February 2011 Newsletter
At highly selective colleges, admissions officers don’t have the time or resources to meet with all of their applicants but they do have a loyal, large group of alumni who they are happy to involve in the admissions process. After all, it’s the loyal alumni who contribute to a university’s endowment.
Once a student submits an application, an alumnus/a will contact the applicant to set up an interview. While some colleges put more weight on alumni interview evaluations than others, a negative evaluation from an alumni interviewer can put a borderline application in the deny pile and a strong evaluation can put a similar application in the admit pile.
After the interview, alumni interviewers write up evaluations in which they are often asked about a student’s intellectual curiosity, character impressions, motivation in activities, and overall fit for the university. Students should be aware that interviewers are often looking for narratives to share with the college. This is a way for the interviewer to offer their alma mater a perspective on the student that grades, test scores, essays, activities, and letters of recommendation don’t necessarily demonstrate.
We’ve prepared for you a light-hearted video depicting a college alumni interview that doesn’t go particularly well. While a student may laugh at certain points and think they would never make such mistakes, these mistakes are all too common on alumni interviews. Click on the picture below.
You should avoid these pitfalls:
- Don’t show up late. Always arrive a couple of minutes early. Scout out the location beforehand so you don’t get lost driving to the interview.
- Don’t shake the interviewer’s hand meekly. First impressions, in college interviews and in life, are so often shaped by a handshake. Shake firmly and make eye contact.
- Don’t ask to reschedule. The alumni interview should take priority over the MTV Video Music Awards. Make this appointment a priority and nothing says it more to interviewers than letting them fit you in their schedule whenever they’re available.
- Don’t wear flip-flops. Dress appropriately. The Northwestern Wildcats Women’s Lacrosse team got negative press for wearing flip-flops to the White House to honor their National Championship team. Avoid casual attire and err on the side of conservative dress.
- Don’t answer questions with vague statements. If an interviewer asks your favorite activity, don’t just answer with a one-word statement. Tell the interviewer what you love about basketball, for example, and how important this activity is to you.
- Don’t go into the interview cold. Small class sizes, a beautiful campus, and great professors are not answers as to why you want to go to a particular college. This response is true with many schools. Instead, describe what makes this university unique. Do your research.
- Don’t assume the interviewer shares your beliefs. For instance, if you discuss politics, recognize that not everyone may agree with you on a particular hot button issue.
- Don’t lie. Interviewers are savvy enough to see through lies and exaggerations. Be yourself! That’s most important of all.
- Don’t be boastful, but have confidence in your achievements. Don’t tell the interviewer that you’re a National Merit Finalist. Admissions counselors will know this since it’s on your application. Instead, tell a story of an academic experience that you loved.
- Don’t hide your love of learning. If an interviewer asks about a book that you’ve read for pleasure, make sure it’s not a book that would be considered required reading, and say something about it. In this way, you can help carry the interview so the interviewer doesn’t have to constantly ask questions.
- Don’t be nervous. It’s normal to be nervous. The interviewer expects a certain degree of this. But once you start talking, speak with confidence. Touching your face, playing with your hair, rubbing your hands, and using filler words (i.e., “like”, “umm” and “you know”) should all be avoided.
- Don’t say what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Be yourself. If your ideal Friday night is how you love to spend time with your friends, then say that.
- Don’t say that you spend much of your free time studying. Interviewers want to know that you can handle the college workload. They know that you study and that you have homework. Show them what else you can fit in your day.
- Don’t say anything negative about the college. For example, if you’re interviewing for Duke, don’t ask about the infamous senior thesis. Alumni don’t want to be reminded of instances that reflected poorly on their alma mater.
- Don’t tell the interviewer has he/she has answered all your questions. The typical interview ends with the applicant being asked, “Do you have any questions for me?” Prepare questions in advance that demonstrate your keen interest in the school.
- Don’t forget to smile. It’s important to be likeable.
- Don’t forget to get the interviewer’s email to send a thank you. Send a thank you email that same day so that you can get it in before the interviewer completes the evaluation.
Avoid these pitfalls and chances are good that you’ll leave a positive impression. You never know if this interview could make the difference in your chances for admission.