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The Student News Site of Palo Alto High School

The Paly Voice

The Student News Site of Palo Alto High School

The Paly Voice

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College Declassified: The Interview

A water bottle and résumé are helpful items to to a college admissions interview. The interview is the only opportunity for applicants to meet with college representatives in person. Photo by Hannah Nguyen.
A water bottle and résumé are helpful items to bring to a college admissions interview. The interview is the only opportunity for applicants to meet with college representatives in person. Photo by Hannah Nguyen.

The applications are in. The big January deadlines have lapsed and the Class of 2015 is beginning to bask in the glory of Second-Semester-Seniority. The burdens of The Common Application, supplements, test scores and recommendations have been lifted. Time to break out the whiffle balls and put this whole “college thing” behind us, right? Well, sort of. One more key component of the application still looms ahead for many seniors: The interview.

While it might not make or break your application, the interview is the only opportunity applicants have to meet with a representative of a college, one-on-one, face-to-face. Forget the test scores, forget the grades. This is your chance to show your college, in person, who you really are, and what kind of student you will be. How easily do you talk to strangers? What gets  you excited? What sense of humor do you have? These are the qualities that can’t be organized in lists on the Common App. At the end of the day, the only part of your application that you take with you to college is, well, you.

After having been through the college interview process twice myself, and consulting peers and a Columbia University alumni who has conducted interviews in the past, I have picked up a few pointers on how to walk away from an interview feeling successful. Here are some tips on preparing for your interview, and what you can do to make your interview worthwhile.

Before Your Interview:

1. Get in contact.

The process of setting up an interview is different across schools. Some schools give your contact information to alumni, who will then get in touch with you about an interview. Other schools will provide contact information of a nearby alum, and expect you to take the initiative of setting up an interview time. Do this as soon as possible to give them the most flexibility about a time to meet with you. Give them different times that you are available, and emphasize that you can work with their schedule. Exchange phone numbers, so they have an easy way to contact you on the day of the interview.

2. Do your research.

You can almost guarantee that your interviewer will ask something to the extent of “Why _____?” Prepare your answer, and be sure to know which specific qualities of the school you can talk about for a good amount of time – don’t be afraid to make it personal. Do they have an award-winning marching band that you’d love to join? Is it a particular study abroad program that attracts you? Do you just love to be surrounded in nature? Understand why that particular school is good for you goals and interests, and what it is about you that makes you a good fit. Have ideas in your head, but avoid reciting your answer word for word beforehand. There’s a difference between sounding prepared and sounding scripted.

3. Ask your own questions.

Your interviewer will also serve as a resource to learn more about the school. Use this as an opportunity to show interest and preparedness by asking specific questions about programs and activities. Don’t waste time by asking things that can be found on the website, like how many clubs the school has. Ask instead why 60 percent of the students are involved Greek life and how that impacts campus culture.

On the Day Of Your Interview:

1. Bring a Résumé.

A must-have if they ask for one, a bonus if they don’t. An well-organized résumé says that you are prepared and professional. Use your résumé to summarize the skills and experiences that you think are most important, including but not limited to work experience, community servic or athletic achievement. Not only will a résumé give your interview talking points during the interview, but it will also help them remember you later, when they are writing up your evaluation.

2. Dress appropriately.

Self-explanatory. You want them to imagine you as a student on their campus, so dress modestly, and go for a little formality. You’re more likely to leave a good impression and show that you value your time with the interviewer if you look polished and presentable. Definitely leave the sweats and tanks at home. If you’re the superstitious type, it probably wouldn’t hurt to wear something with the school’s color.

3. Bring sustenance.

If you are at a café, the nice interviewers will ask if you would like to get something to drink before you start your interview. Saying yes will not make you annoying, it will make you human. Come prepared with a water bottle just in case. Talking for 20 straight minutes will inevitably make you thirsty, and having something to drink could be a game-changer in how articulately you deliver your answers. The interviewer will think nothing less of you if you need to take a sip of water between questions.

4. Be punctual.

If you make your interviewer wait extended amounts of time for you, there’s very little you can say to convince them that you are responsible, organized or deserving of a place at their school. Plan ahead, and if you’re meeting in a public place like a café, arrive before them to secure a table. Shoot them a text to let them know where you are and what color you are wearing, so they don’t have to search the room to determine which 18-year-old is their interviewee.

5. Relax. You are not on trial.

Take your time to understand each question, and figure out the best way to answer it. Think about what you are going to say before you say it, so you don’t end up blurting out a nonsensical string of “like’s” and “um’s.” Avoid simple “yes” or “no” responses to keep it conversational.

6. Be Yourself.

At the end of the day, your college interviewer isn’t trying to grill you or intimidate you. They are trying to understand what kind of person you are, and if you are a good fit for their school. Speak passionately about the things that are important to you, and answer honestly about how you have confronted challenges in your life. Say what you truly think, not what you think they want to hear.

7. Anything else?

There will come a point in the interview when the rep will ask if there’s anything else that the college should know about you. Don’t be shy about this one. You have spent the last 18 or so years of your life doing and thinking things that make you a unique person, and colleges should know why it is you are who you are. Reiterate the points you have already discussed if you deem them significant qualities, and add in anything else about you that is pertinent that hasn’t come up yet. Maybe it’s that you have a baby sister who has taught you the duties of responsibility. Maybe it’s a charming anecdote about an embarrassing moment that taught you a lesson in humility. Maybe it’s a statement about how despite all of the strong applications they are receiving, you are the best candidate there is because nobody else in the world can do exactly what you do. Leave them with something to remember.

After the interview:

Show your gratitude.

Be sure to thank your interviewer after your interview is complete. It probably wouldn’t hurt to send an email as well, to thank them for their time.

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