As the calendar heads towards 2012, we have entered that time of year in which colleges reach out to applicants to conduct admissions interviews. Typically, interviews are held in December through February, although early applicants might have theirs in November or even October. Most schools have local alumni volunteers conduct the interviews, and these alumni are usually gung-ho advocates of their alma maters. Admissions offices try as much as possible to assign applicants to alumni who live close by or have something in common with the applicant.
So, how should you handle your interview? Of course, you want to do as well as possible, keeping in mind that the interview is just one piece of the whole process. I am a volunteer interviewer for my college, and I have conducted roughly half a dozen admissions interviews a year since 1996. During that time, I have definitely seen the good, the bad, and the ugly!
1. Dress appropriately and be on time. This advice may be self-obvious, but I once had a student show up to my law office in jeans and a t-shirt with holes in it. Nowadays I meet my interviewees at Starbucks, but it still reflects poorly if you show up looking slovenly. It tells the interviewer that you are not serious. Similarly, don't be late! Give yourself plenty of time to find the interview location (often a coffeeshop) and if you get lost, be sure to have the telephone number of your interviewer handy. I guarantee your interviewer will appreciate a call if you are lost or run into unexpected traffic.
2. Be educated. I have had countless interviewees not have a clue about even the most basic aspects of my school. In each case, it was clear to me that they applied simply for the sake of applying, which is so easy these days as a result of the common application. Therefore, do your homework! Read the school's brochures, admissions pamphlets and website so that you are familiar with the basics. I once had an interviewee tell me how much he enjoyed my school's football team's success even though the team had won one game total in the prior three seasons!
3. Be prepared with questions. At some point, your interviewer will ask if you have any questions about the school. Chances are good that if you are well-prepared, you will have some specific questions about things you are wondering about. Great topics to bring up are questions about student life, opportunities for graduates, the admissions process, etc.
4. Don't be a robot. I always tell my interviewees to act naturally and answer my questions as honestly as possible. In other words, be yourself. Do not tell your interviewer what you think he or she wants to hear because there is a good chance you will be wrong! Remember, your interviewer wants to find applicants who are enthusiastic about the school, have interesting personalities, and would contribute positively to their alma mater's student body. They do not want to talk with someone who simply spews bland answers that have been rehearsed with their guidance counselors. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and I find myself talking to students who are scared to say anything that isn't "counselor approved." The result is an uninspiring, unmemorable interview.
5. Be confident but humble. In most cases, your interviewer will know nothing about your grades and credentials. The idea is to learn about your personality without being colored by the rest of your application. Therefore, the focus is entirely on who you are as a person. Be assertive and be confident, but don't be arrogant. I once had an interviewee tell me that he wasn't sure if college was right for him because he already knew everything about the world. Riiiigggghhhttt.
6. Don't be intimidated. Your interviewer might be a bigwig in the community or have you come to a fancy office, but at the end of the day, he or she is merely a volunteer who likes talking to students about their alma mater. Most likely, your interviewer wants to like you and help you. And there is a decent chance he or she will spend more time talking than you will since part of the job description is to be an advocate for their school. A good interview will end up being a pleasant, two-way conversation in which you feel comfortable simply chatting with your interviewer. With that said, you might end up with an interviewer who enjoys asking questions out of left field ("If you could be a vegetable, what would it be?"). In that case, remain composed and do the best you can.
7. Speak well. It might take some practice, but try to avoid using "like" and "um" as much as possible. You want to come across as mature and intelligent. Be sure to look your interviewer in the eye, don't squirm in your seat, and be polite. And definitely don't be afraid to smile or laugh!
Most students do just fine, so go in and nail your interviews!