This article was published in Business Insider last week. I wanted to share it here as well.
Business Insider link: https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-ace-college-admissions-alumni-interview-2023-12
I’m a college-admissions expert. Here’s how to ace the alumni interview and get accepted to the college of your dreams.
- As a college-admissions expert, I know students often dread the alumni interview.
- I tell all my students to prepare answers for the first and last questions.
- But the middle of the interview should flow like a conversation with a friend.
With the right approach, however, you can turn the apprehension into an opportunity to shine. All it takes is preparation.
As a college-admissions expert and the founder of the Ivy League Challenge, I know how stressed students can get about the interview, so here’s how to ace it and leave a positive impression.
Embrace the human element
People often assume an alumni interviewer will have your college application or résumé on hand. This is not so — nor will they need your impressive stats. All they’ll know is your name and that you qualified for an interview at the school they love dearly. They serve as the bridge between a pile of application papers and the living, breathing person before them.
Understanding the goal of the interview should calm your nerves. John Paul Rollert, a friend of mine who serves as an alumni interviewer for Harvard, told me, “So much of the process is automated that it can feel like the qualities that make one a unique human being are not fully appreciated. Alumni interviews address that by helping show the many dimensions of each applicant.”
Embrace the human element and let your interviewer become your advocate. Once they hear your story and get to know you beyond the numbers, they can help you provide the personal touch your application needs. Welcome them as an ally and a friend.
Pretend you’re meeting a new friend
For many people, interviews in general are stressful. You may worry that you will not say the right words in the right way. You may worry that you won’t impress the interviewer in this high-stakes conversation. That’s the wrong mindset.
For the best results, put aside the need to amaze people with your history of accomplishments. They’re secondary to building the relationship. Instead of focusing on how to impress, consider the interview as an opportunity to make a new friend. Imagine you are meeting this person at a party, or maybe you are seated together on a trip. Pretend that they are the nervous ones, and treat this interview as an opportunity to make them feel comfortable — to make a friend.
Demonstrate genuine interest
Think about the last time you forged a friendship. It did not result from a back-and-forth script where one person asked questions and the other gave their best, most polished responses. Instead, curiosity and interest in what that person felt and thought created a bond.
You can build rapport by reflecting genuine interest in what is important to the person interviewing you. What matters to them, and why do they love the college so much? Find out by simply asking them. If you are also truly interested in the college, use that shared passion to build a strong foundation.
Prepare to tell them about yourself
An almost guaranteed interview question is, “So tell me about yourself.” Prepare a thoughtful response beforehand. I recommend my students structure their answers around two to three key points.
When the question is asked, pause for a few seconds, as if you are collecting your thoughts. Then say, “I think there are three things you should know about me. First, [highlight your first point]. Second, [your second point]. Third, [your third point].”
Often the interviewer doesn’t know when your answer has finished, so telling them how many points to listen for clarifies this. The approach also ensures you have thought through the most important points to share. This keeps the conversation targeted and direct.
With a stronger and more confident focus, you gain more mental space and awareness. You can easily shift focus from impressing the interviewer to genuinely connecting with them.
As the interview winds down, the interviewer will usually ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” Be prepared with one or two questions. Avoid anything that can be answered on the university website. Ideally, these questions will reflect your thoughtfulness or your understanding of why the college could be the perfect fit for you.
Finishing strong also means sending a thank-you email within 24 hours of completing the interview. Thank them for the inspiring conversation, and perhaps even mention that it felt like making a friend — the kind of new friend you’d love to find when you get to campus.
Alumni interviewers often express how they cherish their face-to-face meetings with applicants. Honor that and build on it. Approach your interview with the desire to make a friend. Show interest in the interviewer, and prepare thoughtful answers to their first and last questions. The interaction in between will become one you’ll cherish as well.