Every prospective college applicant knows this question. It is the one question they are guaranteed to be asked; they’ve been told by teachers, parents, articles, blogs, college forums and more to anticipate it and to prepare a thoughtful answer. Yet somehow, the most predictable question ends up being the most problematic.
However, that’s not the only menace waiting to trip up interviewees over the course of those forty-five minutes. In fact, there is a vast landscape of problems and obstacles that awaits them. So, in the spirit of College Interview Season, and in an attempt to make things somewhat easier for seniors receiving offers of them, here are a few pieces of advice to help avoid being caught between a rock and a hard-faced, intimidating interviewer.
Most interviews are offered after a complete application has been sent to and received by the institution, and are offered to the applicant via email. Common courtesy of the interviewing process extends to this email, even though it is just the invitation. In some ways, this first impression holds just as much weight as the physical interview itself. So, some things to keep in mind:
- Reply in a timely fashion; do not make the interviewer wait several days for a response. Reply as soon as possible, or as soon as you have made a decision regarding potential times, places, etc.
- It is perfectly acceptable to have multiple-email correspondence; often scheduling an interview takes a few emails back and forth.
- When scheduling the interview, make sure to plan it so that you have a few days to prepare.
- Remember to use proper grammar and spelling, as well as polite language; avoid use of abbreviations and slang.
First impressions are critical, especially in an interviewing process for a place at which you might spend the next four or more years of your academic life. It is important to present yourself in a polite, respectful way and start off well.
After the time and place for the interview has been established, you will have a few days to gather information, generate questions, and prepare yourself. To avoid being overcome with stress, there are several ways you could approach this time:
- Research; being knowledgeable about the college or institution to which you are applying not only communicates to the interviewer you care, but also demonstrates the fact that you are responsible and take the school seriously.
- Check the school’s interviewer page; most schools will have a page on their site for their interviewers to reference, usually including general guidelines for their interviewers to follow as well as what they should include in their report. Looking at this page will help give you a slight insight into what the interviewer is looking for.
- Don’t be afraid to stalk your interviewer. Well... maybe not quite ‘stalk’, but definitely try to gather some information about them if possible. This info will also most likely be on the school’s page, and will help you identify them as well as learn more about them prior to the interview.
- Come up with questions that matter to you; questions are great ways to find out important information about the school, but asking general questions indicates that you have not performed thorough reserach. Try to generate some specific questions that pertain to your interests specific to the school.
- Try not to psych yourself out. It is difficult not to stress about an interview, whether it be in person, via Skype or even over the phone. Yes, it may be a little nerve-wracking. However, the stress will not do you much good, and rest assured that this interview will rarely make or break your consideration by the school!
After gathering information, developing several questions, and (hopefully) calming down a bit, it’s time for the physical interview. Punctuality is crucial, so arrive on time or even a few minutes before the scheduled time. If the interview is over the phone or on the computer, make sure you are unoccupied prior to the scheduled time. Dress nicely regardless; an interview does not require formal dress or suit, but be sure to look presentable with attire such as a simple dress and cardigan or a nice shirt and pants. Looking well groomed demonstrates you are taking the interview seriously. Once the interview is underway, it is your chance to present yourself in a way your application cannot!
- Be passionate about what interests you! Don’t be afraid to talk about what you love to do; colleges love to see expressed enthusiasm or excitement about an applicant’s interests.
- Avoid discussing topics such as politics and other schools you have applied to, as well as test scores and grades; the interviewer should avoid these subjects as well. This interview is not about the numbers; it is a way for the school to get to know you personally.
- If the interviewer does bring up something that makes you uncomfortable, do not be afraid to complain about this to your school counselor, or the school that the interview was for; it does not work against you, and any feedback helps the school fix the issue so that it doesn’t happen to someone else.
- If your interviewer is an alumnus/a, don’t be afraid to ask them questions about his/her experience at the school. This is a good way to get specific information about the school from a former student’s perspective.
- After the interview, be sure to thank him/her. It also does not hurt to do a ‘follow-up’ thank you via email!
- *Side note* ~ If the interview is at a café or eatery, it might be a good idea to get a drink or something small so that your hands have something to do and so your mouth does not dry. If you prefer not to spend money or if the interview is at a place such as a library, bring a water bottle or something similar for the same effect.
Interviews not only help the school get to know you as a person, but they also provide you with a chance to advocate yourself and express anything you feel your application does not. Present yourself well, be polite, and don’t panic. Confidence in yourself, even if it is forced, is the most convincing argument you can make. So, as for that dreaded question of “Why this school?” remember to talk about why that school would be right for you. The schools know their rank, the opportunities they offer, and the beauty of their campuses. What they don’t know is why it’s a good fit for you. That is why they’re asking.