By Audrey Kahane, College Admissions Counselor, West Hills, California
If you feel anxious about a college interview, be glad you’re not an aspiring Oxford University student. While students applying to American colleges can usually anticipate questions like why they want to attend that college or who they admire, students applying to Oxford could be asked why a cat’s eyes appear to glow in the dark or what is “normal” for humans. Prospective Oxford students also need to demonstrate that they have academic knowledge and potential in the subject they want to study. If you plan to study biology, you could be handed a cactus and asked to tell the interviewer about it. College interviews at American schools are nothing compared to what students applying to Oxford University have to endure.
In fact, students who interview with admissions officers or alumni from American colleges are often surprised to find that the interviewer made the process much less intimidating than what they anticipated. One of my students returned from a college interview saying that it was actually a fun experience. Of course, being prepared helped. When the interviewer asked what she enjoys reading outside of school, she was able to talk about the book she had just read on the plane while traveling to the college. She was ready to talk about why that college was the perfect school for her and had several good questions ready to ask the interviewer. Because she was prepared and confident, even when the interviewer asked a question she hadn’t thought about, this student was calm enough to think clearly and come up with an intelligent and interesting answer.
I’m always pleased when a student enjoys a college interview and feels it went well. But even if you have bonded with an interviewer, you cannot assume that means you’ll be admitted to the college. It is unfortunate that interviewers sometimes lead students to believe they will be accepted when that may not be the case. Remember that part of the interviewer’s job is to get you excited about the school. A well-intentioned alumni interviewer may tell a student that the school would be lucky to have her, and it’s natural to believe that means good news is coming. Whether the interviewer is just saying that to reassure an anxious student or genuinely thinks she should be admitted, the student can be in for a major disappointment.
It is expensive to have admissions officers interview all or most applicants, so few colleges actually require interviews. But more schools are encouraging interviews as a way to help distinguish among all the students who have similarly impressive grades, test scores and extracurricular activities. Stanford has begun offering alumni interviews in selected cities. While some private schools have always offered interviews, a few public schools are also starting to use them, including College of William and Mary, which has trained college seniors to interview prospective students.
While a face to face interview on campus is ideal, it’s not always possible to travel to every college during the application process. Expecting students to interview on campus would be especially burdensome to lower-income students, which is why many schools have alumni around the country conduct interviews with local applicants. University of Denver sends teams of admissions officers and faculty to cities around the country to interview prospective students. Some schools offer phone interviews or other alternatives. In addition to on-campus interviews, Wake Forest University offer applicants the option to have a Skype interview as well as Web-based written interviews, where a student has 30 minutes to answer questions on a variety of topics.
If a student is painfully shy, I don’t see much to be gained by forcing her to interview, but if a student has reasonably good social skills, an interview is likely to be a plus at schools that conduct evaluative interviews. Even at schools that offer informational, rather than evaluative interviews, just making the effort to interview shows you are interested in the school. If an admissions officer has interviewed you, she is likely to feel more of a connection with you than with a student she has never met.
The interviewer may write a glowing report, but interviews are rarely a major factor in admission decisions. Smaller colleges, which can interview more of their applicants, are likely to give interviews more weight than large public universities. But even if an interview won’t be a major factor in your admission prospects, it’s good practice. You will be interviewing for internships, jobs, and possibly graduate school programs, so developing strong interview skills is important.
Before you go to an interview, research the school so that you can say why you and this college are a perfect match. Also have several questions ready as interviewers always ask if you have questions. Engage the interviewer in conversation, and the meeting will be a more pleasant experience for both of you. If it’s an alumni interview, remember that alumni interviewers love their school, so asking about her experiences at the college can help get the conversation going. And if you feel anxious, remind yourself that at least you don’t have to worry about being handed a cactus.
About the Author: Audrey Kahane, M.S., is a college admissions counselor based in Southern California. She writes a popular college planning column for several newspapers across the U.S.
© Audrey Kahane. Used by the Higher Education Consultants Association with the permission of the author. May not be copied or distributed without the permission of the author.