How to Prepare Your Child for College Interviews

There are more stressful situations than a college interview. Like when your name is broadcast on the school intercom followed by the words, “Please report to the main office.” Or the awkward silence of a phone line just before you summon the courage to ask, “Are you busy Saturday night?”

Fortunately, the reality of a college interview is a lot less scary than the hype. Interviews seldom make or break an applicant’s chances for admission. Grades, standardized tests, essays and recommendations carry more weight. Interviewers are usually more intent on selling their college than evaluating you. (It might be different if they were the ones forking over $20,000 a year.)

Expect a little nervousness before your interview. It shows you care — an endearing quality. If you tackle the problem head-on by saying, “I’m a little nervous,” your interviewer is sure to be impressed. Most will try to help you break the ice. Part of their job is to learn about your personality and interests.

There is only one rule for successful interviewing: Be yourself. Don’t try to play the role of high school big shot or future corporate lawyer. As a 17 year old, you’re not supposed to have all the answers. Instead of telling the interviewer what you know, identify elements of the college — faculty, programs or student body — from which you hope to learn.

Most interviewers ask open-ended questions to allow applicants to direct the conversation. I recommend that students think about two or three subjects for an extended discussion — an activity, a book, your high school, etc. Interviewers often use a topic like these to assess the depth of an applicant’s thought. If you say that Huckleberry Finn is one of your favorite books, be prepared for 15 minutes on the relationship between Huck and Jim.

Come armed with a question. Interviewers usually ask if you have one. Most applicants hem and haw and finally say that, well, maybe the tour answered them all. A good question generally deals with the character of the college: “What kind of student does best here?” or “How is this college different from other similar ones?” A good question takes thought and is evidence that you’ve done homework. Dumb questions can be answered on page one of the catalogue (“Do you have a business program?”).

It is not usually necessary to bring a transcript. Your high school will send an official one if you apply. Exceptions, however, include students who want to explain an issue in their record, or who would like a seat-of-the-pants assessment of their chances for admission. If you would like to show a sample of your art or poetry, feel free. Slides or tapes are also a possibility, but be sure to verify in advance that such things can be accommodated.

When the pre-interview jitters hit, keep reminding yourself that the interviewer is your friend, or at least wants to be. No fear. No pain of rejection. Just a sincere conversation.

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