Should you interview if it will have no bearing on the admissions decision?

There are really two types of interviews in college admissions.  The "evaluative" interview in which what you say can and will be used during the admissions process.  And the "informational" interview, which is your non-threatening chance to learn more about the school from someone who's an expert (like an admissions officer, a student, or an alum).  The admissions sections of colleges' websites usually tell you if interviews are offered and, if so, what kind they are.

So, is it in your best admissions interest to schedule informational interviews?

A lot of students (and just as often, their parents) are quick to
schedule an informational interview, especially when they're planning to visit
the college's campus.  It's hard not to think that making a good impression could still help in some small way.  And the idea of making a personal connection is pretty alluring in the college admissions process.

Still, I think a student should only do an informational interview if you:

1)  Are sincerely interested learning more about the school, and…

2)  Have questions you would like to get answered.

A lot of the informational interviews are very awkward for the interviewer.  Some students don't have any questions because it was actually their parents' idea to visit the school in the first place.  Or the student is already completely sold on the school and doesn't have any questions he needs answered.  So the interviewer has to sit there and try to fill the time.  It's like going on a date with someone and finding you have nothing to talk about.    

Think of informational interviews like a first meeting with a tutor.  A tutor can lecture you if you want her to, but it's much more effective to make the meeting collaborative.  Tell the interviewer what you know already about the school.  Then use the time to get a better mastery of this subject (the college).  What could you use help understanding?  What have you not been able to learn from the website, your counselor or the college guidebooks?  Be engaged and interested.

If you're not feeling engaged or interested, save both parties the time and don't schedule the interview.  And never do an interview just because you think you should.

Pretend your college interviewer is Grandma’s friend

Jay Mathews of the Washington post and author of Harvard Schmarvard wrote a blog post today with some good college interview advice for students (he interviewed Harvard applicants for 20 years, by the way).

Here's the best part.

Quotation

My favorite piece of advice for nervous interviewees is to pretend that you are not at a college interview, but at your grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. One of her good friends, a woman you don’t know, is sitting next to you at the dinner table. She asks some friendly questions. You have fun answering, and ask her some questions, too. Do the interview in that spirit, and your best self will emerge.


5 questions you should be ready to answer in college interviews

Most college interviewers aren't trying to test you; they're really just trying to get to know you better.  If you're ready to give *good answers to the following five questions, you will almost certainly be prepared for just about anything you're asked.

1.  Why are you applying to this school?

2.  What's your favorite subject, and do you intend to pursue this in college?

3.  What do you enjoy doing when you're not in class?

4.  What are three interesting things about yourself that I wouldn't know from your application?

5.  What's an example of a mistake you made, a failure you endured, something you aren't good at, or anything else that you probably wouldn't bring up unless somebody asked you about it?

Your motivations for college, your intellectual interests, your interests outside of class, your personality, your level of humility and self awareness, those are the kinds of things interviewers want to get a sense of.  Be comfortable discussing them and you'll probably have a great interview.   

*A good answer is one that's honest, that's not contrived to sound impressive, that reveals something about yourself and that has a personal anecdote to back it up.  You're just trying to help them get to know you better.  You're not weaving a tall tale.

Why a college interview is like a first date

Have you ever been on a first date where the person you were
with was a terrible conversationalist?  It’s just about the most agonizing thing in the world.  You sit there at a table in a restaurant
trying desperately to think of things to say so you can avoid the excruciating
silence that you know is going to come unless you keep talking.  And after about twenty minutes of trying, you
want to pull an imaginary ejection handle and catapult yourself away from the
table.  

If you sit in your college interview waiting to be asked
questions and then give short answers without any details, it's like putting the interviewer through a terrible first date. 

Don’t confuse the college interview with a job interview
where you will be asked difficult, probing questions about your experience and
what you can bring to the company.  This
is a first date (without the chance for romance at the end). The initial conversation could be awkward until you find
common ground.  You’ll need to call upon
your personal characteristics that you think make you likeable.  You’ll probably want to bathe
beforehand.  But ultimately, you and the
interviewer are going to try to get to know each other.  You’re going to have to find something to
talk about.   

