In Line for a Scholarship. Your Help Needed!
February 25, 2008 11:44 AM   Subscribe

My high school senior son is a finalist for a very nice Humanities scholarship at his first choice of colleges where's he's been accepted. He'll be interviewed this coming Saturday.

He's a personable kid, converses well with adults, and has a quick wit. His grades are flawless. However, he's always been very reluctant to discuss his own ability or achievements.

I've told him that while we know he won't brag about himself, he does need to step up and modestly acknowledge the good things he's done as a person and as a student.

I've also told him that if and when he's asked why he wants to attend this particular institution, as well as why he's deserving of this scholarship, he needs to have some good answers. Hopefully he's giving these some thought.

From my chats with college admissions officers in the past I've also gathered that they're looking for intellectual curiosity and motivation from their applicants.

What kinds of questions should he expect from the faculty and college student committee who'll be interviewing him?

Additionally, does anybody have any other good suggestions for him?
posted by imjustsaying to Education (15 answers total)
Additionally, does anybody have any other good suggestions for him?

Practice answering hypothetical interview questions.

This is actually very similar to preparing for a job interview; you want to practice enough so that you've got something coherent to saying without lots of "umm ... ahh ...." but not so much that the response sounds scripted. Especially if he's nervous talking about his own achievements, practice is very important.
posted by Nelsormensch at 12:04 PM on February 25, 2008

He should think about what the focus of the particular scholarship is, and how he (and his plans, and his strengths) fits that focus. Is it to promote community service work? Is it for someone they expect to go on to become a scholar? For someone they expect to go on to become a teacher? A political leader? etc. See if you can find the mission statement of the specific scholarship, and brainstorm how he can connect to that in a non-phony way.

Do practice answering questions like -
why do you want to come to college x?
what do you think you would contribute to college x?
what are your plans for college (academically - what courses, what major, etc and extracurricularly - would you want to join campus clubs, or start one, etc)?
what are your plans for after college?
where do you see yourself in 10 years? (that one always throws me)
what are your academic (or personal) strengths?
what are your academic (or personal) weaknesses?
if you were any kind of tree, what kind would you be? (or similar dumb questions that seem to come up; he should just be aware of these so he doesn't get too thrown)
what book has had the greatest influence on you and why?
how do you think technology is affecting young people today? is it good or bad? (or similar quasi-current events question)

Overall - he should seem thoughtful, lively-of-mind, responsible, ambitious but realistic. He should seem like someone these professors would be happy to have drop by their office for a chit-chat. And if the scholarship has a specific mission, he should be clear about how he fits that mission.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:25 PM on February 25, 2008

If it's a humanities scholarship:
why do you want to study the humanities? [have an answer for this for sure, and a specific one for his field of interest if he has one -- eg why history?]
what role do you think the classics/Great Works have in the education of young people? what relevance do they have for society at large?
what foreign languages do you have, and which ones do you want to study?
what do you think of movie remakes of classical stories (eg Tristan and Isolde, Beowulf, Gladiator, etc) -- are they good for generating interest? are they bad because they distort? etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:31 PM on February 25, 2008

He should have some questions of his own prepared should the interviewer ask, "Is there anything you want to know about the university, humanities program, etc." It shows that he is curious and interested about the university rather than just answering interview questions.
posted by easy_being_green at 12:35 PM on February 25, 2008

easy_being_green is 100% right about that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:36 PM on February 25, 2008

Just finished 10 residency interviews across the country. What a pain.

e_b_g is right: Having questions prepared (writing them down on a piece of paper keeps you from forgetting them and also shows that you prepared ahead of time!) shows your interest.

Now is the time for him to toot his own horn. We're taught not to do so, and it's great that he knows not to brag. But I go into every interview with two things:

1) I have an agenda, and that is to let the interviewer know certain key things about me that are impressive, unique, or important about who I am and what I will bring (and I will make sure that I get those things across, somehow incorporating them into an answer)
2) I am there to argue my case and convince the interviewer that he or she should be fighting for me--that School X would be absolutely idiotic not to accept me. It would be their loss, and a huge one.

Half of it is knowing thyself, half of it is confidence. Put your best foot forward. Be interesting and unique. I think interviewers want to see passion and interest more than anything. Even if his biggest passion is "house music from the 1990's," talk about it! It'll make him stand out in the interviewer's mind, and when you talk about things that really excite you in life, it shows, and it's exciting to see. There's a fire and passion that comes out.

I would google "college interview questions" or "college admissions questions" or even "medical school interview questions" and you'll get a perfect range of the things he's likely to hear. And the most useful thing is to practice with him. It's one thing to have him review the questions and think to himself how he'd respond, but it's another entirely to explain it to another person aloud in an interview setting. Even if it's only once, and if he doesn't want to do it with you, have him practice briefly with a sibling or friend or something. It helps so so much.
posted by gramcracker at 1:13 PM on February 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ditto easy_being_green - make sure he has a few things to ask about, preferably ones that show real critical engagement and might even spark some conversation.

