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Insider’s Guide to the Alumni Interview – #1: What Questions Will I Be Asked?

Because of increasing numbers of applicants, more and more colleges are starting to tap their network of alumni to conduct prospective student interviews in place of the on-campus interview.  As an alumni interviewer for my undergraduate alma mater — Dartmouth College — for many years now, I want to provide you with a first-hand peek into the process.

I’ll start by saying that every college prepares their interviewers slightly differently.  Some give loose guidelines about how to approach the discussion with the student while others provide far greater specificity in what the interviewer is supposed to do and ask.  In all cases, however, the goal of the interview is to humanize the application process.  Understanding what makes a student unique can be very difficult to glean from the black and white pages of an application.  The interview can shed light on how a student thinks and interacts thereby presenting the real, whole person, not just words on a page.

How does the interviewer get to understand the whole person during the interview?  By asking lots of questions, of course!  Interviewers may try to explore many different aspects of the student’s world from academics to extracurriculars to personal life to future plans to level of interest in the college.

So, what kind of questions can interviewees expect when they sit across the interview table from me?  Here are some examples:

Academics/High School Experience:

  • Tell me what courses you’ve taken and if you have a favorite or least favorite one.  If you do, why is it your favorite/least favorite subject?
  • What do you think are the strengths/weaknesses of your high school?
  • If you had to go back and do your high school experience all over again, what would you change and why?
  • Do you have a favorite teacher?  If so, why is he/she your favorite?  What makes the teacher good?
  • Have you encountered a particular academic challenge during your years in high school?  If so, what was it and how did you handle it?
  • Is there something that you will always remember from your high school experience?
  • If you could create your own course in high school, what would it be and why is it of interest to you?
  • Tell me about a particularly “hot” issue that has arisen in your high school and your thoughts on it.
  • If your teachers were to describe you to me, what words would they use?
  • Can you discuss a project or paper that you were particularly proud of during your high school career?
  • What are you doing to challenge yourself either in school or out of school?
  • Name a book you’ve read recently outside of school.  Did you like it/dislike it?
Extracurriculars and Interests:
  • What are your most notable interests and hobbies, and how are you pursuing them?
  • What activities are you involved in at school?  Which are the most important to you?
  • What have you personally gotten out of your involvement in your activities?
  • Do you have what you would consider to be any particularly unique interests?
  • Are there any accomplishments that you are particularly proud of with respect to your activities?
  • How have you spent your summers while in high school?
Personal Life:
  • How would you describe your hometown?
  • Tell me about your family.
  • What words would your friends use to describe you?
  • What is your most embarrassing moment?
  • Tell me what 3 books I’d have to read to get a better sense of who you are.
  • Talk about an ethical dilemma that you’ve faced and how you’ve handled it.
  • If you had one year and unlimited funds, what would you do?
  • How do you want people to remember you?
  • If you had a weekend with absolutely nothing scheduled, how would you spend your time?
  • What’s your opinion on (a current event)?
  • What would you change about yourself?
  • Do you have a “bucket list”?  What are some things on it?
  • Do you have a hero/heroine?  If so, who and why do you hold him/her in such high esteem?
College/Future Plans:
  • How would you contribute to life on a college campus?
  • What are you looking forward to most about college?
  • Do you have an idea about what you would like to major in?
  • What would you like to do after college?
School Interest:
  • If you were standing in front of the admissions committee, what would you tell them to convince them to admit you?  What makes you unique?
  • Describe the kind of college environment you are looking for.
  • Why are you interested in my school?
  • Why do you think that my school is a good fit for you?
  • What have I not told you that you want to know about the school?  (a.k.a. What questions do you have for me?)

While you can’t anticipate every question that an interviewer might ask, the questions above give you a good sampling of areas that your interviewer might explore.  Spending some time pondering these topics can go a long way to preparing yourself before you have your interview.

Andrea Aronson

College Admissions Advisor, Westfield NJ

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