Perhaps one of the most popular topics that admission officers are asked to address in publications, programs, and yes, blog posts, is interview advice. In fact, my quick Google search of “admissions interview advice” returns over 63 million results, the first three of which were titled, respectively:
- Twelve Tips for Surviving Your College Interview
- How to Nail Your Admissions Interview
- Six Tips for Acing Your Secondary School Interview
Survive, nail, ace ― no pressure there! Further investigation into the first few links offered these commonly recognizable tips on interviewing:
- Have a conversation. Don’t memorize a script.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to answer what you think the interviewer wants to hear.
- Prepare. Do practice questions with friends or family.
There was also advice directly from admission offices clearly written for interviews in the age of Zoom:
- Make sure we can see you on your screen — no backlighting, and we prefer not to talk to your ceiling fan.
I tend to avoid giving interview advice/tips, perhaps because as a college counselor for many years, I saw first-hand the pressure students put on themselves to “ace” their interviews. So, consider this post less about tips on “nailing” your interview and more as my personal observations on interviewing with a healthy disclaimer that what follows is not necessarily representative of the wide range of schools and interviewers out there.
Which brings me to my first observation about interviews. Context matters. I interviewed college applicants differently than fifth graders, and I currently interview eighth graders differently than those applying for a post-graduate year. I interview shy kids differently than extroverted ones, and students whose preparation is obvious to me in the first five minutes differently than those for whom it is obvious they have never done an interview of any kind in their lives. Just like we don’t review applications in a vacuum, we don’t interview in a vacuum, either. Remember who you’re talking with. Your interviewer is human and is a professional whose job it is to interview. Trust in the process — a good interviewer will guide you through it.
Second, I find it a bit of a conflicting message to tell students to prepare answers to commonly asked questions ahead of time and then to tell them “It’s just a conversation!” To me, a conversation is more free-flowing and personal than an interview. That said, interviews can certainly become conversations. That happens when both the interviewer and the applicant find areas to discuss, rather than simply ask-and-answer on both sides. Is this easier for the interviewer? Sure! But is it necessary in order to have a great interview? No! Genuine Admission: not every interview is a conversation. Some really are just interviews. Whether it is an interview or a conversation doesn’t actually matter. I have had conversations with applicants who ended up not being admitted to my institutions, and I’ve had interviews with applicants who did. Whether I personally connect with an applicant or not is beside the point; admissions professionals are trained to look for clues that indicate the student is a good fit for our school regardless of how the interaction unfolds. So, my second observation is that you don’t need to put undue pressure on yourself to impress your interviewer. As long as you can elaborate on answers with thought and care, that’s all we need. Really. And if you can’t, that’s a sign that you should do a bit of thinking about what you want to talk about ahead of time so you can feel comfortable saying what you want to say.
And that brings me to my third observation about interviewing. At the secondary school level, we conduct evaluative interviews that involve writing down information gleaned from the interview. There is no formula for an interview that you can “nail” or “ace,” because you do not know what your interviewer is going to take away from the encounter. You may prep what you believe to be an outstanding answer about how you dealt with a challenge you were faced with, but what the interviewer notes is an offhand comment you made about a volleyball teammate that gives positive insight into what kind of a person you might be in our community. You impressed your interviewer without even realizing it!
My fourth observation ― the interview provides a great opportunity for you to evaluate the school. As my Loomis colleague Tim Jeon likes to say, remember, we’re trying to impress you, too. Take advantage of this! What do you really want to know? Do you want to know if it’s hard or easy to make your favorite sports team? How about whether students really study during study hall? Or what happens if kids feel homesick? Or not just what happens on the weekends, but what are the most popular weekend activities? Will there be people to play Magic: The Gathering with if you aren’t the type to want to go to a basketball game? These are the kind of questions you may want answers to! In fact, if you’re lucky enough to be interviewing with a faculty member or alumnus/a, ask questions about their own experience or advice they have for new students. That can give you a different perspective on the school than you might get otherwise. After every interview, write down your own evaluation. What did you learn about the school from talking to the interviewer that could help you make your own decision of whether to apply or, eventually, perhaps enroll?
And that brings me to the best and most succinct observation of all courtesy of my 18-year-old daughter, a current senior at Loomis. When I told her that I was writing a blog post on interview advice, she said, “Tell kids to be who they really are, because if they’re just trying to be someone to impress the interviewer, they may end up at a school they don’t belong.” And that is probably the best “advice” I can pass along. The end goal is not to “ace” your interview. The end goal is to enroll at a school where you belong, and a successful interview will help you figure that out.