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Questions Applicants Should Ask in a College Admissions Interview

“The world stands aside to let anyone pass who knows where he is going.” -David Starr Jordan.

interviewhandsomemanInterviewing does not play as pivotal a role in college admissions as it does in employment, but, depending on your student’s prospective institutions, he or she may be doing some interviews. State schools typically do not interview (except for the honors college, scholarships, or elite programs); private universities and liberal arts colleges may require evaluative interviews with an admissions officer, or may simply encourage optional, non-evaluative interviews with an admissions officer, college senior, or local alum (and non-evaluative interviews tend to focus especially on the applicant’s questions).  Making the effort to interview is advisable, because it shows “demonstrated interest” and 23 percent of private schools in NACAC’s 2014 report attributed “considerable importance” to this factor. The best way to show demonstrated interest is the quality of questions an applicant asks in the interview. Here are five key tips:

interviewwitholderwoman1. Don’t go into an interview without any questions. If you were trying to sell your house, and a prospective buyer briefly looked at the main rooms and had no specific questions about the closets, the furnace, or the school district, you would assume the person was not seriously interested in the house. It is the same for an interview applicant; having no questions suggests that you are just going through the motions and are not seriously interested in finding out more about this place where supposedly you are hoping to spend the next four years. So having thoughtful questions is critical! It is okay to write down a list in advance, and to jot down how the interviewer answers. It communicates that you are a serious candidate!

asianpencillaptop2. Scour the school’s web site to learn about its programs so that you can identify questions to ask. By thoroughly reviewing the web site, you will not be tempted to ask superficial questions to which the answers are obvious in the first line of the “About Us” page. On the other hand, you don’t want to ask “gotcha” questions that are so detailed about a specific department or curriculum that the admissions officer is unlikely to know the answer, putting the interviewer on the spot. To use recording industry language, you want to find questions that are in the sweet spot between Top 40 hits and “deep tracks.”

For alumni interviews, the rules of thumb are a little different. Program questions may be irrelevant, because the interviewer may have graduated twenty years ago. You may have to stick with general questions about the interviewer’s subjective experience at the college, in his or her major, and how the school (or alumni network) prepared this person for a career.

ponytailinterview3. Ask questions about the academic fields of study in which you are most interested. If you are interested in two areas, a perfect question is how you might be able to access both. For example: “I’d like to major in marketing in your business school, but also minor in advertising in the communications school. Is this a feasible idea?” Such questions illustrate your multiple interests, demonstrate your enthusiasm for accessing all that the university has to offer, and show your thorough planning of your undergraduate career. These questions can lead to a creative, free-wheeling exchange and valuable advice from the interviewer. One question can lead to another; be ready to ask spontaneous questions based on the unfolding discussion. An interview is best when it becomes an engaged conversation!

Again, when interviewing with an alum, you may not be able to ask such programmatic questions, so keep this in mind. Instead, if you know what the alum majored in, ask what his or her experience was like in that field of study and where it led in terms of a career.

4. Ask questions about extracurricular opportunities or the surrounding community AFTER you discuss academics. It is great to ask about how realistic it is for a non-music major to participate in ensembles or how often students on a suburban campus get into the big city nearby, but only after you have asked questions related to your proposed major. You want to underscore the fact that you are most interested in the school’s educational features, not its leisure activities or location.

asianinterview5. Rather than asking questions that elicit a “yes/no” or factual answer, attempt to evoke the interviewer’s perspective and personal opinion. To illustrate, a poor question would be: “What is the student-faculty ratio here?” A better question would be: “I know the student-faculty ratio here is 10:1, and I have heard that professors like to really get to know the students. When you were a student here, what was your experience with professors?”

A Brown University alumni interviewer summed it up perfectly in a discussion with College Confidential, “Your questions reflect you. I learn about students by what they ask.”