There is a misconception floating out there in the universe that concerns the importance of the alumni interview. For those not familiar with the alumni interview, it’s when college applicants have the chance to meet — either in person or via phone / Skype — with a graduate of the institution to which they’re submitting an application. Many of these interviews take place in coffee shops. Starbucks certainly has played host to its fair share of college interviews over the years. But no matter where a college applicant’s alumni interview takes place, they should go into these meeting understanding the role the alumni interview plays in highly selective college admissions. So let’s dispel any misconceptions and get to the bottom of just how important college interviews with alumni are in the admissions process.
The Importance of the Alumni Interview
The college interview at most highly selective colleges is but one component of the admissions process — and it’s one of the least important components. Now does that mean that if an applicant expresses a racist or homophobic thought during an alumni interview that it won’t hurt that applicant’s case for admission? No, that will in all likelihood torpedo the applicant’s chances of admission. Making egregious comments, not showing intellectual curiosity, answering questions with one-word answers, presenting as unkind or unfriendly — these are but some of the many mistakes students can make during alumni interviews that can really hurt their cases for admission.
In our experience over the last quarter of a century, applicants are more likely to make such mistakes when they interview with young alumni. And why? Because the students believe the young alumni to be their peers. Hint: they are most certainly not peers — they’re interviewing you! And they’ve graduated college. If you’re interviewing for college, you haven’t. In fact, let’s emphasize that one more time because so many students fall through this trap door. Young alumni, even alumni who are a year out of college, are not your peers. Do not say things to them that you wouldn’t say to an alum who graduated 30 years ago because every alum fills out the same report for their alma mater.
So, yes, you should absolutely prep for your alumni interview. You should absolutely care about presenting the best possible version of yourself. But please understand that the importance of the alumni interview pales in comparison to those super important admissions essays, those test scores, those grades, and more.
Alumni Often Inflate Their Role In Admissions Process
It’s not uncommon for us to hear from students and their parents that alumni claimed in an interview that they’ll make personal calls to admissions officers. Or maybe they say something along the lines of, “When I make a recommendation, admissions officers listen. I’m going to recommend you be offered admission.” Rarely do alumni have such clout. An exception, of course, would be Melinda Gates at Duke University. But don’t confuse the exceptions with the rule. In almost every one of these instances, the alumni are over-inflating their role in the admissions process. So while it’s nice to think that these alumni will go to bat for you, it’s important to have realistic expectations and take such words with six grains of salt. Or maybe eight grains.