Preparing for a college interview

tilia-cordata:

realsocialskills:

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

Any advice for college interviews?

I have one coming up and I always get tongue-tied and I generally don’t do well at them at all, but this is a really big deal and I don’t want to mess it up…

realsocialskills said:

The best way I know of to prepare for any type of interview is to get someone else to do a practice interview with you before you do the real interview.

[snip]

tl;dr: If you’re interviewing for college (or anything really), it’s very helpful to do a practice interview. There is likely a teacher, guidance counselor, or coach at your school who would be willing to give you a practice interview. Having a peer do one can also work. Whoever does it, it is most effective when they ask you the questions that you’re afraid or nervous about being asked in the real interview.

tilia-cordata said:

All the advice in realsocialskills’ post is great. I did alumni interviews for my college for a year or so. Here are a couple of thoughts: 

  • Not every school does interviews the same way, and they don’t count for the same amount. At my school there were a large enough number of applicants that all interviews were done by alumni (none by admissions officers).
  • They also didn’t count for a whole lot compared to the rest of your application. I know other schools weight the interview more. 
  • I was also interviewing for a very prestigious school, but I think the things I looked for were pretty similar to what other schools would look for? My interviewees just had much smaller chances of getting in, even if I ranked them very highly.
  • My ideal interview with an applicant felt more like a conversation than an interview. 
  • We were asked to assess how much a student might participate in school - as a student and in extra curricular activities. We were there to see what you were like as a person instead of as a stack of documents. We were also told that, unless a student did something really terrible, interviews were there to boost an applicant, not lower them. 

Here are some questions I asked, and the kinds of things I was looking for, if they might be helpful as practice questions: 

“What the favorite class you’re taking/have taken in high school?”

  • I wanted to see what kinds of academic things applicants were interested in. 
  • This also gives some time to talk about school stuff you like even if you don’t know what you want to study yet. 
  • There aren’t really any wrong answers as long as you have something to say. This is true of almost all of these questions. 

“What activities/things you do outside of school have been the most important to you and what did you learn from them?”

  • The “what” is way less important than the “why.” You can’t just say “band” and leave it at that. 
  • If you have to work and don’t do a “cool” or “exciting” activity, I wanted to hear about that too, if it’s important to you! Or if you do something solitary, like write or art or anything, or are involved in your religious community - literally anything outside of school. 
  • I might’ve asked about leadership stuff, but this’ll be guided by what you say. 
  • I’m probably going to push on the “what did you learn” or “what did you get out of this” for anything a student says. 

“What was something (academic or otherwise) that’s been a big challenge to you?”

  • I wanted to hear about stuff you’ve struggled with it, and what you’ve done to work on that. 
  • This is an opportunity to talk about a disability if you feel comfortable. 
  • It’s also a chance to explain a low grade or test score, if you have one. 
  • This was also to make the super-polished, prone-to-bragging applicants talk about their weaknesses for a minute. No one is perfect.

If you mention anywhere in the interview that you’re interested in in English or writing, I probably asked “What’s your favorite book?” I usually asked this anyway, even with math/science students. What the answer was didn’t matter all that much, I just liked hearing students talk about things they enjoyed. 

I asked about grades and test scores; I tried to do this at the end so our conversation would be about that as little as possible. 

I tried to give as much information about college life as possible throughout the interview. I usually started by saying the applicant could ask me questions at any time, so that me talking and them talking was split. At the end, I usually phrased “do you have any questions” as “is there anything you wanted to know that we haven’t covered?” since the more open ended question always freaked me out as an interviewee. 

I was never looking for polish or super-preparedness. I was looking for: whether you seemed genuinely interested in the school, if you seemed like a nice and engaging person, if you were polite. 

Also, as a last point - part of the reason I started doing interviews was as a way of fighting my social anxiety, and I was often almost as scared the meeting as my applicant, even if I had power in that situation. Your interviewer is a person, too, and especially if they’re an alumni who might only be interviewing 2-4 students, they can be an advocate for you to the admissions office. I wanted all my applicants to get in, because they all seemed like great kids who would have done well at my school.