This is the second installment on the topic of nailing the college admissions interview. Click here to read the first in this series on the college admissions interviews.
TYPES OF INTERVIEWS
Most colleges will be clear about what sort of interviews they offer. We generally find three different kinds of interviews.
- Evaluative: Usually offered by admissions officers or highly trained current students, these are generally the most formal interviews.
- Informational or Non-Evaluative: These are offered as ways for prospective students to get to know a college better, and at the same time to give the student the opportunity to share information that may not be easily conveyed in the application.
- Alumni: Selective colleges may offer alumni interviews to applicants after they have submitted their applications.
Your interview experience will depend, in large part, upon the type of interview, as well as the person doing the interview. If a university offers an interview, the interviewer will either be a professional member of the admissions staff, an alumnus or alumna of the university, or a current student specially trained by the admissions office.
Admissions Officers: These interviews are relatively formal, and obviously the admissions officer has a high degree of influence over the decision whether to admit you. So whether this is an evaluative or information interview, you definitely want to be on your toes. However, bear in mind that admissions officers meet with hundreds, if not thousands, of students every year, so they are probably less sensitive to your appearance and language than a professor or other adult might be. On the other hand, the admissions officer has access to every bit of your current admissions file prior to the interview. If you already have submitted the application, she might already have read your essay and consulted your teacher recommendations. If you have not submitted the application, she will at least know that you met her colleague at a college fair or filled out a form on the college’s website requesting more information. Finally, an admissions officer will have a pretty good knowledge about the college, including information about various majors, academic programs, the composition of the student body, and the housing options available.
Alumni: An alumnus or alumna of a college will likely keep the interview relatively informal, but sometimes these interviews can feel a bit more formal to the student, depending on where the interview takes place. And different alumni may have somewhat different ideas about how to structure the interview. But generally they are pretty relaxed conversations. However, alumni can sometimes be the most sensitive to a student’s appearance and language. This is especially true of older alumni, who may not have very much contact with young people on a regular basis. An alumnus or alumna has very little influence over the ultimate admissions decision. Their only job is to complete a form describing their impressions of the candidate and to send it to the admissions office–where it carries relatively little weight in comparison to your transcript, test scores, and teacher recommendations. Moreover, the alumnus or alumna interviewing you has absolutely no prior access to information about you. Usually all they know is your contact information and the school you attend. Thus you have an opportunity to explain your involvements and to highlight your academic strengths in the interview–and you won’t likely have to say too much about your grades or test scores. On a final note, alumni may not be the best sources of information about the college, especially if they graduated ten or more years previously. And what knowledge they do have is limited to their own, unique experience on that campus.
Current Students: Many admissions offices hire and train a group of “ambassadors” to interview prospective students. Often this is because the volume of prospective applicants who want interviews is greater than the capacity of the staff to offer them. Students can often be excellent interviewers, and they have been schooled in asking appropriate questions and helping applicants feel relaxed. These ambassadors do not have a direct influence on the admissions decisions, but if they really like (or dislike) an applicants, their opinions can sometimes make a difference. Ambassadors generally do write up a report of the interview, often following a prescribed template. One good thing to know, however, is that student interviewers are not likely to be too sensitive about your appearance or your language (unless you are a complete slob and speak in gibberish), and the tone of the interview is likely to be very relaxed. The student interviewer might know a few things about you prior to the interview, if you have already submitted an application, but they generally do not have access to your entire admissions file. One good thing about a student interview is that you can likely get the low-down on the campus vibe and social scene at the college, because these ambassadors are current students. However, do keep in mind that the one student you meet in the interview does not represent every individual on the campus. Try not to generalize your impressions of this one person–positively or negatively–and ascribe those impressions to the entire student body.
Stay tuned for the next installment on nailing the college admissions interview, in which we look at your objectives for the interview, and how you can best prepare.