Admissions

Help! I Have to Do A Video Interview With An Admissions Rep

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My first choice requires interviews, and I thought mine would be a face-to-face interview. It's not. Instead, they want me to answer some questions via video interview and I only get three chances to do it right (I can hit "do over" twice if I need to). I don't know what the questions will be ahead of time, they will pop up on a screen and I have to stare into the camera and answer them on the spot while looking excited as if I'm talking to a person, but this is very stressful. Do you know of any tips that help with this sort of thing?


Yikes! That does sound stressful, but try to have some fun with it anyway. Pretend your interview is a "screen test" for the lead role in your favorite movie. If you've always wanted to play Spider-Man or Princess Leia, imagine that this is your big chance. You can begin your interview by confessing that this format is new to you and a bit unnerving, so you're going to imagine that you're taking a screen test. If you feel comfortable starting off with a little joke like that, you may put yourself at ease and also give your admission evaluators a bit of a chuckle as well.

And even if the aspiring movie-star gambit seems awkward, it's also fine to begin with something tamer like, "Wow ... I lead Key Club meetings with no problem so I never expected to be this nervous talking to a screen!" You will be surprised to find that owning up to your fears can actually help to diminish them! As you begin, also keep in mind that admission verdicts are rarely decided on interviews. Only exceptional interviews (either good or bad) are likely to move an application closer to — or farther from — the "In" pile. So this should help turn down the heat in the pressure cooker as well.

While you haven't been given a list of questions in advance, you should certainly spend some time considering your responses to some of the most commonly-asked ones.

The biggie here is, "Why do you want to go to [this college]?" (or a variation on that, such as "What are you looking for in a college?" ) You may not be asked this, but it's likely that you will. Be sure you have some very specific reasons. Don't just say "You have a neuroscience major" or " ... a study abroad program" because lots of colleges do. Don't say, "It's not too far from home," or "I like the [Boston, New York, California, etc.] area" because, again, a hundred or more colleges would qualify there, too. Try to read about some courses, special programs or traditions that are either unique to this particular institution or not found at the typical school.

Indeed, one of your main goals in this interview will be to convince the admission committee that this college is a great fit for you. So, in advance, jot down a list of all the reasons why you feel that it is, and then cross out the ones that seems too generic (the aforementioned neuroscience major, study abroad, etc.). Offering endorsements from actual students, recent alums, or even parents of students can be a plus, too. If you can't say something like, "My cousin Alex goes there and told me about the annual day of community service," you may be able to find comments on College Confidential that you can quote instead. ("My daughter's math professor invited her to Thanksgiving when he found out she had nowhere to go.") Since your interview will be via video, it will be easy to keep your list right in front of you while you're talking.

Other common interview questions that you might encounter include:

  • What classes have you enjoyed most?
  • What is your favorite book (or author)?
  • Whom do you admire?
  • What are your post-college plans?
  • What will you contribute to this college?
  • Is there any aspect of your transcript or overall application that may require some clarification that you would like to explain now?
  • What else do you want us to know about us?

Pay particular attention to the last one. Even if this "interview" isn't in the typical face-to-face, interactive format, you may still be asked if you have any questions about the college and, if you don't, it may make you come across as uninterested. Certainly if you are considering spending the next four years of your life in a new place, there must be something you want to learn about that isn't covered on the website or in the other propaganda you received by mail. So have at least three questions ready ... and not those that are easily answered elsewhere. Questions with subjective answers ("What do students tend to love most about this school?") often are useful to applicants. Even though someone won't be on the other end of the video answering the question, it will show the reviewer that you're curious about the school.

In addition, "ethics" questions seem to be in vogue these days. Don't be surprised if you're asked what you would do if you knew a classmate had cheated on a test or purchased a term paper online. These kinds of questions often require extra thought. So if you get one and you feel stuck, it's fine to say, "That's a complex issue and I'd probably want to first discuss it with a trusted faculty member or advisor."

While you shouldn't try to memorize answers to all of these possible questions, you should certainly think about how you might briefly respond to each one. And also think about what you should not say. Here are some tips for interview "Don'ts" ...

  • Don't make a lot of excuses (I was sick the day of the SATs …, I wanted to get a job but my mother wouldn't let me … my history teacher didn't like me ... etc.) Sometimes, a poor grade, a bad semester, etc. really will require an explanation. But a candidate with a whole litany of excuses does not sound impressive. Likewise, don't come off as a complainer. It's fine to respond honestly, when asked, that you don't like something, but too many complaints won't reflect well on you.
  • Don't act as if you've passed up opportunities because they were too hard. You can say something didn't fit in your schedule, or you wanted to concentrate on a different activity, but never say, "I didn't do it because it would be too much work."
  • Don't talk too much about things you haven't done yet. ("I'm about to start volunteering in a soup kitchen." ) Sure, it may certainly be appropriate to mention these upcoming activities in passing, but you don't want to come off sounding like all of your best achievements haven't actually been achieved.

Finally, you started your question above by saying that this school is your first-choice college. This is a critical detail that you should include in your interview for sure. You can probably work it into your response if you're asked why you want to attend. But, if not, mention it elsewhere, even if it's at the very end of the session and even if you have to wrap up with a quick, "Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you because this college is my number-one choice."

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