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The Ivy Coach Daily

February 23, 2024

Everything You Need to Know About Alumni Interviews

Tom Cruise's character wears sunglasses during his Princeton interview in "Risky Business."

Did you recently receive a call or email from an alum of a school to which you applied asking if you’d like to meet for an interview? If so, if you’re like most students (and their parents) navigating the churning waters of the elite college admissions process, you likely jumped up and down and let out a little yelp.

And while we hate to be the bearer of bad news, we at Ivy Coach pride ourselves on telling it like it is on the pages of this college admissions blog. As such, before we even dive into the who, what, where, when, and why of college alumni interviews, we must note that securing an alumni interview or not securing an interview is neither a good nor a bad sign about your candidacy. It literally means nothing at all!

So now that we’ve burst that bubble, allow us to offer an education on college alumni interviews!

5 Things You Should Know About Alumni Interviews

1. Who Gives Alumni Interviews?

Many years ago, most highly selective universities offered interviews with admissions officers. For fans of the film Risky Business, remember the Princeton interviewer who came to Tom Cruise’s character’s house for a meet and greet? Well, even back then, admissions officers didn’t pay house calls. But nowadays, most highly selective universities don’t offer interviews with admissions officers. Instead, they offer meetings with a member of the school’s alumni base.

Typically, the alum assigned to interview an applicant lives near the applicant. The alum could be a recent alum from a class that graduated within the past few years or a less recent one from a class over half a century ago. As such, the perspective that they bring to the alumni interview can vary greatly.

It’s also important to note that alumni interviewers are rarely trained. Typically, the local alumni group sends interviewers a list of suggested questions along with some guidance, including some proposed questions to ask and how to make the interview feel less like an interview and more like an opportunity for applicants to learn more about the school. But, because alumni interviewers don’t receive formal training, they often approach interviews inappropriately, including asking questions they shouldn’t ask, hosting interviews in their homes, and generally approaching the meeting as an interrogation rather than a two-way conversation.

2. What is the Significance of Alumni Interviews?

If the highly selective college admissions process were a big puzzle, the rigor of a student’s coursework and their grades are pieces of the puzzle that encompass at least an entire quadrant. Testing, admissions essays, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, the quality of the student’s high school, and flags and tags (e.g., athletic recruit, legacy, development case, underrepresented minority, first-generation college student, etc.), among a few other critical pieces, encompass much of the rest of the board. But the alumni interview? It’s a tiny piece that borders on irrelevant in the grand scheme of the puzzle.

While many believe the alumni interview is an essential component of the process so that a school can observe a student’s intellectual curiosity, passions, and personality firsthand, it’s really not the case. In fact, we at Ivy Coach assert that the alumni interview remains part of the process today more to make alumni — people who give back to their alma maters — feel like they’re involved in the decision-making of the school than it is to gauge applicants on their fit for the institution. In short, it’s a chance for schools to appease their loyal donors.

3. Where do Alumni Interviews Take Place?

Before the pandemic, many alumni interviews took place in coffee shops (if the walls of your local Starbucks could talk, they’d tell you about some burnt coffee and many an alumni interview!). The move to coffee shops came in the late aughts when admissions offices discouraged alumni interviewers from interviewing students in their intimidating offices or in their homes (that could be scary for some applicants!).

However, the pandemic led to the demise of most in-person interviews. At present, most alumni interviews are conducted via Zoom (or Skype, depending on the age of the alumni interviewer!).

4. When do Alumni Interviews Transpire?

Alumni interviews occur during two phases: during the early weeks of November, after students submit their Early Action/Decision applications and during the first two months of the new year, after students submit their Regular Decision applications. For students who apply Early Decision II in early January, the window for alumni interviews is just abbreviated to the first month of the New Year.

5. Why Do Elite Colleges Offer Alumni Interviews?

America’s elite colleges offer applicants the chance to interview with their alumni for two reasons: (1) so their alumni can sway applicants to love their school above all others and (2) so their alumni feel like they’re a part of the process of shaping the future of the institution (even though, in reality, the alumni interview carries little weight in the admissions process.

Ivy Coach’s Alumni Interview Prep

While the alumni interview is one of the least important components of the highly selective college admissions process, every component matters. If a student says something alarming during an interview, it can cost them admission. Yet, on the other hand, a great interview is rarely a difference-maker — and certainly not to the extent many students and parents so often think. 

That said, if you’re interested in optimizing your performance during your alumni interview, fill out Ivy Coach‘s complimentary consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to outline our services.

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