Now that summer is upon us, many high school juniors are thinking ahead to next year with anticipation of submitting their college applications. Summer is a great time to visit college campuses to start putting together your college list. Some colleges -- especially smaller, liberal arts schools -- even offer students an opportunity to do an on-campus interview, usually with an admissions officer or current student. If you happen to be at a college that offers this option, take them up on it! It's a wonderful opportunity to let the admissions office get to know you a little better as well as to demonstrate interest in the school (something that can tip the scales in your favor, if you are a "border line" candidate).
The good news is that on-campus interviews are pretty short (usually half an hour), and they are designed to be casual exchanges in which the interviewer gets to know more about you and you can ask questions about the college. What should you wear? Think about what you might wear to dinner at a nice restaurant (a casual dress or khakis/polo shirt combo could work). You can put almost anything besides sneakers or stilettos on your feet. Keep it comfortable. You want your interview to remember what you said, not what you wore.
Here are ten tips for acing the college interview from my new book, B+ Grades, A+ College Applications:
1. Bring a resume or activity sheet. Many interviewers will use this as a guide and focus their questions about the things on your resume. So you'll likely be talking about things that you do all the time and the half hour will fly by.
2. Brush up on the big headlines. You don't have to be an expert on every detail of the domestic and foreign policy but you should sound like an informed citizen. Good sources for major headlines include: national newspapers (The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal) and reputable news casts (the nightly national newscast on any of the major networks or PBS; you can also listen to the exceptionally convenient "All Things Considered" podcast from NPR).
3. Be able to talk about a favorite book that was not assigned in school. If you can't remember the last time you read a book that was not assigned, the New York Times Bestseller list is a good source of inspiration for novels (avoid clichés like Harry Potter, Twilight or The Hunger Games). If fiction isn't your thing, you can always go for a biography of someone you admire or a non-fiction book about a subject that interests you.
4. Practice talking about your academic interests. Many interviewers will ask about your favorite high school subject. However, if you're more interested in things that aren't typically offered in high school -- philosophy, psychology, economics, etc. -- that's great, too. You should convey knowledge and excitement about your academic interests, no matter what they are.
5. Provide some interesting examples of things that you do outside of class. Whatever you like to do in your free time, be sure that you can talk about why you enjoy it and what you've learned from doing it. You can also talk about your plans for continuing your extracurricular activities in college.
6. Find an issue or cause that you care about. Colleges want students who will use their higher education to make a difference in the world. A good interviewee should be able to show that you care about things that don't just affect you personally.
7. Learn about the college. Any time you have an interview, it's important to be familiar with the organization that you are hoping to join. Because most college websites are pretty superficial, I find that a much better source of information for major campus issues and unfiltered student voices is the student newspaper, which you can easily find online
8. Be ready to ask your interviewer three questions. You'll find that every interview usually ends with, "Do you have any questions for me?" You don't want to miss the opportunity to learn more about the things that interest you (and demonstrate your curiosity) so come prepared.
9. Practice, practice, practice. Chances are you've never actually been interviewed for anything before. The good news is that interviewing is a skill that you can learn. Try to space out your preparation -- practice a couple of questions over breakfast, dinner or in the car.
10. Write a thank you note on paper. Go the extra mile to make an impression by sending a handwritten thank you note. Your interviewer might receive hundreds of emails a day and only a handful of written notes each week. Don't forget to sign the note with your name, email address and telephone number just in case he or she wants to keep in touch with you.
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