Surprising Advice for a Successful College Interview
For starters, relax. Interviewers have less power than you think.
Most high school seniors have completed their college applications by now, and many have heard back with a thumbs up, thumbs down — or a deferment to the regular admissions pool if they had applied for early action or early decision status.
But the most competitive colleges in America include a face-to-face interview in the admissions process. Not all of them are conducted on campus; some are done in coffee shops or other local meeting places across the country. Either way, right now many high school seniors are interviewing with admissions officials or with dedicated alumni who help separate the wheat from the chaff.
“It’s pressure time,” noted one Westchester County, New York, parent. “The kids need to ‘present well,’ speak well, have their resumes or activity lists on hand, know a good deal about the colleges they’re applying to, be able to articulate why they want to attend those schools, and be comfortable speaking about themselves with adults in unfamiliar social settings.”
Not to mention not spill coffee on themselves while they’re sitting there talking about the next four years of their lives.
Maybe these conversations should be run-of-the-mill for 18-year-olds on the brink of finishing high school and heading on to college or university. Maybe it’s silly to even call this “pressure,” after all. But for plenty of kids, the college interview means intimidation.
Most college advisers and guidance counselors suggest students be well rested, ready and prepared — but also be themselves. But what does this mean, exactly?
Daniel Riseman, founder of Riseman Educational Consulting in Irvington, New York, has been counseling students and working with families for 15 years on every aspect of the college admissions process, including tutoring students for SAT and ACT tests, selecting schools and majors, and writing essays. He offers the following insights for students immersed in the interviewing process.
1: Do not come in with a script.
“No one is interested in hearing a well-prepared monologue,” said Riseman. “While careful preparation is essential, do not force statistics or facts into the conversation at every opportunity. Interviewers remember organic discussions. Serving as your own PR agent can backfire.”
2: Be an active listener.
“Interviewers tend to enjoy talking about their time in college, so let them. Ask about their favorite professor or memory from college. Active listeners make interviewers feel good about themselves, which usually results in a positive review. By focusing more on what the interviewer says, you will calm your nerves. Connect and enjoy the experience.”
3: Be present.
“Some of my students take improv classes months prior to their college interviews,” said Riseman. “This is not intended to make them funnier. Rather, such training allows them to learn to be in the moment more effectively. Interviewers can sense preoccupation. Instead, embrace the moment.”
4: Keep expectations realistic.
“Interviewers have minimal power. Even the perfect interview does not guarantee an acceptance letter. Conversely, a bad interview does not mean an automatic rejection. Most colleges actually put little weight on the interview. A student’s GPA and test scores are much more important.”
5: Allow the interviewer to picture you at the university.
“Use details from campus visits or your knowledge of the school to place yourself at the university during the conversation. Include courses you plan on taking and activities you would love to take part in. Try to connect such imagery to the interviewer’s flashbacks of his or her time at the college.”
6: Do not be afraid of silence.
“You do not have to fill in pauses with prattle. Comfortable silence can build intimacy.”
7: Be yourself.
“You’re the one the interviewer wants to learn about. Do not try to be a character from your favorite film or TV show. Allow yourself to be ‘you.’ This will calm your nerves.”