Once you’ve turned in your college applications, you might get an email asking you to schedule an interview with an alum of the school. These are often graduates who have joined your local alumni association and are willing to dedicate their free time to speak with potential students. While it is not always necessary to do this interview, it will usually only benefit you in the long run, especially at competitive schools.
These interviews are usually relatively informal, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time to prepare and make a lasting impression on your interviewer. Here are some tips to remember to ace your alumni interview and improve your chances of securing admission to your dream school.
Behave promptly and professionally.
From the get-go, you want to respect your interviewer’s time. Reply to any scheduling requests or emails as soon as possible, and avoid rescheduling unless absolutely necessary. On the day of your interview, give yourself plenty of time to arrive by factoring in possible delays, traffic, or length of other commitments. You’ll probably meet virtually or in a public place, such as a coffee shop or library, so if it’s the latter, make sure you have time to park or use public transportation. If you’re particularly nervous, give yourself time to calm your anxiety beforehand, or avoid stimulants like caffeine that may worsen your nerves.
Offer a firm handshake when you arrive to start the interview on a strong note. Although the interview is usually casual, remain professional, and stay away from any topics or ideas that could be considered inappropriate in this setting. You cannot assume what the interviewer’s beliefs, viewpoints, and opinions are simply based on their attitude towards you. You may establish a friendly rapport with the interviewer, but remember that their comments about the interview will go back to the school.
Do your research.
Your interviewer will already have some information about you based on your application. However, you will still want to make sure you’re ready to answer questions such as:
Why do you want to attend this school?
What do you think you can contribute to the school community?
What do you want to study, and why?
What work do you do currently that is most important to you?
What are you looking for in your college experience?
What makes you excited to learn?
The more specific you are in your answers, the better. Your unique insight is more memorable than vague phrases. Choose to add to what’s on your application instead of reiterating it — tell compelling stories about your experiences, and show your personality. Your interviewer will likely also ask you at the end if there’s anything you didn’t get a chance to mention, so you’ll have an opportunity to mention anything important that you didn’t work into the conversation organically.
This interview is also your chance to learn more about the experience of attending this school firsthand, so make sure you know enough about what the school offers to ask your interviewer specific questions about their time there. Your interviewer likely has a more interesting perspective on well-known interesting classes or programs, dorm life, extracurricular activities, summer offerings, and more than what you can find online.
Be authentic and amiable.
While you should show enthusiasm for the school and keep a professional demeanor, remember to be yourself. One of the worst things you can do in your interviewer is trying to convince your interviewer you’re someone you’re not — they will be able to see right through it. You don’t have to lie and say that you spend all of your free time studying if you don’t. However, beware of sharing unnecessary information, such as the fact that you spend all your free time playing video games instead.
Be judicious in what you say and focus on the positive things about yourself. For instance, if you prefer the humanities to STEM, don’t spend your time talking about how awful your math class is; talk about the books you loved from English class. Be confident and proud of your achievements, but beware of coming off as boastful or self-absorbed. Have a conversation with the other person about what excites you, especially if you may have some shared interests. Just avoid talking over your interviewer, even if you’re eager to share your answers to their questions.
When it comes time to say goodbye, thank the interviewer and emphasize your interest in the school. Later that day, send a brief thank-you note via email to your interviewer before they complete your evaluation.
Wait for a decision.
Your interviewer can be a big advocate for you in the admissions process, especially if there is a large applicant pool. An outstanding evaluation can bring attention to your profile in the decision room and help flesh out who you are more thoroughly. Your interviewer may even stay in contact with you if you’re accepted and will probably be happy to see you succeed.
However, if the interview does not go particularly well, don’t panic. As long as you were confident and thorough in your preparation and remained courteous throughout the interview, you did all you could. Sometimes you don’t hit it off with your interviewer, and that’s okay. A mild or even slightly negative evaluation won’t hurt you as much as a positive evaluation will help you, and admissions officers might recognize that it’s not necessarily your fault, especially if you have a robust application otherwise. Just do everything on your part to minimize the risk of this happening.
If you are deferred or waitlisted, you can sometimes request an additional interview to add to your application. If you’re in this situation, remember that your knowledge of and enthusiasm for the school are of paramount importance.
Your interview can boost your application, but it is just one part of the larger picture. Just as you did with your written application, take all the steps necessary to feel confident in the fact that you put your best foot forward.