In addition to using tests, essays, and letters of recommendation, sometimes to get to know students better universities invite applicants to do interviews. This article describes the different types of interviews, how to prepare for them, and strategies to use during the actual interview.
Evaluative vs Informational
In evaluative interviews the interviewer will take note of the student’s intellectual abilities and how they present themselves. Often the interview will not drastically change a student’s admission chances, but it will provide another source of data when the admissions staff are finalising their decision.
Some universities also conduct non-evaluative interviews, or ‘informational’ interviews, primarily to allow prospective students to get to know the university better. The interviews will mostly consist of students asking questions. However, the student should also always be aware of the impression they are making.
Many college interviews are ‘optional’. However ‘optional’ normally really means ‘mandatory’. If most applicants do the optional interview, and you choose not to, you may be at a disadvantage.
All of the interviews that I did were informational interviews. After being asked a few questions about myself, I was given time to ask my own questions regarding the college. Overall I feel that the interviews worked in my favor as I could show myself as an actual person beyond my written application materials.
You will be able to find out whether the college offers interviews for international students on the college website.
Generally you do informative interviews before you submit your application and evaluative interviews afterwards.
Universities will contact you if you need to do an evaluative interview, whereas normally it’s up to you to arrange informational interviews. Check the institution’s website to see if they offer one, then email the institution’s admission office to request it. They normally offer several time slots for you to choose when to do the interview. Make sure to check the time zone differences when making the choice!
Interviews by admission officers / Alumni / current students
Most evaluative interviews are done by admission officers, as they are the ones who are also looking at your other application documents. Universities may also choose to use faculty members instead of admission officers.
Since the purpose of informational interviews is to give applicants more information on the institution, there is greater chance that for this type of interview the interviewer will be an alumnus or a current student.
Some of my interviews were conducted by admission officers, and others by current students. Interviews by admission officers tended to feature trickier, deeper questions.
Some of the questions that I found more difficult to answer were:
- What was one significant life experience you had that you could link to our school’s values? (Mount Holyoke College)
- What is the most creative thought you ever had? (Skidmore College)
- What could you contribute to our institution? (Mount Holyoke College)
The interviews I did which were led by current students were shorter, and they gave me more time to ask questions about the college and its student life.
Some of the questions I commonly asked the college were:
- Do many undergraduate students get to do research with their professors?
- On average, how strong is the relationship between your college’s students and their professors?
- How does your institution promote internship/job experiences for its students?
In-person vs Skype interviews
For international applicants the university may offer the chance to do an interview with an alumnus who lives nearby. These interviews tend to take place in a mutually agreed place, such as a cafe.
More commonly for international students, the university will offer a Skype interview. In this case make sure to check that your internet connection is working well before the time of the interview, and that you have a quiet environment in which to do the conversation.
All my interviews were done through Skype. With Skype interviews, you have the advantage of being at home, and being able to orchestrate a more comfortable atmosphere. I prepared a strong cup of coffee and did the interview at the desk in my bedroom.
How to prepare for interviews
In both kind of interviews you will be asked to introduce yourself and your high school achievements. In advance, write down all your accomplishments and choose two or three that you would like to highlight - these should be the accomplishments most appropriate for the school with which you’re doing the interview.
The type of starter questions you might be asked include:
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What was the most memorable extra-curricular activity you did in high school?
- What three adjectives describe you best?
The colleges will also want to check how well you know the institution, and whether you are a good match for it. I suggest that in advance you plan your answers to these questions:
- Why are you a good fit for this institution?
- What are your future plans and what role does this college play in those plans?
- How can you contribute to the college?
To answer these questions do your research! The obvious place to start is each university’s website.
Three strategies to use during each interview
- Be yourself. Just be a well-organised, particularly engaging version of yourself!
- Try to connect the personal experiences and interests you have to the values that the college upholds.
- Do not ask questions that are obviously answered on the college website.