Getting into College Made Easy: Handling College Alumni Interviews

Barry Lenson

Getting into College Made Easy: Handling College Alumni Interviews

Handling College Alumni Interviews  If you’re applying to a college that offers you a chance to have an interview with an alumnus or alumna who attended the school, should you schedule one?

The answer is, yes. Alumni interviews can only improve your chances of getting into a college. They represent an opportunity that is all upside, with no downside.

Do be aware, however, that different colleges place different levels of importance on these interviews. Some colleges apparently value them a great deal, others do not.  For example, I was part of a group of alumni who did interviews for the Ivy League institution where I got my master’s degree, and I can report with some certainty that the post-interview feedback provided by alumni interviewers of that school is barely considered at all during the admissions process. (Are these interviews simply a mechanism that the school employs to make alums feel involved in the life of the school? I cannot say for sure, but it looks that way to me.)  But other colleges apparently place more weight on alumni interviews. In general, such schools seem to be smaller colleges that have enthusiastic alumni who are very committed to the schools they attended.

Geography comes into play too. If you are applying to a college that is located far away or in an out-of-the-way location that is hard to visit, that school might offer alumni interviews as a convenience to students who find it difficult to make campus visits. Remember, however, that many schools send actual admissions officers to interview students in cities that are distant from campus. And those remote interviews, which are not conducted by alumni, count just as much as interviews that are scheduled on campus.

If you do decide to schedule an alumni interview, what is the best way to handle it? Here are some steps to take, based on my own experience and that of two other alumni interviewers I know . . .

  • Take the lead in arranging the interview. If the college provides you the name of an alum in your area, don’t sit back and wait for that individual to contact you. Take the initiative and be the first to email or call. You’ll show that you are eager to attend the school, and that will work in your favor.
  • Handle the details. I once interviewed a terrific student in his own high school, where he scheduled a room, had coffee waiting, and introduced me to his guidance counselor. That left me with a very positive impression of him and his maturity. (I noted those observations on the post-interview feedback form that I sent to the admissions office at the school, but the student got rejected anyway.)
  • Come prepared to ask specific questions about current issues and activities on campus.  A question like “What is life like at Wabash State?” doesn’t show that you have invested too much time thinking about going to college there. But asking, “Have you toured the new performing arts center?” shows that you have more than a passing interest in the school. Informed questions also help you determine whether your interviewer is really involved in the life of the school or is only doing interviews to pass the time.
  • Don’t spend too much time discussing the other colleges where you are applying. Doing so will make the interviewer think that you are not really committed to attending his or her alma mater. If your interviewer asks about the other schools where you are applying, go ahead and name them, but add a comment at the end like, “ . . . but your college is really my first choice.”
  • Ask the interviewer to introduce you to people on campus who can increase your chances of getting in. You can ask, for example, whether you can email the soccer coach and say that your interviewer suggested that you do so. Or you can ask the interviewer whether he or she knows the head of the political science department and whether you can email that person and say that your interviewer encouraged you to do so. Alumni interviewers are likely to be happy to help you make these contacts; doing so makes them feel more involved with their former schools.
  • Avoid discussing college costs or financial aid. It would be highly unusual for an alumni interviewer to be well-informed on these topics. So save any questions about finance and direct them to the financial aid or admissions office of the school where you are applying.
  • Ask the interviewer a few questions about him or herself. You can ask what his or her experience was like at the college. And don’t hesitate to ask about your interviewer’s work or career. If he or she likes you, you might get an offer of a summer job or internship out of the interview too. So don’t be shy.
  • Use good interviewing practices. Arrive early, be well dressed, walk confidently into the interviewing room, shake hands, sit up straight, make eye contact, and use all the other basic skills that make a good impression in interviews. Another winning strategy is to learn the interviewer’s name and use it at the start of the interview (“I am very pleased to meet you, Ms. Brown”), during the interview (“Ms. Brown, can you tell me about social life on weekends?”), and as the interview ends (“Ms. Brown, I really want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.”) Doing so offers a very simple strategy to stand out from other applicants and be the candidate that your interviewer remembers the best.

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