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Countdown to college: College interview primer

Lee Shulman Bierer, Tribune News Service on

Published in Education News

Applications are submitted and for some, it’s now time for interviews.

The first thing we need to do is to shake up your image of the stereotypical elderly, tweed-jacketed, pipe-smoking, bespectacled, cranky admissions person. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that many of the staff in college admissions offices today are young, multicultural and far from cranky.

For a student who loved their college experience, working in admissions is often a way to stay on at their alma mater and share their enthusiasm with high school students. Admissions entry level jobs involve lots of not-so-glamorous travel, visiting multiple high schools each day and then returning to campus to hole up and read hundreds of applications.

Seniors may have the opportunity to interview with these admissions representatives while they are traveling, or as is more frequently the case, students will interview with alumni representatives in their hometown. Additionally, many students who have applied for scholarships will find that an interview is part of the scholarship selection process.

What can you expect from an interview?

Colleges want you to like them, even if they don’t accept you. This means that the interview is not a test. The interviewer is not there to grill you or intimidate you. In fact, many interviewers will err on the side of being too gentle and not probing sufficiently to thoroughly understand the applicants.

A student’s job is to:

Control the conversation. The more the student can make the interview into a conversation vs. an interrogation with a question-and-answer session, the more success they are likely to have. The best way to do that is for a student to make themselves accessible; be genuine, honest and share their personality.

Prepare but don’t be rehearsed. You can anticipate a variety of prompts, including:


— “Tell us about yourself.”

— “What do you think has been your biggest accomplishment, achievement or contribution to your high school or your community?”

— “Why do you want to attend our school?”

— “What questions do you have for me?”

Think about these questions, practice responding to them and get some critique from someone you trust.

Be respectful. Seems a little silly to even mention this, but students unknowingly eliminate themselves from contention for a variety of reasons including: not turning off their cellphones, arriving late, dressing inappropriately, behaving rudely to the administrative staff, making a lousy first impression by slouching, chewing gum, acting disinterested, etc.

Follow up. It’s absolutely the right thing to do to send a handwritten thank-you note to the interviewer. Be sure to reference something discussed in the interview and make it substantive. If you are still interested in attending, communicate your enthusiasm in the note.

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