College Interview Strategy – Let the Interviewer Lead

If you have recently submitted your Early Decision (ED) application, or your Early Action (EA) or Restrictive Early Action (REA) applications, congratulations! You have taken the first big step in college admission. Of course, you could argue that your past 12 years of school have led to this moment and you would be exactly correct. However, colleges don’t have the advantage of watching videos of your early life experiences, or photographs of all your birthday parties, special moments, and extracurricular activities in order to help them determine your potential value as a member of their community. They have a limited amount of data to help them make crucial decisions regarding the collective makeup of their next cohort. 

For many colleges, GPA, test scores, essays, activities, and recommendations are all they require or accept. However, many colleges, including all the Ivy Leagues, either require or recommend personal interviews. For most students, these mysterious meetings are exercises in canned, memorized responses to a set of pre-identified questions. Similarly, they tend to be viewed as rights of passage that simply must be endured. Very few students see these interviews for what they really are: opportunities to introduce themselves to colleges on a personal level. 

Interviews are rarely what you expect. For most students, the actual interview is far easier than their interview prep. Experienced interviewers will make students feel comfortable, as if they are engaged in a friendly dialogue, as opposed to being in an oppositional position or as if they are a used car salesperson. However, with lack of understanding of the intentions and methods used by interviewers, students typically do not take full advantage of the opportunity. Rather, they give long-winded, shallow answers that do little to reveal characteristics deemed most important by college admission committees.

Here is a short and useful tip to guide your responses during college interviews.

College interviews tend to be conversational in nature. To facilitate this, keep your answers short and allow interviewers to ask follow-up questions. 

Do not try to get out all information about yourself in a single answer. The best answer will be anywhere between 30-45 seconds long. Occasionally, it may be necessary to speak for a full minute, but anything more than that might seem long-winded or rambling. If you give away the store answering the first question, there’s no reason for the interviewer to continue shopping. Here’s an example:

Interviewer: “What is one of your favorite classes you have taken in high school?”

Student Bad Answer: “I would have to say that my favorite class in high school is computers. I have always liked computers, and in particular I like computer programming. I have learned three computer languages and in fact I have written my own computer program that helps people organize their time by dividing up time into smaller increments that could be more easily analyzed by businesses in order to increase efficiency.”

Interviewer: “Wow, that’s really great.” What the interviewer is not saying is that you have not just answered his question, but in fact have already answered his next question. Also, you have effectively ended the discussion by saying too much too soon. You have lost his attention.  Here is a better way to answer the same question. 

Interviewer: “What is one of your favorite classes you have taken in high school?”

Student Good Answer: “My favorite class in high school is computers.” 

Interviewer: “Great. Tell me something about the class.”

Student Good Answer: “Sure. I have always liked computers, and in particular I like computer programming. I have learned three computer languages and in fact I have written my own computer program that helps people organize their time by dividing up time into smaller increments that could be more easily analyzed by businesses in order to increase efficiency.”

The advantage of this approach over the first one is that it allows the interview to flow in a more conversational manner and for the interviewer to ask questions he feels are appropriate to get obtain the information he requires. Interviewers do not like rambling answers, and they do not like it when you go beyond the confines of the question. Students, on the other hand, feel that they must reveal as much as possible about themselves, and so they tend to overanswer questions. To use a dance analogy, you should let the interviewer lead, and trust that he will take you in the right direction.

Neil Chyten

NC Global Education, Inc

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