Whether you submitted an early college application or are applying to the regular cycle, there may come a time when you need to prepare for an in-person interview. A few schools require that students partake in interviews, while many others give students the choice of meeting with an alumnus. When given the option, students should take advantage of this opportunity — it’s an excellent chance to learn more about a school that interests you, and for the college to learn about what you have to offer as an applicant.
In this article, I discuss my most important piece of advice for college applicants preparing for an interview: create and practice with a brief, simplified version of your résumé.
Step 1: Condense your résumé into a short, bullet-point document that includes the following:
- Your name and contact information
- Your GPA (weighted and unweighted, if you know both)
- Your extra-curricular activities at school outside the classroom
- Your hobbies and interests outside of school
- A history of your volunteer work and/or community service
- A brief summary of what you’ve done in the summers since the 9th grade
Don’t worry about full sentences or detailed descriptions, this is merely to capture the highlights of your full résumé.
Step 2: Print off at least one copy for each interview you have scheduled, as well as two for yourself – you can use one for practicing before the interview, and bring the second copy with you as a spare. Practice speaking about each part of your résumé out loud and in front of a mirror. Look yourself in the eye and rehearse speaking clearly, slowly and confidently, experimenting with different ways to speak about your experience and accomplishments. Just take care to not memorize your answers, as you don’t want to sound scripted when you go in for the real interview.
Step 3: Bring two copies of your condensed résumé with you to the interview — one for you and one for your interviewer — but don’t offer it to the alumnus unless he or she asks for it. Some interviewers prefer to have written information to refer to, while others want to probe students to hear the answers directly from them. Either way, the alumnus will conduct the interview in the way they think is best, so follow their lead. And whether they ask for your condensed résumé or not, you will have an extra copy to refer to during your meeting; it will jog your memory if you forget something.
Step 4: Once you have both finished introducing yourselves and you’ve answered some initial questions from the interviewer, you will have the opportunity to ask a few questions of your own. Come prepared with at least two questions you’d like to pose, and be sure to ask things that they will be able to tell you about. For example, avoid asking about a specific program or class unless you know that they were in it, and instead ask about what they liked most about the school or what their favourite memory is. Not only will this ensure that you generate some discussion, but it demonstrates your awareness that the alumnus must have had a very positive experience at the school – otherwise they would not be taking the time to tell you about it!
Step 5: During the interview, try to relax. Stay focused and engaged and look your interviewer in the eye when you are speaking to them. If you don’t cover everything you came prepared to talk about, or if you feel like the alumnus you’re meeting with spoke more than you did, don’t fret – this does not mean the interview wasn’t a success. The interviewers are usually very enthusiastic about their experience at the college (it’s why they volunteered to interview prospective students, after all) and chances are that they’re going to want to share a lot of information with you during your meeting.
That’s it! Follow these five simple tips and you’re likely to succeed at your college interview. Although an interview may seem like a stressful experience, it doesn’t have to be: you are there to speak about things you are intimately familiar with, and so you can talk about them comfortably and with authority.
Stay tuned for my next article about ensuring you are fully prepared for the regular application deadlines. And good luck with your interviews!
Dee Blackman is affiliated with The Ivy Dean, Inc., an independent college admissions consulting firm.