Traveling Abroad

If you get the chance to travel abroad. You should. Not only is it a great thing to put on your resume. It's also a fantastic personal experience.

Before you go though, make sure you have some place to stay planned ahead. You don't want to get there and figure out that you have nowhere to stay and have all the hotels/hostels be booked.



Learn English Ads on NYC Subway

When I'm in NYC, I am on subways a lot. Other than people watching and reading, the only way to kill time is to look at weird ads on the train. It's gotten less entertaining because sometimes Budweiser or some other brand will paper the train with ONE ad and that's lame. Anyhow, I've seen other ads for "schools" that teach English. I'm always intrigued by these because they say things like "permitted under federal law to enroll immigrant students." What does that even mean? If you're an immigrant, that means you are in this country legally and can therefore enroll in whatever school you want. At least that was my understanding. I find those ads to be misleading and weird. My feeling is always that they are shady operations.

Anyhow, sorry for the lack of posts lately. I had major exams the last few weeks and I sprained my ankle on NYE. Sorry. More advice soon!

A note from our sponsor:

Learn English in the UK

Learn English Ads on NYC Subway

When I'm in NYC, I am on subways a lot. Other than people watching and reading, the only way to kill time is to look at weird ads on the train. It's gotten less entertaining because sometimes Budweiser or some other brand will paper the train with ONE ad and that's lame. Anyhow, I've seen other ads for "schools" that teach English. I'm always intrigued by these because they say things like "permitted under federal law to enroll immigrant students." What does that even mean? If you're an immigrant, that means you are in this country legally and can therefore enroll in whatever school you want. At least that was my understanding. I find those ads to be misleading and weird. My feeling is always that they are shady operations.

Anyhow, sorry for the lack of posts lately. I had major exams the last few weeks and I sprained my ankle on NYE. Sorry. More advice soon!

A note from our sponsor:

Learn English in the UK


Funding Education

College is expensive.

Remember the following:


CSS Profile

Research Scholarships

Look into private loans and ask about consolidation

However, private loan rates will vary. Be mindful of the fact that these people are also salesmen. As nice as they seem when they are trying to get you to sign a promissory note, ask questions until you are comfortable with the terms. It's going to be your butt when the loans become due. Don't put yourself in a situation where you find out that you can't defer payments or that missing a credit card payment can put you into default until it's too late. Get things in writing. If the advisor tells you that he/she promises you something, ask him or her to put it in writing so that you can read it over and have it for your records.

Questions to ask or at least somewhere to start:

1. What is the interest rate associated with this loan?
2. When is it dispersed? Can I have it dispersed in a lump sum? Is it dispersed several times a year? Like once a semester?
3. When will I have to make payments?
4. Can I make payments early? Will that be applied to the principal amount of my loan or something else?
5. Is there a grace period after I graduate that I don't have to make payments? If so, will interest accrue during that time?
6. What happens if I cannot find a job after college? Can I make a request to delay payments for a period of time? (temporary cessation of payments known as forebearance).

You can shop around with different lenders. Don't feel like you need to commit to the first lender you speak with. Again, these people are salemen. Many of these individuals make a commission for every person they sign up. There may be pressure to sign up for something. You don't have to. It is in your best interest to get a loan with a provider who has answered your questions thoroughly and makes an effort to make the process as pain free as possible.


Choosing a school

My friend RR has a list of grad schools she wants to apply to. At least I hope she does. She asked me to help her narrow down that list. She asked me to tell her where to apply. Not knowing where you want to apply or knowing that you want to apply to twenty schools is an immensely frustrating situation. The feeling is that you may be missing out on some grand opportunity if you don't apply to ABC--an opportunity that could change your life OR that it's too much work to apply to all of the schools. College is a big decision. It is one of the bigger life decisions that you (and maybe your parents) will have to make. It's a good idea to sit down and think.

