Key components of The Application Process are your Admissions Interviews & Campus Visits. You must prepare for your time on campus and make the most of that time, by learning as much as you can about the College and making a positive impression. For more tips, check out A Few More Tips for College Visits.
ADMISSIONS INTERVIEWS or ALUMNI INTERVIEWS
If you contact an Admissions Office while you are a Freshman, Sophomore or early in your Junior year, they will likely either schedule an informative (not interview) meeting with an Admissions Officer, or tell you they don’t schedule Admissions interviews with underclassmen. Keep in mind that they may call the interview an appointment or meeting, but even if you are an underclassmen, you should consider it an interview. If you are able to visit a campus towards the end of your Junior year or during your Senior year of High School, you should schedule an appointment with an Admissions Officer, although some Colleges only schedule Admissions Interviews with High School Seniors.
If you are visiting lots of campuses, you may be constrained on how much you can do on each campus. Optimally, you will attend the College Tour and Information Session before you interview. See Information Sessions and Tours, below.
If you are not able to arrange an Admissions Interview, try to schedule an interview with an Alumni in your area. Generally, Alumni Interviews are only available to students who have applied to a College. The College’s Admissions website will walk you through this process.
An easy way to estimate how highly a College considers your Interview is to check Collegedata.com. Type in the name of a school, choose the Admission tab and scroll down to Selection of Students. Many factors that can impact admission are listed, including Interview. Every College I have asked says they don’t favor/weight an Admissions Interview over a Alumni Interview. But I do worry that an Alumni, who is conducting interviews in their spare time with little-to-no direction from the College, may not do as good of a job documenting the interview, and therefore may not be given as much weight. But if you can’t make an on-campus interview work, this is the next best thing. Most Colleges don’t schedule Alumni Interviews if you have had an Admissions Interview.
Before you step foot in a College’s Admissions Office, you should have spent some serious time on their website and also typed the name of the College in an internet search engine, to see if they have been recently in the news and why. You should have also looked up the person you are meeting with – lots of Admissions Office websites include short bios on the Officers. If you are meeting with an Alumni, search for them on the internet; you may be able to determine where they work/what they do. You should want to be, as well as appear to be, an informed potential student. After your meeting, the Admissions Officer will create a file for you. Likewise, an Alumni will write a recommendation letter. Remember that this meeting, which may seem like a casual way to learn more about a College, is also an interview.
As in all interviews, there are many things you should do. The advice below is targeted for an Admissions Interview, but also applies to an Alumni Interview:
- Set up the meeting well in advance by e-mailing the Admissions Officer assigned to your Geographic region.
- Send a follow-up email a couple of days before the meeting to confirm the time/location.
- Practice (don’t rehearse – you don’t want to appear stilted) answering sample Interview questions. See Admissions Interview Preparation for more advice on preparing. Try to avoid those ummms and uhhhhhs!
Create (and bring with you) College Summary Pages.
- Arrive EARLY – you will be finding the campus, determining where to park (parking is often limited on campus), locating the Admissions Office. Lots of things can go wrong, so allow more time than you think you need, so that you are not late. If something does happen to make you late, call and explain and see if they can accommodate you. If they can’t, send an apology letter. If you arrive early, check-in with the Admissions Office to let them know you have arrived – the Officer will be told you are there, which makes a good impression.
- Dress professionally – this doesn’t have to mean a suit and tie, but dirty, raggy, skin-revealing, casual outfits are not acceptable. Slacks, not jeans, a dress shirt, not a t-shirt with writing. There will be lots of students dressed less nicely, but dressing nicely is a way to stand out in a good way. This is your way of demonstrating respect for the importance of this meeting, and your appreciation of the time they are giving you to meet.
- Be prepared – research the College, have a list of questions.
- Bring a resume (they may not take it, but it’s there if they want it). Having your resume in your hand might help if you freeze up when they ask you to talk about yourself or you can’t remember the name of the class you took last summer, because you are nervous.
- If you don’t have time to attend the Campus Tour and/or Information Session, try to arrive on campus early and walk around. Notice a new Physics building? Ask the Admissions Officer about it.
- Appear confident – you don’t have to feel confident, but you can act it. Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard, don’t mumble. Get rid of those extra umms and aaahhhs. Adults appreciate young people who are personable and comfortable speaking with adults.
