Admissions

5 College Interview Tips From Alumni Interviewers

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Although you won't be offered a college interview at every school on your list, many institutions will connect you with an alumni interviewer so they can get to know you a bit better. If you've got an interview ahead of you, consider these tips that we've gathered from five alumni interviewers.


Brown University Interviewer: Know Why You Want to Attend

I've interviewed for over 30 years and have met with a couple of hundred applicants. The best advice I can give is to do your homework as to why, specifically you want to attend Brown. The more detailed you can be about what the school has to offer and why that appeals to you the better. Ideally try to have three to five specific reasons you can articulate in a couple of minutes.

Don't say "I like the open curriculum." Discuss why it appeals to you, what you would study there with that freedom, what your academic interests are. Ideally reference other things about the school that appeal to you, academically or for extracurriculars. Be enthusiastic and be specific.

If you do that, you will do better than most. And yes, it will still be really hard to get in.

Columbia University Interviewer: Don't Assume We've Seen Your Grades

Many students come in with a planned speech about why they dropped out of DECA or why their grades in chemistry weren't what they'd hoped, and this is typically a certain way to make a negative first impression. The reality is that I don't have access to your grades before I meet you, so I don't have any preconceived opinions. I'd rather have a conversation with you so I can see what type of person you are and get a feel for whether I think you'd be happy at Columbia.

Also, find out some details about the school before you arrive. I met with one student who told me she loved New York, "except the city." I told her I was surprised to hear that, since Columbia is in Manhattan. She thought it was in upstate New York, so I assume she had mixed up Columbia with Cornell.

MIT Interviewer: Share Info That Isn't on Your Application

Keep in mind that as the interviewer, I know a little bit about you, but not everything. However, I don't want you to regurgitate your accomplishments and resume, because MIT will have those. I want to get a feel for who you are as a person, what interests and drives you, and why you feel like MIT would be the best fit for you. I also want to understand anything that's not on your application, so I can give the admissions office a more full picture of who you are that they may not be aware of.

Unfortunately, the interviewer can't tell you what your admissions chances are, so you may want to avoid asking that. But you should ask any genuine questions you have about MIT. For instance, I recently met with a student who wanted to combine a music major with a computer science major, and asked if I've seen students successfully do this, or whether she was overly ambitious. That's the kind of question that she probably couldn't have found an answer to on the school's website, so I thought it was insightful, just as one example.

Cornell University Alumni Admissions Ambassador: Ask Questions

Cornell no longer considers meetings evaluative interviews. They are a way for students to connect with alumni, ask questions and learn more about the school. My tips to students:

  • Don't be nervous! It's a conversation, not an interview.
  • Come prepared with questions. Ask your ambassador about their experiences.
  • Cornell will be conducting meetings virtually this year. Choose a comfortable spot where you won't be interrupted to have the meeting.

Duke University Alumni Interviewer: Don't Expect Trick Questions

Know that we're genuinely trying to get to know you, and we aren't out to ask trick questions. Sometimes I'll ask a general question like "tell me about yourself" and students will say "I'm trying to remember how I worded this on my Common App" or something like that. I'm not trying to confirm that your description of yourself matches what's on your application, so don't stress about trying to replicate that information. Instead, relax and be genuine so I can get a feel for who you are. And be ready to tell me what you like about Duke – you'd be surprised at how many students don't know much about it, but applied because they heard it was good or someone at school told them to apply.

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