When college interview season rolled around a couple years ago, I naturally began to panic. I could not remember a time when I ever had to talk for an hour about myself with a college-graduated adult. Surely the opportunities to do so were presented to me several times in my life, but being the introverted person I am, I mistakenly never took them. Looking back now, I realized that if someone just reassured me with a couple of tips, I would have been less stressed. And so here are some things I wish I knew before I went to my interviews:
1. Don’t treat it as an oral exam.
I think it is important to understand that interviews are not meant to catch you off-guard or ruin your chances of getting into a college, but instead to give colleges a chance to understand you and know you through means other than just a resume or an essay. Unless you are an hour late and/or say something extremely offensive, interviews can only help you! Personally, I found all of my interviews to be more like conversations over coffee, talking about my interests and my future goals. Looking back now, they were very similar to meetings I have with some of my professors right now in college. Before going in, just take some deep breaths and imagine the interview as just a meeting with your parent’s friend from the school.
2. Ask questions.
Another way to think about these interviews is to see them as opportunities to learn more about the college you are applying to so that you can make the big decision later on. Most likely, your interviewer will be an alum, a student currently at the school, or an administrator who understands a lot about the school. Take this opportunity to ask more questions about the university, keeping in mind that your questions should show that you have already done a lot of research on the school (which should be the case as you have already applied). Ask questions about their experiences at the school: What classes did you take? What clubs/organizations were you involved in? Get their opinions on current things going on in the school. This is an opportunity for you to understand the school beyond the brochures and websites. Take it!
3. Get to know yourself.
In writing your personal statements and essays, you must have already gone through a lot of soul searching in trying to understand yourself. Take it a step further. Write some basic questions down that you would ask someone on a first meeting: Favorite place to relax? Perfect Sunday morning?
A fun activity I did with my mom a couple weeks back was going through the New York Times article on 36 questions to lead to love. We obviously weren’t doing it to fall in love (we already love each other!), but despite knowing my mom for all my life, I learned so much about her character and personality. I would definitely recommend going through these questions and maybe identifying a quality/trait you want to emphasize while having conversations with your interviewers or while answering their questions.
4. Dress appropriately for the setting.
Interviews take place at a wide variety of places. I had an interview in a courtroom, a coffee shop, a high school, an admissions office, over phone, and through Skype. My friend even had his Harvard interview at Wendy’s. I would not suggest over-worrying about your attire, but simply use some sound judgment in choosing your outfits. At the courtroom, I dressed a little more formal, while at the coffee shop I chose to wear comfortable black jeans and a nice shirt. Wear what makes you comfortable, but present yourself in the way you want to be remembered by your interviewer, because, most likely, this will be your only meeting.
5. Plan an adventure afterward!
During interview season, my mom drove me all around the LA and Orange County area. Many places we most likely would not have gone if I had not had an interview there. After each interview, I always found myself a lot happier and a lot more confident about talking to other people. Take this energy and go on an adventure! Eat at a famous burger joint nearby, or go on a hike. Make this interview day memorable! I suppose this doesn’t directly help your interview process, but for me, it was great to unwind from the stress of interviews, school, and waiting for decisions to come out. It’s also nice to just treat yourself from time to time.
Christina Chen, Yale ’18
Christina is a QuestBridge Scholar at Yale majoring in Chemical Engineering and Energy Studies. When she’s not cramming for tests, you can find her dancing in Yale’s Step team, working in the lab, shooting arrows with the Archery Team, and most importantly, re-watching Avatar the Last Airbender.