I'd also be ready to answer the classic get-to-know-you questions - heroes, people you'd like to meet from history, favorite books, movies, etc.

LobsterMitten has a list that I saw a whole lot of when I was doing interviews a few years ago. The other emphasis that I saw was on some interesting thing they noted on my application form or endless lists of activities, so make sure your son is ready and willing to talk about things he does now. We were in the middle of a referendum battle for the arts at home while I was applying, so I ended up talking about non-academic things like canvassing the neighborhood as often as I did about my classes or anything else.

Long story short, I'd be ready with "thank you"s in response to praises they'll offer for his accomplishments, and just be ready to talk about every activity/interest they might be aware of in some amount of compelling detail. Having a few good questions to ask back always looks great, especially if they're carefully constructed to show some expertise: "Does your philosophy department teach any courses specifically on Locke?"
posted by Rallon at 1:17 PM on February 25, 2008

He can talk about "the good things he's done as a person and as a student" without feeling immodest by discussing his passion for his areas of achievement. His unique perspective on Eagle Scouts, Debate Club, playing trumbone in the marching band, etc will be of much more interest to the admissions officers than awards anyway. They've seen his application; they know he's been Drum Major (or whatever) for the last two years. What they really care about is why he wanted to be Drum Major in the first place, what he's learned from that experience, what it's taught him about himself, etc.

The truth is, there are a lot of high school kids out there with a full plate of outstanding activities who are just going through the motions of community service, science fairs, Boy Scouts, etc, in order to have a good looking college application. Admissions officers can smell these kids a mile away, because when they're asked a question like, "So why were you interested in tutoring underpriveleged kids after school?" their answers are vague and incomplete. Because they weren't really interested in tutoring the underpriveleged kids, it was just something their parents and guidance counselors thought would look good to colleges.

An applicant who can articulate why he enjoys a particular activity and what it's done for him both as a student and as a person will stand head and shoulders above most of his peers.
posted by junkbox at 1:20 PM on February 25, 2008

Tell him to avoid saying anything that makes it look like he has any intention of ever transferring, school's hate that even if there is a clause that says he has to give it back if he doesn't graduate.
posted by whoaali at 1:45 PM on February 25, 2008

The best advice an adult gave me when I was applying to colleges was "Now is not the time to be modest."
posted by Soliloquy at 2:00 PM on February 25, 2008

I read an article by a Harvard alumnus (or was it Yale...) who conducts interviews for the college. His interviewees are always impressive and he writes glowing reports, but few of the applicants get in.

My theory about the interview part of admissions is that it's just to check that you're not a weirdo. Something as subjective as an interview doesn't get people accepted, but it might get them rejected if, say, some sociopathic red flag comes up in the interview, some kind of thing you only detect in person. Well, that's just an example. What I'm trying to say is that you probably shouldn't worry much.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 4:19 PM on February 25, 2008

If he's personable I wouldn't worry about it. The good things he's done should be on his application, which they should've read and will ask questions about.
I could be wrong here as I just know my own experience: I was personable but shy as hell, hated hated hated hated talking about myself, and didn't prepare at all and got a very selective scholarship via interview. They can't really expect high school seniors to be fully emotionally mature and 'professional'--I bet what came across is my burning curiosity whenever they asked me about what classes I liked best or a book I was reading or something, not particular erudition or good interviewing skills.
posted by Furious Fitness at 5:56 PM on February 25, 2008

I agree with some people above that all high school seniors really can have going for them, in most cases, is naive, adorable passion.

I'm reminded of an interview I had with an alumnus of the University of Chicago in which we were talking about academics and he asked me if I'd taken Latin. Without even skipping a beat, I replied, "Man, I wish!"

My interviewer got this little look on his face that basically told me that he'd just heard all he needed to hear. We spent the rest of the hour shooting the shit about books we'd both read.
posted by crinklebat at 10:53 PM on February 25, 2008

I was up for a great scholarship and completely blew it. I told the interviewers what I thought they wanted to hear - that I wanted to stay in the same state and work for one of their companies instead of telling them the truth about leaving the Midwest for a big coastal city and starting my own thing. They knew I was lying and every day I regret not being honest. I wish I could've been rejected for who I was and not who I pretended to be.
Lesson? Be genuine, be honest.
posted by idiotfactory at 10:08 AM on February 26, 2008

Response by poster: This is a belated thanks to all of you who responded.

He got the scholarship!
posted by imjustsaying at 3:26 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

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