If you want to be impressive, make the interviewer’s job
easier and try to find some common ground. 
Be a good conversationalist. 
Don’t just sit there.   

A simple tip for college interviews

Want to do something simple that will help you have a great college interview? 

Look like you're enjoying yourself. 

It’s hard for an interviewer to
relax and enjoy your company if you are twitching, sweating, and appearing to be
on the verge of complete respiratory failure. 
So relax.  Smile.  Don’t be afraid to be yourself.  The more relaxed you are, the easier you will
be to talk to, and the better the interview will be.   

What if parents are invited to college interviews?

What should you with your parents while you have your college interview?  Simple.  Leave them at home.  Or send them to dinner.  Or send them to Jupiter.  Interviewers are far more interested in what kids have to say about themselves (after all, it's the kids–not the parents–who will ultimately be attending college).  So we tell our Collegewise students not to bring their parents unless the interviewer explicitly asks you to do so (or if it's just an informative interview taking place at a college you haven't actually applied to yet). 

So, what if the interviewer does specifically ask you to bring your parents? 

We've started to see this happen occasionally at some schools, and our Collegewise parents (wisely) ask us if they should take the colleges up on the offer.  A college who asks parents to attend the interview is likely doing so not only to get to know even more about the applicant, but also to get a sense whether or not you have the support of your parents in applying to this particular school.  That's a good opportunity to show colleges that your family is engaged in a thoughtful college search together .  So for parents who are specifically invited to attend college interviews, here are a few tips. 

1. Relax.

Our first tip for parents is the same tip we give to students–relax.  Very few students (or parents) have single-handedly torpedoed the chances of admission with one less-than-stellar answer.  College interviews are usually a relaxed affair.  Kids should treat them as a legitimate opportunity to make a good impression, but they shouldn't worry about this like they do the SAT or the calculus final.  The same holds true for parents. So relax.  Smile.  Enjoy the experience. 

2.  Resist all urges to jump in and answer for your student.

Just because you were invited does not necessarily mean it's a good idea for a parent to jump in and answer questions directed at the student.  Believe us, we understand why you'd want to do so; part of a parent's job feels like you should be a publicist for your kids.  But budding in and answering for them just makes kids nervous and makes the interviewer wish she could hear more from the student.  We recommend you wait to answer questions until one is directed at you. 

3.  When asked to comment about your student, answer candidly.

You are allowed–encouraged, actually–to brag about your student when asked.  Be specific about which accomplishments made you the most proud.  Don't hold back when asked what his strengths are.  Let your pride show.  Just remember not to take over the interview with an answer that takes up the allotted time.     

4.  Consider how excited you would be for your student to attend this particular college.

Colleges know that while many students might apply to schools without outright approval from their parents, they won't get to attend unless Mom and Dad support the choice.  A parent who's invited to attend a college interview should expect to be asked how you see this school for your student, whether or not you think it would be a good match.  There's no need to lie.  In fact, if you have concerns about the fit, be honest.  Express your concerns, but let the interviewer know that you trust your student to make good decisions and that you'll support her choices (if that is actually the case).  An interviewer would be impressed by evidence that the student and parent have had some thoughtful dialog about the college even if they disagree. 

5.  If you're already butting heads about college choices, consider letting your student interview by him or herself.

The teenage years can be stressful on parent/teen relationships.  And the pressures of the college admission process can exacerbate this.  If you've found that the subject of college and how to get there seems to cause immediate conflict in your family, rest assured that it is entirely normal and like many of the trials and tribulations parents go through with teens, it won't last.  But if that's the case, a parent probably shouldn't attend the interview.  Agree to disagree, go to your neutral corners and let your student interview on her own.  That's better than risking a parent/teen flare up during a college interview.