Insider Info: Interview Tips for College Admissions Success

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Every year, students across the country, including those using services like tutoring in Los Angeles, come into the college interview process with a lack of information. They often need help to make the right impression. Here are five important guidelines we at Valley Prep Tutoring hear frequently about the college admissions and interview process. These are being provided to help parents support their teens effectively. Read on to get a competitive advantage.

(1) What can students expect during a college interview?

During a college interview, students should expect a conversation, not an inquisition. They’ll be  asked a series of questions, but will be able to experience these 20-30 minutes (average) as a  pleasant dialogue. These interviews generally occur in one of two ways: (1) on campus with  admissions officers or members of a particular department where they plan to major, or (2) with  a local member of the alumni association. Typically interviews are academic in nature, but in  some cases will also include questions from the student’s personal statement. Expect it to be over  before you realize, so be sure to front-load important info about yourself you want them to know.  An ice-breaker of a narrative about your life that demonstrates something unique about you is  always a good idea.

(2) What is appropriate to wear during a college interview?

Tip: view the school’s website to get a sense of how they present the aesthetic of the student body.  Are they in crisp polo shirts or more casual? Business casual attire is recommended for some of  the more conservative colleges and universities. It’s hard to go wrong with a navy blue blazer,  dark slacks or skirt, flat shoes, solid white or brightly colored collared shirt, minimal jewelry and  clean, styled hair. That said, interviewers from many arts programs and more liberal campuses  will be fine with a nice pair of jeans and a good looking shirt. Ladies can opt for a skirt or dress if  it’s not too short, but the goal is to look academic not formal. If you have glasses, wear them.  Obviously, avoid t-shirts, logos, sneakers, and anything worn, torn or stained. You don’t need to  spend money on a new outfit, but when you feel confident, you look it. Take the time to lay out  what you’ll wear the night before. As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a  first impression.

(3) What are some dos and don’ts for college interviews? (Note: these tips assume in-person, but if conducted by video conferencing many can be adapted.)

  1. Do be on time (arrive 10-15 minutes early,  use the restroom, center yourself, don’t be  playing on your phone when they come to fetch you)
  2. Don’t be a generalist. These interviewers  are not interested in platitudes about  their friendly people or beautiful  campuses—be specific about why you want to attend there.
  3. Don’t criticize your high school or family.  Be mature and show yourself to be someone who knows how to make a positive experience out of any challenges you’ve had to endure.
  4. Do have a sense of humor in at least some  of your replies.
  5. Don’t use any vulgar phrases or swear  words. Consider using a few elevated here and there, to demonstrate that you think and speak in college-level vocabulary.
  6. Do thank them for making the time: “I’m  so pleased we were able to sit down today to discuss my application.”
  7. Do remember you’re there to assess them  as much as vice versa.
  8. Don’t chew gum. Don’t have body odor or too much perfume/cologne.
  9. Do have a firm handshake.
  10. Do make great eye contact, and smile as you say hello and goodbye.

(4) What are some common questions that are asked during college interviews and  how should students answer them?

Many people are surprised at how many students struggle with the most predictable question of  all: "tell me about yourself." More than Q&A, students want to be prepared to have an actual conversation. Here are the top 12 popular questions, based on reports from students who have gone thought the program. In preparing for these, you prepare for success:

  1. Why are you interested in this college?
  2. In what ways would you like to be  involved on campus?
  3. Describe your high school and  hometown.
  4. What are you most passionate about in life? In academics?
  5. If you were not going to college, what  would you be doing?
  6. How do you see yourself transforming  as a result of your college experience?
  7. What is something you've learned that's truly blown your mind?
  8. What's a really challenging  circumstance you've had to overcome and how did  you do it?
  9. If you had unlimited resources, what would you do?
  10. What was the last book you were  required to read that you really disliked. Why?
  11. Name a favorite book you read that was not for school.
  12. What issue do you think is either misinterpreted by the media, or not talked about enough?

A final tip: you can answer the question you wished that they had asked. Once you prepare these responses, no matter what they ask can been leveraged as an invitation to speak about something  you truly want them to know. Your job is not to volley questions like a tennis ball, but to dialogue  in a way that reveals the really you who will be contributing to their campus life once they  (presumably) admit you. Endeavor to frame several replies in the spirit of “what you’ll give” not  “what you’ll get”.

(5) What questions should students ask during a college interview and why should  they ask them?

Ask questions based on research. Spend time on the school’s website. Open the course catalogue  you find there. Whether you know your intended major or not, be ready to identify a particular  program that caught your eye. Reference an actual course’s or professor’s name. Read a book he or she has published on a topic you want to study. Show that you go the extra mile.

The biggest mistake you can make is to be so nervous you misrepresent who you are. The entire  point it to reveal your plans for the future. Students need to remember there’s no need to be fake,  because each student is enough. If he or she is a fit for a campus, that will be evident. If not, it’s  best not to go there anyway. Most important of all is to have fun going through the interview process. In doing so, you are one step closer to launching from home toward your independent adult life. Congratulations!

If you’re a parent reading this article, you're invited to connect with Valley Prep Tutoring’s founder Pamela Donnelly for a Q & A session about the admissions process for your teen.

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