Factors to Consider From the Beginning

1. You will be spending four years there. You have to appreciate this fact, not just read it. Here's why: (If you haven't read the other posts about doing research about the school under interviews, please do because those things apply here too.) For example, if you find out that greek life is a huge part of the social life at Frathouse U. and this information came from a reliable source (i.e. a reputable guidebook, friends, siblings, your own eyes!), don't ignore this fact. In this particular "greek life" scenario, your life at Frathouse U. will be affected by the greek life on campus--whether you like it or not. It's a huge mistake to think that you are going to a particular school to study (or to be with your boyfriend) and that you can ignore the frats and sororities, that they will not affect your goal-oriented self. I've heard this from students I've interviewed. I went to a school where parties were lame and keggers were few. We liked to say, "the social life is what you make of it..." When I told a student this, she said, "Oh it doesn't matter. I will be here to study. I don't care if there isn't a social life." That's what she thinks now. For most of you, four years of college means that you will be spending at least six semesters on or near a campus (that's figuring 2 semesters abroad). You will be studying there, taking classes there, socializing there, eating there, blagh! You'll be there ALL the time. As much as college is an educational experience, it's also a social one. You will meet people that you like, love, and hate--maybe all at once. Most importantly, you are creating a social network that can help you after you graduate. Remember, you are going to college to get a job at some point in the future. Though sitting around and eating chips and watching Pretty Woman doesn't seem like networking for the future, it really is. Networking is the building of good relationships with people. Add some suits, cocktails, and business cards and you've got a professional networking event. Anyhow, it's important to remember that you will be part of the college community. Perhaps the better thing to say is that you want to be part of the college community. Back to the greeks, not that it isn't possible for you to become really into sorority life one day but you have to keep in mind the fact that you actually may never grow to like it. If you don't see yourself as being open-minded to such a large part of school culture or if you know that your learning style requires you to stay home on weekends, then Frat U. may not be the ideal place. You have a choice to be somewhere and hate everyone and everything there because you are uncomfortable in that environment or you can be somewhere that is pleasant for you. Also, think of college as a growing experience. College is often the place to figure out some personal boundaries and values. I know students don't like it when I ask during the interview who they would like to be in in four years but really it's an important question to ask yourself. Personally, I was not very confident in high school. It was important to me that wherever I went to college, it would have to be a place where I could work on building my confidence. That sounds so after-school special. I wanted to become more extroverted and I didn't want to go to a place where everyone was really extroverted already. I wanted to be somewhere with a community and a fair mix of introverted and extroverted people. I wanted the opportunity where I could join student government or try something like theatre without being a major. I imagine if I had been really confident in high school and fairly extroverted, I might have considered a large university without the fear of getting "lost in the crowd." My point is that you want to consider who you are and who you think you want to be because college and its environment can facilitate that. A story about this situation but you may skip and go to #2 if you're in a hurry: A friend's sister chose to go to a school in a rural part of the state. She grew up in a large city and went to a high school that had a lot of support for its students. She went to the school thinking she wanted to be with her boyfriend. She didn't check out the school. She figured she would have her boyfriend. They broke up second semester and she had made no friends. She found that the school was really cliquish and while there wasn't much greek life on campus, drinking and partying were a big part of campus life because there was nothing off campus except a lot of snow. Going to college, she was really shy and not really comfortable with confronting others with conflicts. Going to a huge school where she felt completely out of place and awkward, she has a hard time feeling like others want her to be part of the group. Just a point...

College costs money--Figure out how much or at least around how much...
College can be immensely expensive. Don't just look at the tuition listed in the catalog. While it's nice to know how much school will cost you on paper, there's more to know. Before introspection, look at more stats about the college or ask the financial aid officer. You should find out:
External Questions
-What % of students get financial aid?
-Of that financial aid, are those loans? Grants? Scholarships?
-For each type of aid, are there specific qualifications? Grades? Talent?
-If the financial aid is conditional on grades or sports--what happens if my grades fall below a certain point or if you decide to not play the sport anymore?
-For loans, are there special programs that the school offers that have lower interest rates?
-Are there recommended loan providers/unrecommended providers?
-How much is tuition itself?
-Are there additional fees? (sometimes "hidden" are student activity fees for gym, government, medical, computer lab, etc.) How much are they?
-Is there college provided health insurance? If so, what does it cover? If not, is there some sort of basic coverage on campus? How much?
-How much is room and board?
-Is work-study part of a loan package? Can students work first year? How many hours a week? For whom? If student opts out of work-study, can other funds be put in place in the package?
-How many credits are required to graduate? Do I pay for each credit or do you pay for semester? How does that all work?
-If I want to go abroad, who gets the tuition payments? Are they pro-rated if my abroad program costs less than tuition here?
-What is the average tuition increase every year?

Introspective Questions

The first step of introspection is to fill out FAFSA. When you fill out FAFSA, you will get a number back from the government that will tell you your expected family contribution. With this number you can speak with a financial aid officer who may be able to project your tuition for you and the package the college can offer to your college.

-Am I ( or my parents) willing to possibly be in significant debt after college for an education? How much can I afford? Do I have siblings that are also going to college? How much do I want to spend? State schools are a great, less-expensive alternative to schools that charge upwards of $30,000 a year for four years. If you are seriously considering going to grad school, college debt and grad school debt together can be more than $150,000.
-Is there a part-time program? These may be less expensive but less convenient and less common.
-Is the school "worth the money"? This is going to sound snotty but an Ivy League degree may arguably be "more valuable" than a degree from Random State University. I am in no way saying that your education will be inferior at Random State. In fact, you may get a superior education for a host of other reasons. However, the Ivy League name will definitely get you in more doors simply because of the ideas people have about people who go to Ivy League schools. So if the industry that you are interested in joining one day really cares about where you went, maybe it would be worth $45,000 a year to enroll at a particular school. Something to think about.

