Question: I live outside the U.S. and am unable to travel to America for college interviews. I've heard that the personal interview is an important part of the admission process. Will I be at a disadvantage if I don't have one? My top choices are Harvard, Yale, and MIT.
Interviews play a funny or perhaps confusing role in the admission process at many highly selective colleges. That is, while it's usually a good idea to have them, and it's certainly advisable to put your best foot forward when you do, they ultimately don't play a very large part in the final admission verdict, at least not at the very most competitive schools. So, if you CAN arrange an interview at your top-choice colleges, it's worthwhile but, if you can't, don't lose any sleep over it.
All of the colleges you named (Harvard, Yale, and MIT)--along with many other prominent schools--offer interviews conducted by alumni to many international students in their home countries. Most college Web sites provide information about whether it's possible to have an interview close to home and--if so-- how to schedule it. (Usually this information is listed along with other instructions for international students but sometimes you have to hunt elsewhere---e.g., under "Interviews," "FAQ's," etc.). If you can't find the information you seek on the Web site, e-mail admission offices for details.
In some cases (e.g., Harvard and MIT) it is the responsibility of the applicant (YOU!) to obtain the name of the local alums who conduct interviews. In other cases, however (e.g., Yale) an alumnus will contact you after you have applied (but if you don't hear within a reasonable amount of time, it's okay to contact the admission to see if there is indeed an interviewer who has your name.)
Below are links to international-student interview info at the colleges you named.
You'll see that Harvard interviews are available in many countries but not all.
Note these MIT instructions:
MIT alumni around the world volunteer to interview students who apply to MIT. You will receive your interviewer's name and contact information via your MyMIT account. Please note that there may be times when there is no interviewer in your area and we will waive your interview. You are not required to have an interview, but if you choose to have one, it is your responsibility to schedule it. The deadline for your interview is the December 15th before your application deadline.
So do make the effort to arrange an interview, if it's possible, but don't worry if it's not.