Some universities, particularly schools with highly selective acceptance rates, recommend or even require that prospective students have an interview with an admissions officer or alumni as part of their application. This provides an opportunity for admissions to get a better sense of a student’s personality and how well they may fit into the preexisting school community. Conversely, students can also use this time to ask questions about the university and its culture. Though these interviews rarely make or break a student’s application, they present a prime opportunity for your student to make a great first impression on a college representative and practice their interview skills.
If a college on your student’s list recommends an interview, your student should put in a request for an appointment at some point in the first semester of senior year. Some schools have a deadline for interview requests depending on whether a student is applying Early or Regular Decision. Because each institution follows its own unique set of procedures, it’s possible that there might be some confusion as to which school requires what. SFC recommends that families create a specific interview spreadsheet to keep track of dates and deadlines, as well as which interviews are evaluative versus informational.
Evaluative vs. Informational
Though it is less common, some top-tier schools require that prospective students participate in an evaluative interview, which is more formal and is used to assess a student’s character and communication skills. This has the potential to have more of an impact on the student’s application than a purely informational interview, so it’s important that students prepare for the interview accordingly and conduct themselves well in the moment.
The informational interview is more common and involves more of a back-and-forth between the student and the university representative. Students are encouraged to ask specific questions about particular programs offered by the school or elements of campus culture that they’re especially curious about. Though it’s unlikely that this interview will negatively impact the student’s potential admission, we encourage students to take it just as seriously as they would an evaluative interview in order to make a good impression.
Encourage your student to arrive at the interview with a few questions of their own, particularly if it is an informational interview. This will convey their sincere interest in the school to the university representative and provides an opportunity to get an ‘insider’ perspective on the institution.
Don’t ask a simple question that can be easily answered with a quick look at the school’s website—students should come prepared with questions that show they have done some research ahead of time and are looking for more depth of information than can be accessed online. Consider asking about a specific program, faculty member, or research topic. A student might ask something like, “In the program I want to study, how many students typically graduate within four years?” or “At [another university], students are able to begin research projects in their first year—is that an option If the interview is with an alumnus of the school, your student may ask something slightly more personal, such as: “Which course would you go back and take again if you had the chance?”
Students should dress professionally and, if the interview is via Zoom, ensure that their internet connection is reliable and that their Zoom background is neutral. Basic conversational etiquette—including clear speech, eye contact, and active listening—should be observed, as well.
Ultimately, it is unlikely that one of these interviews will significantly affect your student’s chances to get into college, so it doesn’t need to be a huge source of stress. However, there is still plenty to be gained from the experience, including new information about the school and its environment, as well as general practice for future interviews. These interviews allow students to demonstrate their interest to the college on their list, which is important to establish before sending in their application.