So you’ve just submitted your application and you’re patiently waiting to hear a response when – beep! – a surprise email lands in your inbox. “Greetings!” the email begins. “My name is Mary Jones, and I’m the alumna assigned to conduct your interview for Grand University.” Whether the idea of an alumni interview puts you completely at ease, or if you’re feeling nauseous at the prospect of impressing an alum, here are six secrets you should know to best prepare for your alumni interview.
Six Tips For Your College Alumni Interview
1. What exactly are alumni interviewers looking for?
When I trained the wonderful group of alumnae interviewers at Barnard College, I made sure that they all knew to provide feedback on applicants’ academic and extra-curricular interests, fit with the college, and general character. While determining academic and extra-curricular interests generally require straightforward questioning, ascertaining a student’s fit and character necessitates a bit more nuance. In addition to being prepared to chat about your future major and favorite hobbies, students should be ready to tackle more pointed questions like, “Why are you specifically interested in College X?”
2. Do your research!
To help demonstrate your interest in the college, it’s important that you walk into the interview knowing particular details about the school that relate to your personal interests. For example, if you plan on majoring in biology, be sure to mention that you’ve heard wonderful things about Professor Kelley and are excited to take his course on human genetics. Similarly, if you mention that you’d like to study abroad, why not share your enthusiasm to travel to Siena, Italy as part of the school’s language immersion program?
3. Alumni interview reports are a small piece of a much larger admissions puzzle
While the alumni interview may feel like it carries significant weight in the admissions process, the reality is that admissions officers place much more emphasis on your transcript, essays, test scores (for schools that require them), and teacher recommendations. I recently polled the admissions experts here at College Coach, drawing from their collective experience working at over 30 selective colleges across the country. Our conclusion? Weak interviews (in and of themselves) rarely knock a student from the admit to the deny pile. And, perhaps surprisingly, fantastic interviews don’t often boost a borderline student from the waitlist or defer pile into the admit category.
(We should note, however, that truly “bad” interviews – i.e. those that raised red flags with the interviewer – can adversely affect the outcome of an admissions decision. Telling your Penn alumni interviewer that Princeton is your first choice school is a prime example of what not to do in your interview! And yes, this has happened.)
4. Alumni interviews are as much about alumni relations as they are about admissions
Most high school seniors don’t realize that alumni interviews really serve dual purposes. While the interview is evaluative, bear in mind that alumni interviews are also for the benefit of the alumni themselves. For a variety of reasons (development and fundraising being chief among them), colleges like to keep their alumni engaged. And don’t forget, your assigned alum is conducting interviews because he or she truly loves their school and is excited to connect with young people who share a similar interest. This is not someone to fear!
5. Be prepared to ask questions at the conclusion of the interview
When the interviewer finally leans back and asks, “So, do you have any questions for me?” here’s your opportunity to let the alum do some talking! Alumni interviewers universally love chatting about their schools, sharing tidbits about their own educational experiences, and reminiscing about the highlights of their college careers. Questions that are appropriate to ask an alumni interviewer include, “Can you tell me why you choose College X?” and “How do you feel attending College X prepared you for your career?” As a former alumni interviewer for Dartmouth College, I was always a bit disappointed when students would simply respond, “No, I don’t have any questions. I think I’m good!”
6. Expect the unexpected
No matter how well prepared you are, or how experienced your interviewer may be, alumni interviews can vary drastically based upon the age and personality of the interviewer. You may be asked an unusual or difficult question during the course of the interview (e.g. “What makes you so special? Why should we take you?”). Do your best to answer it in an honest and mature way, although if you truly don’t know the answer to the question, it’s okay to admit that! Many alumni interviewers are also looking to engage freely in conversation with students, and appreciate when students don’t simply wait for questions to be asked. Stay true to yourself, and let your love of learning and enthusiasm for the college shine through!
If you’re concerned that you won’t present well in an interview environment, practice! Practice shaking hands (mom or dad would be happy to oblige), practice answering questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” and practice smiling at yourself in the mirror while explaining how you spent the previous summer. The skills you learn now will help you down the road when it’s time to apply for that first internship or job. Best of luck on your upcoming interviews!