What to do on a college admissions interview?
December 29, 2006 11:04 AM   Subscribe

What to do on a college admissions interview?

My little sister has an interview for her college of choice (Cornell). She'll be meeting with an alumnus... what should she expect? What are the guidelines with regards to dress code, etc.? Any ideas on what they'll be looking for?
posted by snickerdoodle to Education (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As far as dress, just go with job interview attire.
posted by cschneid at 11:23 AM on December 29, 2006

As far as what not to do...I once had to interview this girl who wore overalls and flip flops to meet me, and her first question after I finished asking her mine was "Were you in a sorority?". Needless to say, I did not recommend her.

So, um, tell her to dress professionally (a nice knee length skirt and sweater or twinset would be fine for a high school kid), and to ask academic questions, not social ones.

As for questions...they just want to make sure she's normal, smart, able to have an intelligent conversation, it should be pretty easy as long as she acts like an adult.
posted by echo0720 at 11:27 AM on December 29, 2006

Where are they meeting? What time of day?

I had two Ivy League alum interviews, and my father used to give them.

For mine, one involved meeting the guy at an IHOP. He was in a suit and I dressed up (skirt and button down, I think), and the whole thing was odd, in that it felt very interview-y. He asked a lot of theoretical questions about my views on literature, race, political correctness -- not in obnoxious ways, it just felt a bit like a teacher challenging a student. He had me do a monologue from Shakespeare (I was going to be an English major, and had done some Shakespearian acting; I don't think it's a standard requirement!) in the middle of the IHOP. This school was the only one at which I was not accepted (though at the end of the interview, the guy said he would recommend me).

The other interview was at a woman's house. I was dressed up, she answered the door in slippers and sweats. Most of the interview was her talking about what a great experience college was, and telling me stories about her and her friends. The main point of the interview seemed to be to give me a sense of what the college was like, and to answer any questions I might have. I *really* liked her, and ended up going to that school.

My father had a similar interview style and goals, just trying to help give kids a sense of what the school's like and to see if they'll fit in and to answer any questions they might have. The kids who showed up at our place were obviously nervous, but my father tried for a pretty laidback vibe.

So, I would say: Dress up; not a suit, but something she'd be comfortable wearing at a job. And they'll probably just be looking to make sure she's not insanely weird, truthfully. (My father said that he recommended everyone except people he though had huge psychological issues. He saw his role mainly as an ambassador for the college, not as some sort of test the kids had to pass.)

Various movies and TV shows have given the impression that these sorts of interviews are pressure-filled "Yes sir, here is my plan for creating peace in the middle east" things, and they're just generally not.
posted by occhiblu at 11:29 AM on December 29, 2006

I cannot speak for Cornell in particular, but most college admissions interviews are about rounding out the application process. She should present herself in an appropriate mannar, which includes dressing-up and arriving earlier than expected.

The interviewer will be looking to get out of the interview what cannot be understood from the traditional application, essay, portfolio, SAT, etc...

If her grades, extracurricular activities, test scores, and references are all up to par, she shouldn't have to worry about the interview. She should just show up on time and be ready to talk about why Cornell is the right place for her and why she is right for Cornell.

If the above mentioned items are not what they should be, than the interview becomes more important. If that's the case, she should be ready with a few talking points about why she's the right choice for admission. Nothing too formal, just two or three points.

The really important thing to remember is not to be nervous. At that age, this will seem like the most important thing she's ever done and, if she's not used to that kind of pressure, it could be a problem. Just keep reminding her that she's qualified and deserves admission. All she needs to do is show up and show them how awesome she is.
posted by willie11 at 11:35 AM on December 29, 2006

I just graduated from Cornell last spring. I didn't opt for the alumni interview when I was on my way in, but I don't imagine it should be particularly brutal. I'd say she should bring questions about the school in general, the environment, college life as particular to Cornell, etc. Echo's probably right that asking social-related questions probably won't earn you points. Besides, I can tell her up front that yes, there is a lot of greek life if you choose to be active in it, and plenty of non-greek life, if greek life isn't your thing (it isn't mine).

One thing: I remember going to a meet-and-greet for other prospective Cornellians in the spring of my senior year of high school. My parents had me wear a suit and tie. Everybody else was in Abercrombie sweatshirts and jeans -- I felt a bit out of place, to say the least. I'm not sure if a formal interview would be different, but the point seems to be, don't go -over-formal.
posted by Alterscape at 11:40 AM on December 29, 2006

In general, the point of these interviews is to make sure the applicant is a human being with some sort of personality and socialization and not just a grade-earning automaton. So she should just relax and try to be herself, assuming, as stated above, that all the other parts of her application are in place.

Sometimes you get interviewers who are just weird. They might ask you to answer silly questions, do embarrassing things (I was asked to recite poetry in one interview), or talk about things way beyond anything you could reasonably be expected to know, e.g. the nuances of US policy in the Middle East. The best thing to do in these situations, IMHO, is just to bite the bullet and muddle through as best you can. And it's generally best to admit ignorance rather than try to bluff.

