If you’ve been following the conversations on any admission forum, you may have seen a version of the question “Has anyone got an interview invite from X?” with about a dozen question marks after it. Honestly, if we were to go by the urgency in online tone it would seem like the college interview can make or break one’s case for admission to highly selective colleges! In fact, if you read a bunch of articles online about the importance of the college interview, you might very well come away thinking that the interview is paramount to a student’s success in the admissions process. Well not exactly.
While grad school interviews are a whole other ball game (more graduate schools have required interviews), undergrad interviews are not. Sure, if a student demonstrates that he or she has done the equivalent of zero research on the college in question, that can absolutely end their chances of admissions but to suggest that the college interview is make it or break it is wrong. Those admissions essays, grades, test scores, activities — now those are make it or break it.
So, do interviews really help?
The importance of interviews in the admission process varies from school to school. For few schools these interviews are of considerable importance, for some of moderate importance but for most they are of limited or no importance.
In general, interviews with admissions staff are more important than the interviews with alumni, which tend to be more informative in nature rather than evaluative. Think of it as reading a second-hand review or report (from alumni) or adding value from first-person experience (admissions staff).
Interviews are very helpful for someone who is on the bubble, where the decision could go either way. A fantastic interview with an alumnus could make a significant difference. Interviewing is a great way to show demonstrated interest, which some colleges track as a factor which impacts their yield.
So here are two reasons to do a university interview:
1. To demonstrate interest in the school. Some schools track how much active interest you’ve shown: Did you apply early? Did you visit? Did you interview? Did you open our emails and click on something? Together, these factors can have some sway over the admissions decision, although how much varies from school to school. So just doing the interview—regardless of how you think it went—counts for something.
2. To provide additional information. Maybe you didn’t do complete justice to representing your applicant profile in your essays. Perhaps you’re very impressive in person as compared to on paper. Or maybe you’ve done some awesome things since applying that weren’t in your original application. You can share these things in your interview.
How can you set up an interview?
For some colleges this process gets triggered off automatically. Georgetown sends out an interview scheduling mail as soon as a student submits Part 1 of their application, others like Yale wait for the complete application to be submitted before initiating the process. For some others like UChicago a student needs to request for an interview through their application portal.
Prepping for an interview:
Questions will fall in three buckets:
1. Why this major e.g. Why Mathematics?
Being a logical thinker, I’m intrigued by Math because of its application to almost all areas whether it is finance or operations research or data science or economics and can be applied to most real life scenarios.
Being an avid Basketball player I find myself using math to improve my game. The path the basketball takes once it’s shot comes down to the angle at which it is shot, the force applied and the height of the player’s arms. When shooting from behind the free throw line, a smaller angle is necessary to get the ball through the hoop. However, when making a field throw, a larger angle is called for. When a defender is trying to block the shot, a higher shot is necessary.
(Answer + Evidence)
2. Why Us?
Remember that this is not about why the school is awesome. The school knows it’s awesome. Don’t talk about weather, location and other such inane things instead research specifics.
– It’s not about ‘Why UMichigan?” but it’s all about ‘Why YOU at UMichigan?’ Talk about why you are perfect for each other. Talk of specifics – academic courses, clubs & organizations, special offerings particular to that university.
– Remember this is another chance to show a few more of your skills / talents / interests / passions WITHOUT being braggy
3. What are your extracurricular Interests?
It’s good to talk about your interests, showing a passion and also bringing in the values learnt through them.
Maybe there are some activities you have not mentioned in your application. You might be trying to break your school record on solving the Rubik’s Cube with one hand. Do talk about this.
Questions to ask an interviewer
Don’t ask for information that is already on the website.
Meaningful, well-thought-out questions will help you learn more about the schools at the top of your list, while demonstrating that you’re a serious student who is inquisitive and committed to excelling in the future.
– Can you tell me about the ABC and XYZ programs? I’m torn between which program of study I’d like to pursue.
– What are some exciting internships that students have had here in the past year? How have those internships have helped students academically or on their career paths? (Shows you are mature and career-focused)
– What is a typical weekend or weeknight like on campus? Are there campus-sponsored events, or do most students find fun elsewhere?
– I read about (insert popular on-campus event or tradition). Have you participated? What’s it like?
If you can ask a question based on something the interviewer has told you during the interview, it shows you have been listening. For example, if the interviewer discusses a tutoring program, you can ask the interviewer if he was involved in it, or you can ask for more details about how the program works.
Whether it’s writing out the answers or points, writing can only get you so far. Prepare for an interview by practicing for it. Say your answers out loud to a mirror or video yourself and see what you sound like. Practice with a counselor, an alum, a friend, a parent. Practice so that you are at ease.
And remember, while these tips may be for college interviews, they apply to every interview henceforth. While it seems a while away, you will soon interview for internships and jobs and even on campus, you may interview for selective student groups – its always good to learn to present yourself thoughtfully to show them the best of who you are.
Urvashi Malik and the CollegeCore team takes pride in helping students through the nose to toes of the admissions process, including the interview process.