#3 Location! Location! Location! Where is this place? Do you want to be in a city? A suburb? A rural landscape? How to think about this? Where will you be comfortable? Where do you want to learn to be comfortable? Where do you want to be when you graduate? When you are in college you will want to do externships, internships, socialize, and maybe take a part-time job. If your life's dream is to work at a magazine, it will be physically easier to secure an internship at Conde Naste Publications if you are in New York City. If you want to be a vet specializing in animal husbandry one day, enrolling at a rural college in Vermont might serve your better. It's not impossible to work somewhere 100 miles away from where you go to college but it's can be easier to apply and interview if you're close by. Also, do you want to be close to home? Far from home?

Look, in the end, you can only apply to a finite number of colleges. If you apply to too few, you may be selling yourself short. If you apply to too many, you may be wearing yourself thin and not putting as much effort into each application as you could be. (More on that later) Your guidance counselor is right--apply to a few safety schools, a few reach/maybe schools, and maybe one or two dream schools. It can get expensive to apply to lots of schools. Fees can range from $30 to $60 per school. (Consider schools that are willing to forgo the fee if you donate a small amount to charity). Having read this, make a list of the things that are important to you and match them up to schools. It's possible! You need to take a few hours to do it but it needs to get done!

I think that those three things are important to remember. Of course, there are many other little things below the major headings but I hope that it helps to narrow down the list.


Vocational Colleges

Vocational Colleges

While I think that these places can be a mistake for people who just aren't ready for college (our culture has transformed going to college into a matter of when and does not ask students to consider whether they are ready for college or even right for college, that's my two-cents), I think that they can be fine places for people who are looking for a different career, are settled to a career and need a degree for a promotion, or people who don't think they want to go get a liberal arts degree and have a very set goal in mind like being a dental assistant. Before signing up for a semester with a vocational college though, bear in mind that while some of these places are great resources to get an education, I've heard that others will sign you up for the benefit of collecting the loan funds that you will have to pay to enroll. So do your research when it comes to enrolling at a vocational college. So-called admissions counselors are more salespeople and may try to pressure you by giving you statistics about how all their students find jobs within 6 months or something like that. Like the previous entry on statistics--they can be manipulated. Try to do research online or speak to current students.


A Word about selecting colleges

In the process of procrastinating, I decided I would read the paper. I came across this article in the NYT about college statistics. I posted the entire article below because the Times will archive their articles and make them unavailable for free after a while. If you insist on seeing the actual article at their site, be my guest and click on college statistics.

This is a really great article. I think that this article really reinforces how important it is to get to a know a school before applying or going. For me, it was difficult because I just couldn't afford to visit all of the schools but I made a huge effort to contact current students and alums. Like I've said in my other posts, even though current students and alums may paint you a rosy picture because that's what they're set up with you to do--if it's glum, there's only so much paint they can pour on it. In other words, you'll at least get a feeling that something's up and that can help you to narrow your decision.

My personal experience with that is an alum interview I had with someone from B college. I am not going to say the name. It's a small place in a rural town and I was concerned about diversity. The alum office made sure to set me up with someone who was now working in New York City, a minority, and clearly a success. Even though she was personally very nice and very smart, it became clear that her experience at B college was unpleasant BECAUSE of her background. She didn't say outright, "Oh I had a terribly lonely experience because of my background" but listening to her talk about who she hung out with--or rather, who she didn't hang out with--made it apparent to me that if I got into B college, I would probably not be happy there.


Ratio, Schmatio

Published: November 5, 2006

ISABELLE CARBONELL, a college senior from Bethesda, Md., has thrived over the last four years as part of a small learning community. Most of her classes have had fewer than 35 students. For freshman and sophomore years, her dormitory was in the same building as the cafeteria and many of her classrooms and professors’ offices. “You see the same people over and over, and that lets you create networks,” she says. “You get to know your professors informally. You see them in the hallway, they say, ‘How’s that project going along?’ and you bounce ideas off them.” Prospective undergraduates are deluged with statistics — from average class size to the number of Nobel Prize winners on staff — with which to take the measure of a college. Is Ms. Carbonell’s story an argument for choosing your college by the numbers?

Not exactly. She attends the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, which has some 25,000 undergraduates, 4,100 full-time faculty members and 540 buildings. If she had been looking for an intimate experience, the numbers would have led her elsewhere.

That’s just one of the problems with statistics: they rarely tell the whole story. (Ms. Carbonell’s story is that she signed up for Michigan’s Residential College, a program in which students live and attend classes in the same building. She now lives off campus but continues to take classes in the R.C. building.)

