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Blog #6: Your Student Has College Admissions Interviews!

Updated: Aug 16, 2022


In this next blog entry, we want to talk about “What to do when ... your high school senior has college admissions interviews coming up!”

It’s that time of year, college admissions interviews! We know how stressful it is for high school seniors: what with keeping up grades, taking admissions tests, filling out applications, securing recommendations, and engaging in sports and extracurriculars. Then, throw admissions interviews in the mix? Yikes!

This may be the first time that your high school senior will have a formal interview. The interview is important because, given the entire admissions process, this is the most “human” part of it: this may be the only personal contact that your student will have with an admissions officer or alumni interviewer of the colleges to which your student is applying. At the interview, your student can show their unique personality, explain their goals and aspirations for attending the college they are interviewing with, and, if the student so desires, tell the interviewer why that college is their first choice!

Most college interviews run 30 minutes to an hour, with the last few minutes set aside to give your student an opportunity to ask the interviewer about the college. Rob Edwards Jr. is a former Area Co-Director of the Washington, D.C.-Maryland Schools and Scholarships Committee for Harvard College, and oversaw the Harvard alumni interview program for that region for a number of years. “The purpose of the college interview is to learn more about the candidate, including assessing their intellectual and academic curiosity, the depth of their commitment to their activities and interests, leadership qualities, and attributes that the candidate would bring to the college,” says Robert.

After the interview, the college interviewer will usually fill out a personal interview report that assess the candidate in areas such as: intellectual curiosity, extracurricular distinction, strength of leadership and other personal qualities. The interview report will be considered by the Admissions Committee along with other contents of the application.

Here are some practical tips that can help you prepare your student for college interviews:

Help your student prepare for questions they are likely to get: Encourage your student to take time to reflect on questions that they are likely to get so that they are prepared to provide responses in 1-2 minutes. The interviewer may have information about your student, most likely the kind of information that would be set out in a resume. In some cases, they may have the student’s GPA and standardized test scores. Here are some questions your student should be prepared for and what the interviewer might be looking for in terms of a response:

o Tell me about yourself

Your student should be ready with a 1-2 minute elevator pitch about themselves. Your student could use this question to describe their background; where they were raised, where they are from, and a unique story that they can share about their background/upbringing/interests/achievements.

o What inspires you

Your student can use this response to show what they are passionate about; this could be an outside hobby that may have not be much discussed in your application, or even a current/cultural event that has occurred that inspires you with new ideas for action.

This could also tap into an extracurricular or sport that your student is involved in, and the energy or excitement that your student feels when they reach a level of achievement in the activity or sport.

o What gets you excited

Your student could use this question to describe what makes them happy or satisfied and why, and explain briefly how they channel that excitement.

o Tell me about your passions, hobbies, interests

This is an opportunity to go more deeply into any information on hobbies/activities that may be set out in your student’s application.

o Tell me what your friends would say about you

This is a great opportunity for your student to describe their personality and how they interact with their friends and peers.

This question may be used to assess what kind of room-mate your student would be.

o Tell me about an experience that changed your perspective on life

In this question, the interviewer may be looking for an example of personal growth. The interviewer may be looking for your student to explain a situation where things did not go their way, or where someone did not agree with them, and how they reacted and/or changed their behavior, approach or opinion.

This may also provide your student an opportunity to share where they stood on issue or an assumption, and how a new experience or event changed their perspective on an issue.

o How are you unique/what unique thing do you bring to the college?

This sounds like a tough question, but your student could use this as an opportunity to talk about their unique qualities – like if they are a good listener, or very outgoing and would make a good room-mate, or enjoy music and would take advantage of concerts on campus.

Be prepared to tell your story

o For each question your student gets, they should be able to tell a cogent story about their reflections and/or personal experiences and how they were impacted by the situation or circumstance

Research the college:

o Your student will surely be asked: "Why do you want to attend this college?"

o Encourage your student to do their homework on the college.

o Your student should be prepared to explain to the interviewer how the college offerings (whether academic/extracurricular or other aspect of the college) fits with their academic or other college-related goals

Focus on your strengths

o Your student should use the interview to emphasize the strengths of their candidacy.

o If your student has a noticeable weakness, that should be addressed in the application itself. If the interviewer asks about a weakness, that should be addressed genuinely and honestly by your student (and if relevant, how they learned from the experience or have sought to overcome any weakness), and then your student should pivot back to their strong attributes.

Casual conversation

o The conversation will likely be quite casual, but try to keep responses cogent and aim for initial responses at no more than 2-3 minutes

o The interviewer may have a number of questions they would like to ask, so if possible your student should try to keep responses to 2-3 minutes, but as you go more into depth it is possible that responses may go 5-7 minutes. Time will go fast. There may be follow up as the conversation flows.

Have questions for the interviewer

o Just as the interviewer is assessing your student’s potential fit for their college, your student should also bring questions that asses whether the college is a good fit for them.

o Your student should come with questions that coincide with their interests in the college

o Questions that they bring may concern

* College offerings

* Availability of study abroad or other special programs

* Do professors tend to make themselves readily available to undergraduates

* Whether the social climate at the college is amendable to minority students

Practice, practice, practice

o Interviewing is a skill, and it requires preparation and practice. You or another adult with experience interviewing should sit with your student to practice answering college interview questions.

o You may want to video-tape (easily done with a cell phone) your student as they practice answering questions.

Encourage your student to bring out their best self!

o While many interviews may continue to be virtual this year, your student should come to the interview ready to share and reflect with the interviewer on their interests and goals for their college experience. The best way to achieve this is for your student to be genuine and honest about their goals and interests. This earnestness can certainly be conveyed virtually, just as it can be conveyed in in-person interviews.

o The interviewer is doing a full assessment of the candidate, and this includes dress. Your student should wear what makes them comfortable, but dress should be appropriate and respectful of the interview.

o Your student has many facets to their personality. At the interview, they should showcase the side that is professional, mature, friendly, and excited to start their college life.

Remember, the key to finding happiness in college is “finding the best fit” for your student given their college and career goals. After your student has prepared, take a deep breath, relax, and remember that a good interviewer will want your student to succeed just as much as you do!

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