- Engage, show your personality, have some fun.
- Be respectful. While the Admissions Office will be selling their school to you, they have a lot of students clambering to attend, so remember to be inquisitive but respectful. If I wanted to know why their 4 year graduation rate was not very high, I would not ask “Why aren’t students graduating on time?” (aggressive/combative). I might ask “I see interdisciplinary learning is emphasized here. Is that why students tend not to graduate in 4 years?”.
- Let the Officer talk more than you talk! People are flattered by your attention, and think you are more personable if you ask questions and let them talk. While this meeting is a chance for your to demonstrate your desirability, spending the whole time bragging will not endear yourself to the Admissions Officer. On the other hand, some Interviewers like to challenge students by not controlling/directing the interview. They may be doing this to see how you handle adversity. If they don’t lead the conversation, then you must. Many Interviewers will open up if you ask the right questions.
- Demonstrate what you love about the College, specifically. The Admissions Officer wants to see that you want to attend that school and why. If someone was meeting with me and said, “I just love this school” without details, I would assume they didn’t bother to learn much about the school and are picking it for cosmetic or sentimental reasons (the campus is so pretty, my parents went here, etc.).
- That doesn’t mean you can’t express concerns. Are you not excited about the semester system, beause you worry the classes will be too slow paced? Maybe the Officer will tell you how the classes all incorporate field trips and hands-on experiences. Are you interested in a Spanish/Sociology Degree but worry a double-degree means you won’t be able to do other activities? Ask the Admissions Officer, and they should be able to tell you about students before you have done that double major, and whether they were able to fit in Travel Abroad, an internship or research with those degrees.
- Thank them for meeting with you and follow up on anything that was suggested could be done after the appointment. If the Admissions Officer says, “If you would like to talk to a Psychology major, I can have my assistant connect you.” means you should follow up with their assistant and talk to a Psych major, if you are at all interested.
- Send a thank-you, preferably hand-written, after the meeting.
Thank them for their time and mention something that you discussed that will help trigger their memory of you. “I was excited to learn that Engineering students can travel to Germany and work in the field.”
- Know that you will get better at these meetings – you will learn from each interview. For that reason, it might be a good idea to meet with Admissions Officers for Colleges you are less interested in or will be less difficult for you to be accepted before you meet with the Admissions Officer at your dream or reach school. But don’t be surprised if after visiting Colleges, your dream school is not the reach school.
It is perfectly normal for your parents to be in the Admissions lobby with you, as you may have traveled a great distance to visit the College (and your parents may soon be paying for some very large tuition bills…). But the student should be leading the interaction, starting with checking in for their appointment. If you have an appointment with an Admissions Officer, the officer may invite your parents into the meeting. From a parents standpoint, if my student is a Freshman or Sophomore in High School, I MIGHT decide to attend the meeting, asking questions, but allowing the Officer and Student to do most of the talking. You may make this decision based on how engaged your student is in this process. If my student is in their Junior year, this meeting is not merely an infomative discussion, it is also an interview, so I would not attend the meeting. Colleges emphasize that parents need to step back and let their children be adults when they attend College. If students are little more than a year from that step, Colleges don’t want to see parents hovering, which may mean that either the parent doesn’t think the student can handle the meeting alone, or that the student isn’t ready to launch, because the parents have been managing the student’s life for them. Get used to that feeling, parents, they will soon be on their own, trust their abilities!
While you are there, it’s a very good idea to attend the College’s Information Sessions and College tour. Usually the Information Session is run by an Admissions Officer, possibly with a student panel to answer questions. Usually the Tour is run by a student. Most Colleges require you to sign up in advance for these sessions, as they may be limited on space. If possible, attend these events before you meet with the Admissions Officer – they don’t have to waste meeting time discussing general information they think you should know, and you have more information to help you ask better questions and appear better informed.
You will likely have different questions for students vs. an Admissions Officer (“How’s the food? ” is not a question for the Admissions Officer). But you may ask both of them the same question, (“Do students have a hard time getting their classes?”). Students may be more honest – while they have been picked to lead a tour because they have positive energy, that doesn’t mean they won’t honestly say “Yeah, that’s a problem here.”. While the Admissions Officer is worried about the College’s reputation, they also have a better big-picture perspective than an individual student. “Economics is a popular major, so students have been having trouble getting the introductory classes. We added 2 new Professors to the Economics Department this year to keep up with the increased demand.” Also remember that if you ask 10 students the same question, you may get 10 very different answers.