Assuming she has a normal interviewer, though, everything ought to be fine. The interview is a relatively small part of the application, so as long as she's relaxed, confident, and friendly (or is nervous but shows that she has the capability for those qualities), she should be fine.
posted by markcholden at 11:57 AM on December 29, 2006

My father-in-law does alumni interviews for Cornell. I will ask him what to expect. I cannot reach him until tomorrow though.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:07 PM on December 29, 2006

When I interviewed at my future college, the interviewer had clearly read my application materials very closely. She commented on my essay, and had specific questions about life experiences I'd hinted at in the essays, as well as extracurriculars I'd listed on the app. She also noted that it was unusual for applicants to put math and English as their two top major choices, and asked me to talk about why I chose such different subjects.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:12 PM on December 29, 2006

I am an interviewer for Brown, and some of the things that I look for in interviews are:

- familiarity with the school and a sense that the interviewee has a specific interest in the school (i.e. "I want to go to Brown because of Brown-specific reason X,Y,Z")

- a sense of intellectual curiosity and how they plan on using the school's academic and other offerings to their benefit

- a passion for something other than academics

- the sort of personality that you would want in a roommate or classmate

As far as dress, I agree that you should look put together for an interview, but not so much that you seem out of your element.
posted by nekton at 12:37 PM on December 29, 2006

I applied to college a few years ago and did a few alumni interviews (not for Cornell, although I'd imagine they're all pretty similar). I am female and wore business casual attire--nice slacks, dress shoes, sweater set, etc. Some of mine flowed really well, and some were more awkward--totally depends on the interviewer (and your sister of course). She should be prepared to talk about herself--her extracurriculars in particular, what she's interested in in school, why she wants to go to Cornell. It's always good to have some questions about the school that can't be answered via the website or "how good" a particular program is (so not, "is English a good major?" or "How many undergrads does it have?"). (For what it's worth, I generally asked about the "political climate" of a school, which is a question that was relevant to both my extracurriculars and intended major and allowed the interviewer a chance to offer their opinion rather than a fact I could've looked up myself.) I think asking about social life is fine, as it is a big part of college and (hopefully) relevant to your sister's consideration of the school. Essentially, you want to come off how you would in any interview--be polite and courteous.

Also for what it's worth, your sister should know that these alumni interviews count for very little in the college admissions process (that doesn't mean she shouldn't try to make a good impression, just that she shouldn't stress that much about it). The school is much more interested in the application itself (GPA, class rank, SAT, recommendations, etc.). Unless the interview raises some serious red flags--which, if your sister is seriously interested in attending Cornell and she's a relatively sane, normal person, it won't--they don't carry a lot of weight. A good interview probably won't be the difference between admission and not, but a terrible interview might be.
posted by cosmic osmo at 12:55 PM on December 29, 2006

I used to do these.

I usually just tried to make sure the person could carry on nice conversation, wasn't horribly uncouth, maladapted, or sheltered, and was at least interested in what life at the school was like.

The only time I passed a negativeish report upstream was because the person I interviewed had the fatal combination of already having very strong ideas about what university life was like, being almost entirely wrong on that front, and giving the impression of severe mental rigidity -- I couldn't in good conscience say that I felt he'd have been able to adapt in time to make good use of the school's resources, and said as much.

Do dress nicely -- business casual at a minimum. I wouldn't worry about this too much:
* if she gets one of the weirdos, don't worry at all -- the weirdos are usually known as such and their weirdness taken into account
* if she gets someone more typical, it really only matters as a tiebreaker, and even then it doesn't matter much.

I think your daughter will be more comfortable and get more out of it if she treats it as an opportunity for her to learn more about the school, and more or less disregards the evaluative component.
posted by little miss manners at 1:14 PM on December 29, 2006

I suggest she wear business casual. I'm friends with a couple who have done several alumni interviews for our Ivy Alma Mater, and it turns out that there is no corrollation between who they like/recommend and who Brown accepts. (There's no reverse corrollation, either; it doesn't seem to impact the admissions office much at all.) So tell your sister to try to relax and be friendly, like if she were meeting a close friend's relatives for the first time.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 1:23 PM on December 29, 2006

I do these for my undergrad and grad school. Nekton has it spot-on. Just keep in mind that your sister needs to be absolutely clear about why she wants to attend the school she's interviewing for, as well as being able to articulate reasons why.

These interviews are almost always also about gauging "fit," so tell her to play nice with the interviewer.
posted by LGCNo6 at 11:26 PM on December 29, 2006

I'm a Cornell alum, and I do these interviews. (just did one on Thursday)

The way Cornell does these isn't necessarily standard- They are NOT formal interviews - rather, they're a way for the student to ask frank questions about the school, social life, and everything else. In addition, they are ways for the school to learn a bit more about the student and add a more personal touch to the application.

As a previous poster said, these are more just an addendum to the application. Not everyone gets one, with 30,000 applications, there's no way to interview everyone.

I would dress decently, but more than anything else, show a sincere passion for the school. Have some specific questions that show you actually care about the school and have done some research. (and that it wasn't just one of 10 elite schools that she/he applied to)
posted by jare2003 at 1:53 PM on December 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

« Older creating a gallery with mootools, can someone help...   |   Help me consider the pros / cons of different... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.