By Anthony F. Capraro, COO, College Outreach USA.
he interview is a contrived situation that few people enjoy, of which many people misunderstand the value, and about which everyone is apprehensive. However, no information from a college website, no friend’s friend, no high school guidance counselor’s comments, and no parental remembrances from bygone days can surpass the value of your college campus visit and interview. This first hand opportunity to assess your future alma mater will confirm or contradict other impressions and help you make a sound college decision.
Many colleges will recommend or request a personal interview. It is best to travel to the campus to meet with a member of the admissions staff if you can; however, if you can’t, many colleges will arrange to have one of their representatives, usually an alumnus, interview you in your hometown.
Even though the thought of an interview might give you enough butterflies to lift you to the top of your high school’s flagpole, here are some tips that might make it a little easier:
Go prepared. Read the college’s website or catalog so you won’t ask, “How many computers are in your computer labs?” or “How many students do you have?” Ask intelligent questions that introduce a topic of conversation that you want the interviewer to know about you. The key is to distinguish yourself in a positive way from thousands of other applicants. Forge the final steps in the personal process you have been building since your first choices in the college admission process back in middle school. The interview is your chance to enhance those decisions.
Nervousness is absolutely and entirely normal. The best way to handle it is to admit it, aloud, to the interviewer. Richard Shaw, Dean of Admission at Stanford University, sometimes relates this true story to his apprehensive applicants. One extremely agitated young applicant sat opposite him for her interview with her legs crossed, a clog dangling from one toe. As she swung her top leg nervously, the shoe went flying off her foot, hit him in the head, ricocheted to the desk lamp and broke it. She looked at him in terror, but when their glances met, they both dissolved in laughter. The moral of the story – the person on the other side of the desk is also a human being and wants to put you at ease. So admit to your anxiety, and don’t swing your foot unless your shoes are tied on! (And by the way, she was admitted!)
Be yourself. Nobody’s perfect and everyone knows nobody’s perfect, so admit to a flaw or two before the interviewer goes hunting for them. The truly impressive candidate will convey a thorough knowledge of self.
Interview the interviewer. Don’t passively sit there and allow the interviewer to ask all the questions and direct the conversation. Participate in this responsibility by assuming an active role. A thoughtful questioner will accomplish three important tasks in a successful interview:
demonstrate interest, initiative, and maturity by taking partial responsibility for the content of the conversation;
guide the conversation to areas where he/she feels most secure and accomplished; and
obtain answers. Use your genuine feelings to react to the answers you hear. If you are delighted to learn of a certain program or activity, show it. If you are curious, ask more questions. If you are disappointed by something you learn, try to find a path to a positive answer. Then consider yourself lucky that you discovered this particular inadequacy in time.
Parents do belong in your college decision process as your advisers! They can provide psychological support and a stabilizing influence for sensible, rational decisions. However, they do NOT belong in your interview session. In essence, the sage senior will find constructive ways to include parents in the decision-making process as catalysts, without letting them take over (as many are apt to do) the interview process. You may want your parents to meet and speak briefly to your interviewer before your interview and that is fine, but parents may not accompany you into the interview session. Arrange with your parents to meet somewhere out of the interview building after your interview is over. You do not want the interviewer inviting your parents back to the interview room. As intelligent as parents may be, they do not perceive the answers to questions in the same way you do. The worst scenario I can imagine is the interviewer asking your parents some of the same questions that were asked of you, and that is highly likely. Parents just answer questions differently than teenagers. At best, the scenario creates a long, long ride home, and when you get home, you can’t punish your parents by grounding them for a week. At worst, the scenario has caused a blight in your admissions file. This is your time! Keep it that way!
Practice makes perfect. Begin your interviews at colleges that are low on your list of preferred choices, and leave your first choice colleges until last. If you are shy, you will have a chance to practice vocalizing what your usually silent inner voice tells you. Others will have the opportunity to commit their inevitable first blunders where they won’t count as much.
Departing impressions. There is a remarkable tendency for the student to base final college preferences on the quality of the interview only, or on the personal reaction to the interviewer as the personification of the entire institution. Do not do yourself the disservice of letting it influence an otherwise rational selection, one based on institutional programs, students, services, and environment. After the last good-bye and thank you has been smiled, and you exhale deeply on your way out the door, go ahead and congratulate yourself. If you used the interview properly, you will know whether or not you wish to attend that college and why.
Send a thank-you note to your interviewer. A short and simple note or email will do – and if you forgot to mention something important about yourself at the interview, here’s your chance. But do NOT write a long letter! This is a NOTE!