Another problem with numbers: “Often statistics don’t measure what’s important,” says Lloyd Thacker, executive director of the Education Conservancy, a nonprofit group working to improve the college admissions process. For example, the selectivity of a college, measured by how many applicants it denies, provides little information about the educational experience there.

Also, statistics can be fudged. Regard any number you read in a glossy brochure or on a university Web site with skepticism, says Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. “It’s not information,” he says. “It’s marketing.”

This fall Margaret Spellings , the secretary of education, announced a plan to push colleges to clarify and expand the data they report about themselves, including collecting information about student learning.

Until that comes to pass, though, the college- bound will just have to make do. Here are six common statistics that students in search of a quality college should parse carefully.


You want most of your classes to have about 25 students, says Marty O’Connell, a spokeswoman for Colleges That Change Lives, a nonprofit organization that promotes the ideas espoused in Loren Pope’s books of the same name. “These are settings where students can be asked to be critical, creative thinkers and to collaborate with their peers and teachers,” she says. “Faculty members cannot get to know students if you have 300 in a room.”

But don’t depend on a college’s averageclass- size statistic to predict the density of your classroom. As an average, it distorts reality by including, say, the tiny Tagalog seminars you’ll never take with the popular politics courses you will.

The same can be said of student/faculty ratio: a campus can have a 13-to-1 ratio and you can still end up in a class of 50.

That’s because not all professors teach undergraduates — and some don’t teach at all. Rebecca Goldin is director of research at Statistical Assessment Service, a media watchdog group affiliated with George Mason University. She notes that it’s a common practice in large science departments for professors to use grant money they raise for research to pay back a percentage of their salary to the university, with the intention of getting out of teaching one or more of their courses. The university then turns around and hires an adjunct to fill in at a lower salary and counts both individuals as faculty members.

Instead of looking at the student/faculty ratio, ask how often you can expect to have small classes: every semester or just during your last two years? “It should be all the time, on a regular basis,” says Ms. O’Connell.


The statistics typically used to indicate quality of instruction are the number of Ph.D.’s on staff, the number of Nobel Prize winners, the number of National Academy of Science members, and faculty salaries. Ignore them all, says Marty Nemko, an independent career and college counselor in Oakland, Calif., and the author of “The All-in-One College Guide.”

“People who self-select into Ph.D. programs are academic research types, not teachers,” he says. “Their knowledge is so deep and so profound they often don’t have the ability to communicate well with undergraduates who need the basics. In addition, they get their status not through the quality of their teaching but the quality of their research.”

He adds: “A person with a Nobel Prize-winner mind is in the loftiest stratospheres of their arcane pursuit and, in general, is not that gifted a teacher. And measuring teaching quality by salaries is ridiculous. Teachers are paid more when they’re bringing in more research dollars and when the college is in an area with a high cost of living."

What’s a better quantitative measure of teaching quality? The percentage of fulltime faculty members at a college, says Ms. O’Connell. Full-timers should be in the majority, she says, because being around tends to increase their participation in the life of the campus and their students’ development.


Look at a college’s retention rate — the percentage of students who come back for their sophomore year — to gauge student satisfaction, suggests Ann Wallace , director of counseling and guidance services at Rye Neck High School in Mamaroneck, N.Y. “I don’t like anything below 80 percent,” she says. “Students should have questions if it’s low. Was it financial aid that didn’t get followed up with the second year? Or was it dissatisfaction or location? There can be reasons to explain it, but it’s generally not a good thing.”


To determine whether you’ll fit in with the students, scan average SAT scores, says Dr. Nemko. First, decide whether you want to be among your intellectual peers, hang out with people smarter than you, or be a big fish in a less-selective pond. “Once you’ve made that determination,” he says, “as much maligned as the SAT is, it’s quite a valid indicator of intellectual firepower and drive.”

One caution: Colleges have been known to exclude the lowest scores when computing averages, and calling those students “special admits.” “Everybody lies about their college boards,” says Dr. Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia. “They keep combing through, and they get rid of some of their most troubled populations.”

This statistical sleight of hand can easily increase an average SAT score. In its online “Facts at a Glance,” the College of New Jersey, for example, reports an SAT math and reading average of 1300 for “regular admits”; for all entering freshmen it was actually 1255.

The problem, Dr. Nemko says, is you don’t know which college is tweaking and by how much. “The way you get around it is asking the point-blank question: ‘When you include all students who are in the freshman class, what is the average SAT score?’ ”


Diversity statistics can also help students figure out whether a college is a good match for them. Chris Farmer , college counselor at the Young Women’s Leadership School in East Harlem , says: “Sometimes a college will say ‘35 percent of our students are students of color,’ and the kids at my school will say, ‘Wow, I can see myself there.’ But in their minds they’re thinking that 35 percent of students are African- American or Latino when most of them are Asian.” So ask for a breakdown.

