December 15, 2019 | Patrick Jiang
Among all of the parts of the standard application, the interview seems to be the most neglected. Often, for college applications, they are optional. Even when they are not optional, students seem to treat them less seriously than, say, the essays. But interviews, when done well, can do a lot to improve an application.
All good interviews accomplish the same goal. They convince the interviewer that you have the essential traits that they are looking for. In the education context, it means that you have the right academic preparation and cultural fit for the college. You must convince the interviewer that you have what it takes to succeed.
There are some things that you can do to prepare. For example, research the college by reading their promotional materials or talking to people who know about it. Find out what the college emphasizes, which could be arts, sciences, sports, community service, or many other things. Every college has a distinctive style that suggests a type of student that they like most.
Be prepared to present your best side during the interview. You are actually telling a short story about yourself. What do you wish to say about yourself? What kind of character do you want to portray? You have to know your own story before you can tell it convincingly to somebody else. If you have some ideas, try testing them on other people to hear their reactions. See if they get all of the positive impressions that you are trying to convey. This may take a few rounds of practice to refine, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
I want to say a bit more about this last point, especially, because it’s one that many students have trouble with. Many students are reluctant to write or talk about themselves, because it feels very unnatural. Will they seem like they are “bragging” too much? Are they forcing themselves to exaggerate their achievements, and won’t the interviewer be able to see through that? Will they be ridiculed if the interviewer finds out that something they said about themselves is not quite as great as they claimed?
I totally understand those fears. I am terrible at telling made-up narratives about myself. I don’t recommend students to lie or exaggerate their achievements in an interview. What I DO recommend, however, is for students to find their genuine stories. Every student has strong suites, and every student has interesting experiences. Learn to talk about those things in compelling and passionate ways. After all, passion is contagious, and even simple anecdotes can become captivating interview material in the mouth of a skilled presenter.
Finally, remember that interviews are a two-way street. They are not only a way for the college to learn about you; they are also an opportunity for you to learn directly about the college. Ask questions that matter to you. Find out which colleges appeal most to you. You might even discover new preferences during the process. There is a good chance that if you feel positively about a college, they will also feel positively about you. In a sense, you get a sort of advanced preview on your application.
With a little bit of preparation, a good interview can boost your confidence for a successful application. Start thinking about it early, and think about it often. I think you will be surprised at how much nuance you uncover.
Patrick graduated from MIT with a Bachelor in Biology. He went on the Cambridge-MIT Institute Exchange program while at MIT and completed a J.D. course at Boston University School of Law, followed by a LLM. at UCL. Patrick has worked as a lawyer for a few years before becoming an education consultant six years ago, providing counseling on US university and boarding school admissions.
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