If you found yourself in the zombie apocalypse, what would your role be and why?
If you want to take a stab at this creative thought experiment, be our guest! It might just help you to prepare for a part of the college admissions process that often stymies students and parents: the college interview (also called the alumni interview, because it is conducted by a local alum(ni) of the school).
While most alumni interview questions are far more straightforward than the one above, coming up with well-thought-out answers that demonstrate positive personality traits — while at the same time sounding unrehearsed — can be very tricky. Today, we cover the basics of college interviews, including who should do them, tips for preparing, and how to overcome the “interview jitters.”
There are two types of interviews, the pre-application interview and the post-application interview.
As the name suggests, pre-application interviews occur before you submit your application, typically spanning August to November. These interviews are not evaluative, meaning that the interviewer’s perception of your personality is not necessarily factored into the review of your application. The pre-application interview is a chance for you to not only learn more about the atmosphere and opportunities at prospective colleges, but also to display a deeper interest in that college. While this doesn’t guarantee a boost in your admissions prospects, colleges do value demonstrated interest, and they are aware of which students complete pre-application interviews.
Post-application interviews occur after you submit your application. For early application deadlines, this can be any time after November 1. For regular application deadlines, it is throughout the month of January to early February. The interview does include an evaluative component, meaning that your interviewer’s perceptions of you will be included in the application review.
Why does the interview matter? Is it really that important?
The short answer is, it depends on the school. Some schools state that interviews do not greatly affect admissions prospects, while others stipulate that it is highly recommended. For these latter schools, it is in your best interest to secure an interview.
Interviews provide admissions with a better understanding of a student’s personality, interests, and past experiences, in addition to the level of interest that student has in the school. They also allow the interviewer to attach faces to names and to relate to each student on a human level — by interviewing, you’re no longer just a statistic. If a college is on the fence about you, a good interview can impress them enough to issue that coveted letter of acceptance.
What if I don’t interview well?
Many students and parents come to us with concerns that doing an interview may actually hurt their chances. They may be very shy, or perhaps they suffer from performance anxiety.
The general rule of thumb is that when you have the opportunity to interview, you should take advantage of it. This is especially true if a representative from the college reaches out to you. Declining an interview offer for any reason does not reflect well on you and your interest in the school. If the school leaves it up to the student to schedule an interview, it is still a good idea to do so, particularly if it is a school you really want to attend.
Interviewers are generally very warm and friendly — they want you to do well, and aren’t going to try to “trick” you into making a mistake. As long as you’ve practiced and prepared (we’ll cover this later), there’s no reason why shyness should hold you back from interviewing. Almost every job you apply for throughout your life will include an interview, so it’s a good idea to nail down these skills early!
As we mentioned before, a good interview can push you into acceptance territory. On the flip side, a bad interview can put you at risk for rejection if the interviewer evaluates you negatively or determines that you’re not a good fit for the school. As a result, there are some cases where we would NOT recommend interviewing — for instance, students who struggle to interact confidently with an adult even after repeated practice attempts. Students who are unwilling to put in the effort to practice their interviewing skills, or to research information about their prospective schools, may not be good candidates for an interview.