He suggests translating percentages into numbers, especially for smaller, less diverse colleges. “Say you have a college with 500 freshmen,” he says. “If they have 3 percent African-American kids, that means about 15 in the freshman class are black. Because many more African-American women go to college than men, you might want to look at that. Maybe only one or two of them are men.”


Mr. Farmer cautions that statistics for students who get jobs within a year of graduation tend to be inflated because “the students who report back to the college are the ones who are really satisfied with their job situation.” A better, though more limited, indication of a college’s ability to prepare students, he argues, is a high percentage of students who are accepted at graduate schools. But be on the lookout for spin.

“The college might say ‘80 percent of our students who applied to medical school got accepted,’ ” he says. “The real answer might be that, in junior year, there were 15 pre-med majors who are no longer pre-med majors because their G.P.A. was too low. So although their intention was to go to medical school, the college counseled them to not apply.”

Simply graduating from college is an achievement — only 55 percent of students at four-year institutions do — so you should seek out colleges where advancement is the norm. But graduation rates measure only the percentage of freshmen who earn their degrees from the colleges they began in; they don’t count the large number of students who transfer in and out.

Colleges promote their six-year graduation rates rather than the lower four-year rates, though that might be in small print. “If a college is graduating 75 percent of students in four or five years, it’s probably pretty solid,” says Mr. Farmer. “If they’re graduating 90 percent, it’s outstanding. When a college is graduating 50 percent of the students who start, that doesn’t mean don’t go there. It just means figure out why the students are leaving.”

Not all reasons are bad. Small liberal arts colleges may lose students who decide to pursue a field in which it doesn’t offer courses. Lower graduation rates in a rigorous program might indicate that its standards are high, Professor Goldin notes. “If you want a challenge, it may not be the wrong decision to go there,” she says. “But go into it with your eyes open.”

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This is pretty old but I can't get over how terrible this is. Students rarely spout as much zen mumbo jumbo during interviews but what is applicable here is that you don't want to LECTURE the interviewer. Make it a conversation, not a class or demonstration of greatness.

Common Interview Questions

These are some questions I've heard. Of course an interviewer can ask whatever he or she wants but here are things to think about before going in. It's better to carefully consider these questions, have an answer prepared than be nervous and waste the interview session.

1. Tell me about yourself.
2. What classes are you taken?
3. What has been your favorite class and why?
4. What has been your least favorite class and why?
5. What is the last book you read?
6. What experiences, books, movies, etc., have made the greatest impression on you?
7. Tell me about a situation where you had to make a difficult decision.
8. How would you describe yourself?
9. How would others describe you?
10. What extra-curricular activities are you involved in? What is the extent of your commitment?
11. Why ABC university? Why do you want to attend ABC?
12. What do you do in your spare time? (be honest but not TOO honest)
13. What are you looking for in a college or university?
14. How do you deal with stress?
15. What do you know about ABC University? About the area?

These are just some questions. REMEMBER not to get upset or off your game if you feel like you messed up. It's okay! The person interviewing you will understand that you are nervous. As long as you don't act cocky, be nice and everything will be fine!

Interviews Part II

After the first five:

I covered the first few moments of the interview in my last post. I know if may seem silly for me to cover this by minute but I do this because college interviews can sometimes last as little as 30 minutes. It's important to get your point across and convey what you want the interviewer to know. Like I said in the previous post, YOUR goal should be to get the interviewer to like you and want to help you. They are people too! You have far more control of the situation than you think you do. I think that if you have the opportunity to set the tone of the interview, you should by telling the interviewer what you want him or her to know when she asks you to tell her about yourself. Also, once you've told something to the interviewer, be prepared to explain yourself. If you've written a novel and you mention it, be ready to talk about what it's about, why you wrote it, and whether the experience has changed you.

I think that the rest of the interview shouldn't be challenging or nervewracking if you've prepared for it. Ah, preparation! The worst interviews I've ever witnessed are ones where the applicant has NO CLUE about the school she is applying to. I understand that part of the college application process is faking some enthuasiasm. I know that you aren't as interested in every institution as you say you are at their respective interviews. That's okay. However, it is not okay to know nothing about the school or prepare some generic "I like your school's English department" statement without the substance to back it up. You will be asked why you like it so much. In the age of the internet, please visit websites and read literature and talk to anyone you know who has a connection to the school. Interviewers can tell when you've done no preparation. It can sometimes seem disengenuous to talk about how much you want to be somewhere when you're really tepid in your enthuasiasm. I feel the same way sometimes going on job interviews but there's no way around it, you have to convey interest and knowledge of what you seek. I think that a lot of why people want to see interest even if it may not be 100% real is that when you have sufficient knowledge of something, it shows that you MADE AN EFFORT. Effort is important. If I feel like you're sitting across from me and don't really care about being there, I won't really care about writing you a nice report.

