. If you are doing a virtual interview on your laptop or phone, you need to close all apps, browsers, and tabs–really anything that receives notifications.
  4. Share what is important but don’t brag. I know this is a tricky suggestion because the purpose of the interview is for the admissions representative to understand what makes you great. You can discuss what makes you a strong candidate by sharing that you are a big deal in your life. By sharing things that are important, you provide examples and values that both express and imply your candidacy.
  5. No Parents. There is no quicker way to an awkward, forced, or just downright weird admissions interview than having the parent join. I see why parents might be interested in attendin–after all, they raised this person, they know them best, and they are likely going to be paying for part of their college–but the admissions interview isn’t about how much you know about your kid. It is about how well your kid knows themselves.