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  • Michelle Jang

College Interviews 101

On my routine morning walk to the cafeteria for a cup of chocolate milk last week, I saw a few nervous-looking juniors sitting on the floor outside of the Simms Reception Room. I peeked inside the glass doors to find rows of tables set up for mock college interviews.

As I already mentioned in “Everything We Did Wrong During Our College Process” video, I made a mistake of thinking that signing up for interviews was mandatory and ended up doing twelve college interviews in total. Looking back, what I find the most interesting is how wide the range of my interview experiences was. My interviewers ranged from a businesswoman in pink Chanel tweed dress suit to a recent college grad in shorts, flip flops and Champions sweatshirt. Evidently, no college interview is the same. However, I would like to answer some common questions I also personally had before my first interview.

What should I wear?

This was actually the first question that popped into my head and the question that got asked around most frequently in my group chats. I am a firm believer in your clothes being able to reflect a lot about your personality. Therefore, I think that you should wear whatever makes you feel “most you” to a college interview (of course, as long as your outfit is appropriate). This means that if Model UN “western business” style is not what you would feel good or comfortable in, don’t force yourself into a button-up shirt!

I suggest that you have set outfit combinations that you can rotate through all your interviews. I wore one of two planned outfits for all twelve of my interviews. If you ever wondered why I showed up to school on Fridays in the exact same outfit week after week, you have the answer now. I would do a little bit of research on my interviewer, and if I felt a relatively casual vibe from whatever I could gather from a short internet search, I would wear dark jeans, a blue wool sweater and black booties. If I felt that maybe jeans wouldn’t make the cut, I would wear a yellow corduroy skirt from PacSun and a black turtleneck with long boots.

To stalk or not to stalk?

Different people will give different answers to this question. I personally believe that “stalking” your interviewer online is one of the best ways to mentally prepare yourself for your college interview. I don’t mean that you should find your interviewer’s twitter account and scroll all the way down to his/her first post from 2011. A simple LinkedIn search or a short glance at the person’s Facebook profile would suffice. In my personal experience, walking into an interview with a Creative Writing major felt very different from walking into an interview with a finance-major-turned-tax-lawyer. Also, mildly knowing the face of your interviewer comes in very handy when you try to find your interviewer in a packed Starbucks.

How long will my interview last?

It varies. Websites often say that the standard time is 30-45 minutes. Most of my interviews, however, lasted between an hour and an hour and a half, and three of them actually lasted for over two hours. The answer is it depends on who your interviewer is.

When should I get there?

Early. Nothing more to say.

Where should I meet my interviewer?

Some interviewers pinpoint a meeting place while others ask you to suggest a spot within a general location. While I suggest that you remain as flexible as possible (remember that these are working adults who are fitting in “converse with a seventeen year old” in their busy work schedule), if you ever get to decide, I would argue against interviewing at everyone’s favorite interview spot — Starbucks. Whichever Starbucks you go to, it’s unbearably loud, and tables are so closely packed together that the people sitting to the left and right of you get to hear you give a semi-embarrassing answer to “What three adjectives would you describe yourself with?”

How do I prepare for my interview?

There is a high chance that you already did your comprehensive research for the “Why X College” supplemental essay. My number one tip for you is not to delete your research notes. Save them and read them through before your interview because the more specific your enthusiasm for the “X College” the better.

What do I do when I get to the interview location?

First things first, order a cup of coffee or tea. You will be talking a lot for the next hour or so, and your lips and vocal chords will get dry. Hydrate.

Before I had my first interview, my biggest fear was that my college interviewer and I would not recognize each other. However, after just two interviews, it was made painfully clear to me that a teenager in a fully covering outfit sitting with her back straight up and eyes nervously fixated on the wall is pretty noticeable. Despite the obvious “I’m here for a college interview” aura that your body releases into the atmosphere, I personally liked taking an extra step to ensure that the interviewer recognizes me by putting my resume on the table. Some interviewers ask you in advance to bring a copy of your resume, and while others don’t, I think it’s always good to bring one because it not only looks professional and the information on the resume provides a good conversation starter but also makes you extremely spottable by your interviewer when he/she walks in.

How does the interview start?

Most of my interviewers asked me to introduce myself, which I always found very unnatural and awkward no matter how many times I did it. I would suggest that you write out a short list of things you want to include in this summary, but don’t rehearse it too much because you don’t want it to get too automatic or robotic. Make sure that this intro is short and sweet.

What questions should I expect?

Expect the usuals — extracurricular, Why X College, etc. The one question that struck me when I first heard it was “Is there anything you want the admissions officers to know?”

How should I answer my interviewer’s questions?

Short answer is: formally but honestly. Most often, your answer leads to the next question and shapes the whole conversation, so make sure that you truly believe in whatever you are saying. I have heard of too many horror stories from my friends where they faked their enthusiasm over some book or movie or a school program, and when the interviewer asked follow-up questions, they were unable to answer properly.

What questions should I ask my interviewer?

Please don’t ask something you can easily google on the internet. Your questions should be one of genuine interest and curiosity, not a time filler.

What should I do after the interview is over?

I suggest that you send a short follow-up email. I believe that you should genuinely thank the interviewers for offering their Saturday morning to sit with a high schooler when they probably could be in their bed, binge-watching Netflix.

I signed up for an interview, but I never got contacted. Should I be worried?

No, don’t worry. I didn’t get an interview with a few colleges that I signed up for an interview for, but I still got into some of those places. I personally believe that whether or not you get an interview does not equate to whether or not you get accepted. Most schools’ websites claim that the interviewers are based on availability.

Just remember to relax. Most importantly, have fun!

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