Good Places to Find Info (mostly obvious but I like obvious things):

-Guidance counselor--I know I didn't have that support but if you go to a school that does--Take advantage! Your tax dollars, in the case of public education anyway, pays their salary! That and guidance counselors or COLLEGE advisors as some call themselves these days, are a great resource. Even if you haven't seen this person in four years, this is the time to go and introduce yourself and ask for help. He or she may lecture you and ask you why you've been MIA but in the end, you'll be better off.

-Internet--GO TO the website of school. Don't just go to the "prospective students" tab. Explore the website. Go to what you want to study. Find out if they have a core curriculum. See what their requirements are. Check out different department pages, health services, the Dean's Office. TAKE NOTES!

-Get a copy of the course catalog. A lot of schools will send you shiny pamphlets but if you really want to show your level of
preparation, call up the admissions office and ask for a copy. Usually, they will be more than happy to send it to you. Read it, it's generally interesting anyway.

-Call up admissions and ask them to put you in contact with an alum or a current student BEFORE the interview. (this may depend on the school, some places that are very large may not do this but I know that my school did)

-Do a google search of the school

-Myspace! friendster! Maybe this isn't the BEST piece of advice but a college is made up of people. Sometimes if you keyword search the school, you may very well come across student pages and probably not for the interview but I love information and I feel like it can't hurt to know what sort of people populate a school for your own benefit.

The End

I will call the end of the interview the part when the interviewer stops asking questions and inquires whether you have any questions. I, personally, LOVE questions. This is where all the great stuff you learned using the list above comes in handy. I think that the best way to demonstate your interest in a school is to ask questions. Before we get further though, I want to point out that questions are great but please make sure they are thoughtful questions.

Now, what is a thoughtful question?

To begin, the unthoughtful question is one that reveals that you know nothing about the school. I am assuming that since you are reading these entries, you know better than to do something like walk into a women's college and ask about male enrollment. A better, perhaps more realistic example comes from an experience I had recently. The school I interview for is a really small school that prides itself on a tight-knit community where most students live on campus all four years and there are numerous activities meant to instill unity. This is not news to anyone. All the brochures, tours, and tourguides are full of this information. Anyone who bothers to take a glance at some literature would know this. What made me realize that the person didn't do any research or just didn't care was when she asked me a series of questions about off-campus living. At another school, it wouldn't have been a big deal. REMEMBER! An interviewer evaluates how well you'd fit in at a particular school. Where the college values community above all else, asking about living off campus away from everyone else is the worst way to show you belong there.

Thoughtful questions come from at least some thinking after looking at information about the school. Thoughtful questions can really make an impression on the interviewer and can make her believe that you are genuinely interested in her institution. A point though, you want to show that you are knowlegeable but you want to keep the focus of the interview ON YOU! If you are really interested in the biology department and it's research, by all means ask! But if you don't have a specific interest like that, don't ask vague, general questions about the school. Most of the time, you will get a response from the interviewer saying that he/she doesn't know off hand and needs to find out. That's great but you want to keep the conversation flowing. You want as much time as possible to indirectly show your qualities through well-put questions! One of the best canned questions I can think of asking is: How responsive is the administration to student concerns? The reason I like this question is because it shows that the student is possibly someone who will care about what goes on on campus and someone who wants to get involved. Of course, that's my opinion and not everyone might think that but I think that it's a relatively safe question to ask as it shouldn't step on any toes no matter college you are at and also, it's relatively specific. Clearly, don't ask a question like this if the interviewer has already addressed it. That goes for all questions. Don't prepare a script. That's bad news. You'll forget, trip, and be nervous! A follow-up question to the administration question could be: How can a student bring concerns to the administration/faculty?

I am not suggesting that you ask questions you don't actually care to know the answers to. What I am saying is that you should prepare some questions that you think you will want to ask before you show up at the interview. Moreover, you should try and frame at least one question in a way that is meant to show you in a better light. You should always ask about things that you are interested in, even if you think they are boring or isn't meant to kiss up like my question. The thing to remember is that if you are genuinely interested--ASK! Nothing is more sincere than sincerity. But I think that if you don't have some great topic that you are enthusiastically interested in, it can't hurt to prepare questions that cater to the culture of the school. If you have specific questions, please comment and I will check that and try to answer them.


