The College Admissions Interview

By Erin Callahan Wheeler

The interview outfit. I remember it well. Blue flowered jumper, pink shirt and pink sweater. Simple brown flats and a simple brown bag. That was my uniform. But that doesn’t mean I left the house looking that put together! I would crawl into my parents’ mini-van in a hoodie and mesh shorts, curl up in the backseat and sleep. Then, at a rest stop, I would crawl out of the car as a sleepy kid and climb back in as a prepared student.

Why bother with this crazy wardrobe change?  Because I was heading into an on campus interview.  This would be my chance to meet with an admissions counselor, learn more about the admissions process, my program of interest and most importantly make a first impression.  It’s important that students are prepared, well presented and organized for their interviews.  Is it all about appearance?  Of course not.  But a positive appearance shows the extra effort to make a good impression during this event.

As a longtime admissions professional who has conducted interviews for 15+ years, I have seen it all, so here’s my top 10 list of tips for the college admissions interview:

  1. Be Professional. Take the initiative and set up the appointment yourself.  Call or e-mail to set up the time.  It is possible that student interviews are not available with admissions, as some schools use alumni interviewers instead, and many simply don’t offer interviewing as an option.  But if they do, the meeting should be taken seriously because it does become part of your applicant file.
  2. Be On Time (and call if you’re running late!). Many admissions counselors do interviews back to back, so a 15 minute change may impact their schedule for the rest of the day.
  3. Introduce Yourself and Your Family. Rather than wait for the awkward shuffle of the admissions counselor trying to figure out who’s who in your life, make the introductions.  From there, the counselor will explain who will be part of the interview and where the rest of the family can wait (if applicable).
  4. Be Prepared. This seems obvious, but I have met with many students over the years who know nothing about the school!  Spend some time on their site, learn the basics, have an idea of what program you’re interested in studying. Write down those things to have in front of you on a notepad during the interview.
  5. Ask Questions. I love when a student comes in to meet with me with a list of prepared questions. It shows that the student has put serious time and effort into preparing for this interview.  It also ensures that we are covering all the details that the student needs to know.  Students who work with The College Advisor of New York also have a customized list of questions to ask in order to help them prepare for these moments.
  6. Make The Case For The Match. It is critical to be able to articulate why you believe the school is a good fit for you.  What specifically about their academic program is appealing to you?  What have you learned from your online research, and why, among the 2,500 four-year colleges in the U.S., did you decide to visit this one?
  7. Watch The Time. Yes, the counselor wants to spend time with you and learn about you, but she probably doesn’t need to know about your 2nd grade dance recital and your pet crayfish who crawled down the stairs.
  8. Consider A Resume. Many high school students have the opportunity to work with their guidance office, via the Naviance software, to put together a resume.  This is a great idea!  Admissions counselors aren’t necessarily looking for work experience as though you are in a job interview, but it’s a simple way to summarize your sports, activities, volunteer work and interests on one piece of paper.
  9.  Smile.  This seems simple enough, but many students don’t show any emotion during their interview.  You may be nervous but try to use that energy in a positive way.  From an interviewer’s perspective, there’s nothing worse than meeting with a student who appears to be miserable during the conversation!
  10. Follow Up. Be sure to grab a business card from the interviewer. While it may be tempting to send a quick follow up e-mail or text, I would strongly suggest dropping a thank you note in the mail. That assures the interviewer that you appreciate their time, makes them think of you again and lets them know that you made the extra effort in this digital age to drop a note in the mail.

When working with our students at The College Advisor of New York, we encourage students to be independent, organized and in charge of their college search process.  The skills our students learn during the college search process build a foundation for future part-time job interviews, internship searches and career preparation after college graduation.

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