11.04.2006

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.

ON ALUMS...

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.


THE AFTERMATH

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.


REVIEW

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!

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