The best thing to ask an alum interviewer is about his or her experience. If there's one's thing I like most about blogging--it's the chance to talk about myself... People LOVE to talk about themselves because that's the subject no one else can claim to know better. When students ask about my experiences at college, I regale them with happy memories. It's my opinion that if you can make the interview experience a happy one for both you and the interviewer, the better it is for you. The more the interviewer gets excited about what his or her experience was like, the more he or she will recall what it was like to be in your position and how much of a relief it was to be done with it. As a practical matter, it's good to hear about an experience that isn't so processed. Not that alum interviewers aren't subject to training from admissions staff but their responses will tend to be more insightful than a shiny brochure you get in the office. I think that this is also a good place to ask what the interviewer didn't like about their experiences. Most will be honest even if it's a little sugar-coated. Especially if it's an alum interviewer, interjecting to relate while he or she is reminiscing can sometimes be a good idea. This builds rapport.

In the case of an admissions officer, many times they are alums of the college as well. Regardless of that, because they are admissions officers, you may want to be more formal than you would be with an alum.

Don't feel pressure to ask a billion questions. One to three solid questions that show your interest and gets good, medium-length responses of 2-3 minutes in length (I know you wouldn't be holding a stopwatch...) is good.


I was never taught that thank-you notes are necessary for college interviews. However, I think that one can never go wrong with a thank-you note. The interviewer will probably give you contact info at the end anyway. If she doesn't, ask for it. Go home and write her an email if you have the address or better yet, send off a REAL letter telling her that it was a pleasure to meet her. Reemphasize WHY you want to go to ABC College and thank her for her time. I almost never get them but it's really nice when I do and it shows me that the person made an extra effort even if it was only putting a stamp on an envelope and churning out a generic thank you note.


1. RESEARCH! RESEARCH! RESEARCH! Don't walk into an interview unprepared. It is ESSENTIAL that you know the institution you are interviewing with. Believe me, it can happen. Especially if you are having multiple interviews that day. Don't mix up info about schools. It's happened to me and I lucked out because the interviewer was gracious but it can be deadly. More important, KNOW what you want to share about yourself. Don't waste time during the interview saying, "I don't know?"

2. Ask thoughtful questions
a. Questions that address things you were wondering about and also questions that reveal aspects of your personality that you want to highlight. i.e. your desire to contribute to the community; your intellectual curiosity
b. In the case of alum interviewers, ask about his experience--both good and bad.

3. You are there to show that you will fit in the college environment. There will be people who are just like you on paper. It's your job to be more than just a common-application. Even if you are normally shy, try and share your experiences. Your interviewer will thank you for it!

4. If you can, send a thank you note!


Interviews--ask and ye shall receive

I've been doing alum interviews for about a year now. I interview candidates on an "informal" basis and write up reports about them. I doubt that my reports make or break a candidate but I imagine if I had really negative things to say about someone, it would be troubling to the committee and would make them think twice about admitting the person. I'll say a little about my own experience and then talk a bit about what I wish I had done and what I think are good things to remember during the interview.


My college interview so many years ago was also with an alum. I did not live close to the college and I didn't have the time or resources to travel to it. It was my first college interviewer and I didn't really know what to expect. I didn't know what to wear, what to bring. Maybe I should have asked a guidance counselor but thinking back on it, I think I was embarrassed to ask something as stupid as--oh what should I wear to a college interview? Well, clothes... Duh. I guess I wouldn't have gotten that response but I didn't know any better. I ended up wearing capri pants and a fleece sweater. I think I probably could have chosen something a little more business casual, a little less Old Navy commercial. Like I said, I had never gone on a college interview before. I'd never really had an "interview" that went beyond, oh can you fold clothes? You're hired. At the time, I had been working on this project at school that was really important to me. My HS was HUGE. It was overwhelmingly and terrifyingly large. I spent four years not not knowing where the music room really was and not knowing who to go to if I lost my bus pass. I made it my goal senior year to fix that. I wanted to start a guidebook (with a classmate) that would deal with all those practical things. This was a big deal to me and I had a lot of responsibilities. Going into the interview, I KNEW that I wanted to talk about it but nervousness just made me jittery and forget what I wanted to say. Even though my interviewer could not be any nicer, I switched into serious mode and basically LISTED my activities. I suddenly felt like I needed to wow her with quantity as opposed to quality. That was not good. In the end, only because she was so gracious, she made me more comfortable and got me to open up and talk about my experiences and who I was. Clearly, she didn't have to. Moral of story: There's a better way to interview.


The first five minutes:

I come into an interview with a potential student with a clean slate. I don't have the benefit of the student's file in front of me like an admissions counselor may. However, I think that with the sheer number of applications a college receives and every admissions counselor handles, my knowledge of the student sitting in front of me is not much less than that of the counselor. I'm usually provided with a little dossier of the student. Name, School, Hobbies, Interests, Extracurricular Activities, Classes, Area of Study, Address Yes, it's very little information and what little information it is, it tends to be vague. And you may ask "Well, how are you going to ask me questions knowing so little about me? You don't know what to ask!". In my experience, many students think that I should be the one to get information from her. However, I think that's the wrong way to approach it. Not that a student should hijack the interview and answer whatever she wants but the very fact that I know so little about her because I have is a piece of paper with three sentences on it, is an invitation to fill in the blanks. Think of it as color by number. When I get the piece of paper with the picture of a fruit bowl on it. It's not interesting. When you start coloring it in--sometimes in an unexpected way, like a purple banana--that's when I want to know more about why you did what you did. I tend to start with "Tell me a little about yourself." I do that because I honestly want to know.

