Updated: Nov 29
The college admissions interview is a relatively new part of the application review process. Most colleges and universities do not require or even offer a formal admissions interview with a member of the admissions staff or faculty.
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Questions to Ask an Interviewer
Instead, they may require a more informal interview with alumni or current students after the application is submitted. These interviews are primarily conducted off-campus, and formal admissions interviews with a member of the admissions staff or faculty are held on campus. Colleges will also post a disclaimer on their website stating that not all applicants will receive an alumni interview offer.
Because interviews are scheduled based on the availability of interviewers, not being scheduled for an interview does not negatively impact the applicant’s admission candidacy. However, a poor interview will certainly give the admissions committee pause, so preparation is needed to ensure the strongest impact.
What is an Admissions Interview?
The college admissions interview is one element of a holistic review. Academic performance; standardized test scores; essays that demonstrate a connection to an undergraduate major; intellectual vitality; meaningful involvement in activities, including leadership and service; and recommendations from teachers and a guidance or college counselor all outrank the interview in admission consideration.
When a student does not present a genuine interest or knowledge of the college and intended major, does not engage, and has no questions, the interviewer will consider it negatively. Nor does an interview make up for deficits in an application. Highly selective colleges want to make the best admission decision possible, welcoming students who sincerely want to attend their school.
Most college admissions interviews are with an alum and conducted off-campus, in person. The other most likely scenario is with a representative of the admissions team, such as an admission counselor or officer. These interviews are usually offered by smaller institutions, are held on campus, and can be scheduled along with a campus visit, which commonly consists of an information session and a campus tour.
In this instance, there may also be the opportunity to meet with a faculty member, current student, or another college administrator, such as a financial aid officer or the registrar. At some schools, students, typically seniors, conduct interviews on campus if an admissions representative is not available. Larger institutions cannot accommodate students on their campus for interviews with the admissions team nor provide the more individualized campus visit experience as smaller schools can.
As a result, these schools, as do smaller schools, turn to their extensive alumni network to conduct interviews on behalf of the admissions office in the region where the applicant lives.
Various Types of Interviews
There are various types of interviews. Most college admissions interviews are evaluative. The interviewer will take notes during the meeting and place the write-up in the applicant’s admissions file. Some schools, however, may simply provide an interview as an opportunity for the applicant to ask questions and learn more about the institution. Evaluative interviews should take precedence, though, because they count toward consideration for acceptance.
Schools will be clear about which interviews are evaluative and which are not. They will provide plenty of easily accessible information about the application process, and if they do not, it is likely that the interview is not evaluative.
Alumni Conducted Interviews
Alumni conducting admissions interviews for their alma mater are volunteers taking the opportunity to remain engaged with their college community and share their experiences with prospective students. The alumni interview is as much about the volunteering alum maintaining their connection to the school as it is about engaging with an applicant.
While the interaction is termed as an admissions interview and the alum takes notes to share with admissions, they are also helping their alma mater recruit and yield students by personally connecting with applicants. Colleges will likely offer prospective students the opportunity to speak with an alum from the same geographic region or offer an online or virtual alumni interview where the alum may or may not reside in the prospective student’s area.
It is recommended that the applicant agrees to any offer. While it is not required, responding “yes” to an optional alumni interview request demonstrates a sincere interest in the college and offers an opportunity to expound on parts of the application, while showcasing fit and knowledge of the institution.
Alumni indicate their interest to volunteer as an interviewer, and after they are selected, they are trained to interview prospective students prior to any meetings. They are given information about the applicant, including the applicant’s name, contact information, and intended college major.
Alumni interviewers do not receive a copy of the prospective student’s application; this information is strictly confidential. Alumni interviewers also do not receive or read an applicant’s college essay responses. This meeting is meant to be a two-way dialogue in which the alum asks questions seeking information from the prospective student. They are primarily looking for the applicant to demonstrate their knowledge of and passion for the college and their intended major with supporting details and specific examples.
Alumni interviewers sign up for this volunteering opportunity to serve as a resource, and they expect and encourage prospective students to ask questions about their college experience, including memories and chosen career path. Most alumni interviews run approximately half an hour to an hour and take place in a public location, virtually, or by phone.
As with any interview, the applicant should wear business or business casual attire, be mindful of interview etiquette (given the COVID-19 pandemic, shaking hands may no longer be appropriate or required), maintain eye contact, smile, and be natural. For a virtual interview, they should make sure they are in a location without interruptions and be aware of the background images the interviewer may see on the computer screen.
There are many components to the college application, and the alumni interview is one piece of the puzzle. It is one element that favors an already strong applicant who displays their sincere interest, knowledge, and connection to the college. Members of the admissions team will review the interview notes provided by the alum, often seeking confirmation of their analysis.
A strong interview and a strong application of solid grades, standardized testing scores, essays, extracurricular involvement, and strong intellectual experiences will push an applicant further toward admission. It may be just the information the admissions team needs to cement the final decision. A weak application and a strong interview will not move an applicant toward admission.
Although alumni interviews are more casual or informal interviews, prospective students should still prepare well for them. Interviews can negatively impact applicants who are not prepared, who demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the institution or their intended major, and who do not engage the alumni interviewer by asking good and thoughtful questions.
How to Prepare for a College Admissions Interview
No one is a greater expert on the applicant than they themselves. They can articulate the important details about themselves better than anyone else and are the most well-acquainted with their history, achievements, and dreams. Applicants must be comfortable enough to be themselves and let go of the idea that they must “perform” in an interview. Sincerity and earnest engagement are desirable in an exchange with an interviewer.
There is no “personality type” or “lifestyle” synonymous with a successful interview. No one scores extra points for being wildly extroverted, nor will anyone be penalized for having a quiet and subdued personality. The alum wants the interview to go well, too. It is a good idea to set all social media accounts to private because interviewers can look into an applicant’s online presence, which could cloud their impression. But applicants should look at the alum’s profile on LinkedIn and other sites to get a sense of their educational path and career.
When it’s time for the meeting, it’s important to be on time. If the meeting is in person, the applicant should arrive 10 minutes early, and if meeting virtually, set up their computer and be ready well in advance. Alumni interviewers are usually working professionals and are likely on a tight schedule.