College Interview Strategies From Bulldog Tutors’ Admissions Consultant
Boston Magazine’s September issue features a cover story entitled “20 Ways to Get Your Kid Into College Legally.” Even though the admissions interview “season” for schools begins in October for early action and early admission applicants and continues into early 2020, nailing the college interview didn’t make the Boston Magazine list.
That’s not surprising. Not all schools conduct interviews, especially large schools with fairly high acceptance rates, and even colleges and universities with an interview process don’t always rank student performance among the most important factors determining successful admissions.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Admission Trends Survey for 2017–18 shows that among schools surveyed, 1.8 percent gave the interview considerable importance, 14.3 percent rated it as having moderate importance, 41.4 gave it limited importance, and 39.1 percent ascribed no importance to the interview.
Where the College Interview Remains Important: Selective Schools
There are good reasons students with high aspirations need to focus on interviewing well. Interviews are required or recommended by many selective schools, almost all interviews are evaluative (rather than simply informative), and admissions decisions are influenced to some degree by interview performance.
Among the schools that still either require or recommend a college interview are Brown and Columbia universities, the University of Pennsylvania, as well as Georgetown University and many others.
Harvard offers interviews but they are not required, and not everyone who wants an interview can be
accommodated. “The absence of an interview will not adversely affect your candidacy,” Harvard says, but interviewing well can only make you stand out, especially in contrast to other students who didn’t interview.
Jessica Magro, Director of College Consulting for Bulldog Tutors and a Yale University graduate who was accepted by all five Ivy League schools to which she applied, is familiar with examples of promising students going astray during the interview and then not being accepted by a college or university.
“There really can be a disconnect between their impressiveness on paper and their ability to convey that in person,” says Jessica, whose tailored interview prep sessions—offered individually or as part of a large college admissions consulting package—can properly ground and prepare students in as little as two hours.
Why Schools Conduct College Interviews
Jessica’s quote points to exactly why many of the nation’s top and most selective schools still require or highly recommend college interviews. While the goal of the interview is for the school to get a three-dimensional view of students not conveyed effectively through grades, test scores and essays, the bottom line is students are being evaluated to see if they’re a good fit for the school and likely to be a respected member of the school community.
“There are enough people with perfect SAT scores, etc.,” Jessica explains. “Schools want to make sure they also get people who can engage in the seminar, go to clubs, and be an active participant in the community.”
That means the interviewer passes along notes on an applicant’s personality, perceived strengths and weaknesses, goals, and the student’s compatibility factor with regard to the school’s size, personality, and other metrics.
The bottom line? If your interview is spectacular it will help, if it’s horrible it will hurt, so beware taking the process lightly—you can mess it up, and if it goes too far off the rails, in the space of roughly 45 minutes you may go from looking like a yes on paper to being out of consideration.
“The importance of performing well in the interview can’t be underestimated,” Jessica says.
If Your Preferred Schools Do Interviews, You Need to Prep
Like the process of putting together the right college list, the college interview process should start with smart, strategic research. Conduct online searches to determine the interview policy of schools on your list by typing the schools name and the term “interview policy” in the search bar.
The evolution of Google makes it easy to get an instant sense of a school’s interview policy. For example, the snippet Google curates from a Wesleyan admissions page says, “Interviews at Wesleyan are evaluative, play a role in the admission process, and are a valuable opportunity for an exchange of information about both the candidate and the university.”
But as Jessica says, the college interview “is not a lunch between two friends.” Wesleyan’s words indicate that an applicant can boost his or her prospects with a great interview, or potentially diminish the prospects with a poor showing.
To help students boost their chances interviewing well, here are some of the tips, strategies and skills Jessica works with students on as an admissions consultant:
- Do everything you can to avoid a subconscious bias. Don’t give the interviewer any reason for perceptions such as, “Oh, you’re wearing that.”
- Get off to a good start. Don’t seem afraid or intimidated. The interviewer wants you to succeed, so you can assume a genial atmosphere.
- But don’t be inappropriately informal. As stated previously, it’s not a lunch between two friends.
- Don’t give one- or two-word answers. When applicants don’t talk, the process feels like it takes forever for the interviewer.
- Tell the interviewer how amazing you are, and demonstrate pride in your accomplishments.
- But don’t tell them you’re awesome; show them why with examples and experiences.
- Understand ahead of time the questions that are likely to asked.
- Have multiple answers ready to these different kinds of questions.
- The interview works best if you have shared experiences, so do your research on the school. Know the campus layout, know the names of the buildings and the classes. Bring specific references into the conversation to demonstrate your commitment to the school.
- Avoid controversial topics and issues; no politics, or religion … unless it’s a school with a religious affiliation and what you say connects with that aspect.
- Stay away from playing the legacy card by mentioning the family tradition of attending the college or university. You want the interview to be focused on you and why you should be accepted.
- It’s perfectly valid to respond to a question by saying, “I’m not sure, let me get back to you about that.” Interviewers will respect the honesty and confidence to admit something requires further thought, while an off-the-cuff answer in order to move on may well backfire.
The Importance of Being Guided by an Interview “Pro”
As with any topic, it’s easy to read tips online and think “I get this,” but it’s not always easy to translate written tips into success under pressure.
Jessica, who received a note from her University of Pennsylvania interviewer saying Jessica’s interview was the best she had ever experienced, has found that even students who look great on paper need both interview prep and what might be considered pre-prep.
The latter refers to students who increasingly seem unaware of what to expect in the equivalent of professional interactions, how to behave appropriately, and why the current teenage code of absolute informality is a liability in the college admissions process.
She gives an example of a student sending an email during an exchange to schedule a college interview that said nothing more than “Starbucks?” No greeting, no closing, no full sentences, and no respect for the nature of the interaction, or the privilege of being granted an interview.
In addition to giving students a grounding in proper protocol, and the need to dress and act appropriately, Jessica works on the tools students need to excel in what is essentially the equivalent of a job interview.
Jessica considers a total of two hours the minimum amount of prep necessary for a positive college interview experience. In a more intensive interaction, Jessica would do mock interviews with students before their real interviews at each school on their list.
Before getting to the mock interview stage, Jessica gives students a list of likely questions, has them write out their answers, and judges how well they’re telling their story in a positive, engaging way. In analyzing the results, she critiques their answers and guides students to best highlight their strengths.
Often enough, when Jessica and a student get to the mock interview, she discovers a hesitancy to talk, or students’ inability to articulate their admirable qualities. “I’ve told students, ‘You’re not good at talking about yourself,’ and warned them, “If you can’t talk to me, you shouldn’t do interviews.”
Given that colleges and universities are downplaying the interview, Jessica thinks a tongue-tied scholar may not want to force the issue. “Unless an interview is required, it’s pretty common not to get penalized for skipping the interview. But if you have a bad interview that’s the worst of all worlds,” Jessica says.
Which brings her back to the underlying wisdom of taking advantage of expert prep. “For the cost of two hours of your time, there’s no excuse to not be prepared for your college interview. If you’re not, it will look bad for you,” Jessica says.
To learn more, Reach Jessica by phone at (203) 980-8014 or by email at [email protected]
With offices in New Haven and Guilford, Bulldog Tutors provides the highest quality private tutoring, test prep, and college admissions counseling in Connecticut. Bulldog’s Ivy League-educated tutors have achieved top scores on every exam that they teach and take a personalized approach to instruction that targets students’ weaknesses and helps them succeed on admissions tests and in subjects where they may have been under-served by traditional educational settings.
For additional information, call the New Haven office at (203) 562-1000, or see the Bulldog Tutor website, https://www.bulldogtutors.com.