Updated: Mar 9, 2020
Most applicants want to be seen as more than a set of numbers: GPA, SAT score, # of community service hours, etc. They want to show their personality beyond the application, and while writing stellar essays is a great way to stand-out, nothing replaces a physical (or digital) meeting. Yet, many students avoid the interview option because it’s intimidating and feels too high-stakes. But it’s only risky if you don’t prepare and practice ahead of time. Here are some tips to ensure your interview positively impacts your application review.
1. Get ahead of the questions
There are essentially 3 types of questions: Why you?, Why us?, and Do you have any questions? Have a list of things you do not want to leave the interview without covering and make sure you work them into your answers. Sit down and physically write out the answers to these questions at least a few days in advance. Physically writing them helps transfer them into long-term memory, so you won’t be at a loss and start to ramble should you get nervous.
2. Be specific
Answers to these questions should be customized to the school and be reasons as to why you belong at that school and how you see yourself fitting in. Your interviewer should be able to connect your love for marine biology to the school’s award-winning program and start to form a picture of you there. For example, know the names of professors doing research in your field, campus dance groups you want to join, and local companies that offer internships to students.
3. Own the dreaded, “Tell me About Yourself”
This statement is a gift. This is a chance for you to cover anything you want the interviewer to know--especially things that might not show up in your application. Resist the urge to start with your birth and continue to present day chronologically unless something in your childhood is essential to your story. Start with your high school career and what drives you. Talk about your passion for astronomy and dark-sky camping or how you taught yourself how to play the guitar. Discuss your academic resume insofar as it drives your future interests.
Find an adult and have them give you a mock interview. Test out your answers and make sure you are covering the topics that highlight you as an ideal fit.
5. Mind your Manners
This should go without saying, but you are interacting with adults (likely professionals). Make sure you accept invitations for an interview in a timely manner, proofread your replies and check your emails frequently for confirming details. Dress appropriately for an interview and be on time. Practice your handshake and eye contact. Send a resume ahead of the interview or bring one with you. Thank the person for his/her time at the interview and follow-up with a brief thank-you note confirming your interest and excitement about the school.
The interview won’t save a poor application, but a good one may move the needle on your consideration. Additionally, though you might not have to ever write a 250-word essay on what kind of tree you’d like to be, you’ll be going on interviews for many years to come.