...A little digression... I do alum interviews because I care about who goes to my school. I don't do it because I hate students. Moreover, the admissions counselors/officers that I know do what they do because they LOVE their job and CARE about students and the educational institution they represent. It's true that they handle many applications but thinking that you're always just a number and that the admissions people are there to give you a hard time is always the wrong way of thinking and approaching the interview/application process...

When I ask about you, you really should use this opportunity to start off with something you want, NEED me to know. If it's your first college interview, tell me that. If you're the first person to ever go to college, you can tell me that. You might want to be subtle about telling me things but I think that an interview--even if they tell you that it's purely informational--can be an excellent chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants if your interviewer likes you, will remember you, and will want to help you out. On what NOT to do. Don't say "I don't know what to say." Even if it's your first interview, you should always ALWAYS ALWAYS prep yourself on that question (and several others that I will talk about later). I think it's more likely than not that you will be asked some variation on that question. The reason I say that is because, back to that little information thing, it gives the officer a chance to pick up on thing so he or she can ask you more questions. There is only so much an interviewer can ask based on where you went to high school and your home-town. A good exercise is to sit yourself down before your interview and write yourself a short paragraph about who you are. This isn't as easy as it sounds because you have to start to weigh the many facets of your life and think about what you want someone else to think of you--or rather, assume about you based on your responses. That sounds terrible--for someone to assume things about you--but really that's what it is. No one else has access to your thoughts and ideas in their original form. The only way people learn about your ideas is when you express them. Sometimes, expressing them one way will lead to an assumption by someone else that is totally not like what you had in mind. That's why it's important to be careful about HOW you paint that picture of yourself for your interviewer.

In using the first few minutes to make a strong impression about who you are, don't worry about having to "impress" the counselor. What I mean by that is that I think a lot of students and I did this myself, think that interviews are a time to pull out all of my accomplishments and bowl the interviewer over with them. While it's important to highlight your good experiences, it's important to recognize that one of the goals of the interview is to see whether the student will fit in and get along with other relatively normal, similar people at the college. If you've published a book, that's great and I want to know that but don't feel stressed out by the fact that you haven't. I think that students want to outperform their classmates and feel bad when they don't have something spectacular to share. It's not about that. It's about demonstrating who you are. That sounds so cliche but it's true. People lead very interesting lives if they want to think of them that way. Not all great novels are about supermen. The responsibility really falls on the student to think about the things that she's done in over the course of seventeen or so years. A well-told story about growing up in the suburbs and loving it because community and family are important to the student is far more compelling than just telling me that you went on an expedition to the Himalayas and didn't gain anything from it but some new wallpaper for your computer. That illustrates the HOW you paint the picture. It's important to remember that you can't just assume your interviewer will understand where you're coming from....




What this is

I went on my fourth job interview for a law job today. I happened to interview with a judge who went to the same high school as I did though he graduated in the 1970s and I graduated in 2000. While I don't know whether I got the job, we really hit it off because we both came from a working class background. Judge talked about how he was clueless when it came to what his post-graduate school career was like and if it wasn't for some luck and guidance from someone who did have a clue, he wouldn't be where he is now. This got me thinking. Well, the night before the interview, it occurred to me how clueless I was when I was applying to college. I am the first person in my family to go onto college. The process was daunting and it didn't help that I went to a massive high school that didn't have the time or resources to give me personal attention. I really had to figure out things on my own and it was hard because my parents couldn't help me at all even if they wanted to. I think I did a decent job. I ended up being accepted to most of the schools I applied to and went to a top liberal arts college in the north east. I wish that someone had been there to address my cluelessness. I wondered if there are resources out there that lays it out step by step and gives advice about the college application process. By no means am I an admissions officer or one of those educational specialists that get paid thousands of dollars to give you advice. I am someone who had to figure out the process on my own because I didn't have any friends or family who went to college before me. I made an effort to understand the college application process at the time. Now that I am done with college and finishing up law school, I've gained some perspective as to how one gains admission into a particular school. In my spare time, I also do alum admissions interviews and I have several friends who are now admissions officers. Sitting across from students at alum interviews and even sitting across from clients in a legal setting, I have learned the nuances of what makes for good interviews. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I wish I had some help when I was going through all that and I wanted to do my part and be a resource by putting it out there for those who are overwhelmed by this overwhelming process. Hope I can be helpful.