The Alumni Interviewer Wants to Help You

Nassau Hall entrance at Princeton University
Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - Quantockgoblin

You’ve applied to a highly selective college and an alum is calling you to schedule an interview.  This may even be your first interview ever.  What should you do and how do you prepare?  The interview can actually be fun if you let it. 

I’m on the alumni list to do interviews for my college.  I’ve done them for many years.  I’ve certainly enjoyed the experience and have met many great kids.  Some are cool and polished, but most are not.  Nearly all of them burst with youthful enthusiasm.  I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to meet all my interview students.

What are the Purposes of the Interviews?

The School Wants to Know More about You

The purposes of alumni interviews are twofold.  First and most obvious, the interview gives the admissions office another piece of information for your application file.  In general, a good or bad interview only impacts the admission decision for you if you’re at the margins of offer admission or deny.  If your academic standing is so good the school has to admit you, a poor interview won’t hurt much.  Similarly, if you don’t have a realistic shot at admission, a great interview won’t make your application overcome a less than stellar academic record.  Most highly selective schools don’t allow on campus interviews; therefore, the alumni interview gives the admissions officer the viewpoint of a real live person who has spoken with you.

Alumni Bonding with the College

The alumni interview program is also in place to further cement the alum’s relationship with the school.  We are somewhat inundated with requests for financial contributions to the school.  Allowing alumni to do interviews gives the alums another bonding opportunity with the college such that the alum feels part of the team.  The alum feels part of the admission process to select the next group of students attending the school.  Given that the impact of a positive or negative interview result is somewhat marginal, the alumni team building aspect may even be viewed by the school as the most important aspect of the endeavor.  The school would never admit this, but alumni bonding is part of the process.

What Happens After the Interview?

The Alum Files a Report with the College Admissions Department

When the interview is over the alum fills out a recommendation report of whether or not the college should offer an admission slot to you.  They fill out a description of the interview and give a rating.  Most importantly, the alum can include in the written description of theYoung person interviewingCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - bpsusf interview any things about you that they want to bring to the attention of the admissions office.  The items you want included here are matters that aren’t necessarily part of your written application but are helpful and unique to you.  The admissions office will know you were president of your student body, you have a 4.0 GPA and have a killer SAT score.  They may not be aware that you are so enthusiastic about studying physics or chemistry that you practically burst when you talk about it.  They won’t know your most recent debate team success or your recent all conference soccer team recognition.  These are the types of things that the report can include after your interview is done.

What to Do When the Call Comes?

If you initially miss the call, then call the alum back as soon as reasonably possible to schedule the interview.  We are generally leading busy lives and we know you are also, so don’t worry about immediately calling back.  A return call within a couple of days is fine.

If the alum suggests a time for an interview that isn’t workable for you, give more than one suggestion for an alternative.  We know you go to school during the day, at least up until two or three o’clock.  We’re also aware you likely have a full schedule of extracurricular activities.  Try to keep in mind a couple open slots in your schedule.

What is the Mindset of the Interviewer?

They Want to Help: Some Even Quit Interviewing When "Their" Kids Don't Receive Admission Offers

Ninety nine times out of a hundred, the interviewer would like to help you gain admission.  Consider the position of the person doing the interview, are they going to feel better as the wise alum who helped a local kid into the school or being the nasty old curmudgeon who makes it their goal to send applications of locals down the tubes?  We like when students we’ve interviewed achieve admission.  When “our” kids get into the school, we feel good.  Most of the time we want to help you. In fact, some alumni interviewers actually quit volunteering to do interviews when they don’t see enough of “their” interview applicants offered admission.[1]  Having you admitted based on their affirmative vote to the school feeds their ego.   Your goal should be to give your interviewer the ammunition to feed their ego and get you an offer of admission. 

What to Wear?

Be Neat

Wear something neat, but you don’t need to wear a suit or otherwise “dress up.”  Clearly, you need to be neat and orderly in appearance.  On the other hand, the alumni interview doesn’t require you to wear anything special unless you know something about the interviewer.

Check Out Social Media for Hints

We do tend to like those that look more like us.  Once the alum calls you or emails you, make sure you have their full name so you can check them out on social media.  Do they look conservative, preppy or laid back?  This can give you some idea of whether to wear jeans or khaki for instance.  The alum is your target market and understanding your target market breeds success.

What Types of Questions are Asked?

We Try to Encourage Conversation

Most of the questions are going to revolve around academics and extracurricular activities.  What is your favorite subject?  What is your favorite book?  What is your most recent success in an extracurricular activity?  We aren’t going to ask you things you can’t talk about.  The idea is to get you to open up and actually converse.

Princeton University dormCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Quantockgoblin We know you are not experienced at interviews.  I have kids of my own and know that they may not immediately open up and talk well in an unfamiliar environment.  We will ask questions to generate discussion.  Try not to give short answers.  Try your best to have a regular conversation.

Curve Ball Questions

Most questioning is fair and proper.  Sometimes you get a curveball.  I used to work for a gentleman who attended a service academy.  He told me about his interview exploits in which he asked the students about whether they believed in “moral absolutes.”  This was a trick question because he was probing for devout religious beliefs.  Devout Christians would most likely answer his question in the affirmative and those who were not might waffle on the answer. 

If you do get a question that seems to be a trap you should try to recognize your respect for the point of view of that is contrary to yours and then say what you think.  Perhaps the answer to the moral absolute question, if it’s not going to be affirmative, is to say something like “I very much respect the moral absolute point of view based on devout beliefs, but I think that…”  Try to show you respect the other point of view even if you don’t agree.  In other words, show your thoughtfulness. 

Enthusiasm is Most Important

Show your passion and your enthusiasm for your education and your activities.  Often, it’s not so much what you say as how you say it.  We don’t expect you to be polished.  We do expect to see enthusiasm and excitement.  

Your Questions

By all means feel free to ask questions about the school in your interview.  You can show you’ve researched the school by asking a specific question or two about the college.  It doesn’t really matter if the interviewer doesn’t know the answer.  Additionally, try to pose a question that will cause the alum to expound on their college experience.  That type of question will give the alum the chance to feel like a wise advisor and give them a positive vibe as they talk about their experience.  You can leave them with a warm and fuzzy feeling as the interview concludes.

Remember, show up on time, be enthusiastic and help your interviewer help you.  You’ll enjoy the interview and might even have it tip the admission scale in your favor.  Work to maximize the opportunity to have the best college experience possible.

Admission Matters: What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting into College
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Know the process to maximize your chances of admission.