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Acing the College Admissions Interview

Original post made by Doing College, another community, on Oct 3, 2011

Hi Dr. LaScala,

What are your pointers on how to do well in the college admissions interview?

Thanks,
~Senior Getting Ready for College Interviews

Dear Getting Ready,

Many students experience so much anxiety about the college interview that they forget an important aspect of the process that can help them feel more at ease. The interview is reciprocal. Yes, you are being evaluated, but you are evaluating the college too. There are a few strategies and tips that have worked well for students over the years. Practice them with a parent or other trusted adult and you will be prepared to leave a great impression as well as learn more about the college.
Be prepared for any first question the interviewer may ask. You may be expecting a warm up and instead the interviewer may throw a curve ball like "So what questions do you have for me today?" Be prepared with 3 – 5 good questions that you have written down. It is fine to bring out your list, if your memory is not perfect. Just make certain your questions are thoughtful ones that cannot be answered easily by looking at the college's website.
o Poor question: "What is the average class size?" ( you can find this information in many objective college guides and on the school's website)
o Great question: "I read on-line that your average class size is 20—how does this number compare to the average class size for freshmen classes in core subjects?" Or," How does smaller class size play out in faculty-student interactions?"
A seasoned interviewer may shoot back a reflective question as a response to your question. For example, he or she may ask you "Why is that important to you?" Be ready to explain why smaller class sizes are important to the way you learn best. The message here is for you to avoid asking questions that do not reflect your true concerns. Ask things that are relevant to you and your educational goals and interests.
Be prepared to brag about yourself. You do not need to be arrogant to be proud of your accomplishments. The interview is your chance to shine. Be ready to tell about your achievements, both inside and outside the high school environment. Bring your resume and know its contents; bring your transcript and know precisely what courses you took, when and what your grades were in the classes. Be prepared to explain a poor grade in a subject, if asked. Don't blame the 'horrible' teacher. For example, instead mention how you learned to master material even if you had a substitute teacher for half the term who wasn't a great instructor. In college, you will need to be able to learn effectively, regardless of the teaching style.
Be an interesting interviewee. Read a great book, check current events for a week or two before your interview and see a worthwhile film. Realize that these adults want to hear from you and that is not something most teens are accustomed to in everyday life.
Know precisely why the college is one you would want to attend, so be sure to prepare a good response to the "Why Our College?" Here's an example:
Common Interviewer Question: "What unique attributes about University X draws you to our school?"
Strong Response: My goal is to enter college as a pre-medical student and major in cognitive science. However I am also a classical pianist who loves music dearly. I plan to continue my musical education in college. The University X's School of Music is one of the only conservatories that offers specific dual-degree programs in music and liberal arts. This feature is the most important of the unique qualities of University X. When researching colleges for pre-medicine, I feel like I have to give up music. The fact that University X offers a structured program to do precisely what I want to do makes it the perfect match for me.

Students who are energetic, enthusiastic and quizzical leave great impressions. Interviewing well involves learning a new skillset. Treat your college interview as an opportunity to learn how to take ownership of a conversation, talk to adults, and interact appropriately in more formal exchanges. Remember the interviewer is interested in you. He or she is taking you seriously and so you should prepare seriously for these opportunities.

Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admissions. She develops best match college lists, offers personalized interview and essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth helps students from all backgrounds to maximize merit and financial aid awards. Visit www.doingcollege.com; Call (925) 891-4491 or email at elizabeth@doingcollege.com

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