Even if you are one of 30 students and their parents on a Campus Tour, you can stand out from the crowd by asking good questions. The person leading the tour works for the Admissions Office, and they may go back to the office and tell an Officer “Mary Smith asked some great questions about student activities”, which is another feather in your cap. Tour leaders (AKA the Expert Backwards Walkers) are asked the same basic boring questions during every tour, so try to be unique “Where is your favorite place to study?” or “Which off-campus restaurant has the best food?” is probably not asked on a regular basis. Asking a fun question can lead to interesting insights, “I’m a vegetarian, and there is very little late-night food options on campus, so I love the Indian restaurant on Main Street” tells you more than a good place to eat off campus. The Campus Tour is the most informal event you will attend, so don’t be afraid to ask basic-life questions: “Do you feel safe on campus?” “Where do you do laundry?” “Do you spent most of your free time on campus or off campus?”, etc. See Ask Current and Former College Students Where They Went and Why for more ideas.
It’s also a good idea to ask the student about their major/interests, if they don’t share them. If you determine they are studying the same major you are considering, you might decide to stay behind at the end of the tour to ask some more detailed questions. Often times, multiple tours will take place at the same time. Organized Colleges start off the tours all together, where students describe their majors, extracurriculars and where they lived before College. This give you a chance to choose the student whose interests most closely match your own. But sometimes you may choose a student because you like the way they talk or give the impression of being more knowledgeable.
Most students leading a tour don’t give off an uptight or I’m stressed/unhappy here vibe, and will be emphasizing ways they spend time outside the classroom. You may think “This kid spends way too much time goofing off, from the way they are describing things”. Maybe they have a less demanding major, or maybe they are getting a Double-Degree in Math/Physics, which means they are downplaying the hard work, or are just plain brilliant, so they can manage work/play easily. OR, maybe they won’t be graduating until the end of their 6th year! If you get a bad impression, ask about it, NICELY. I remember visiting a College and my daughter decided the school was not serious/academically oriented. Why? Because between classes, students were hanging out talking, not studying, like she had seen at other campuses. I suggested she politely point out what she saw to the Admissions Officer. The Officer said, “Of course they are hanging out, it’s Monday morning, and last Friday was mid-terms.”.
In addition to meeting with an Admissions Officer, attending an Information Session and going on a College Tour, you may choose to meet with other people while on campus. This might include:
- A Professor in a field of study you are interested in
- A Sports Coach
- Music or drama teacher, if you want to perform but not major in that field.
- A student you know who is currently attending the College
You need to be very organized to fit this all in and keep track of what you did on each College campus. This sample spreadsheet is an example of something you might make when going on College tours over Spring Break.
You are likely going to visit more than one College. After about your third College visit, the Colleges will start blending together, particularly if you are looking at several of the same type of school, whether they are large public universities or small liberal arts Colleges. Take notes! How will you use those notes?:
- Remember who’s who – was it College 1 or College 3 that said the lab is open 24 hours a day?
- Demonstrate your knowledge of the College while meeting with an Admissions Officer.
- Help you create a rubric to compare Colleges. Did College 2 tell you all about Travel Abroad and College 3 didn’t say anything? Time to look into College 3’s Travel Abroad program, so you can fairly compare the Colleges’ resources.
- Help you identify what gets you excited – does this school partner with the London School of Economics for select students to attend senior year classes in London? Does the idea of doing work in the lab at 3AM make you unbelievably happy?
- Write the answer to the Supplemental Essay “Why do I want to attend this College?”.
The last thing I’d like to say about visiting campus is that your experience should not be the only criteria for whether you like a school. Yes, you should pay attention to your instincts, but first impressions are just that, an initial impression. My example? I took my teenagers to a College in a location I knew they would like with a beautiful campus and a good reputation. I figured they would be ARGUING about who should attend this College. What happened? The Admissions Officer leading the Information Session was dull and uninformative. The student leading the Campus Tour was not engaging. They both walked away saying “Nah”. A couple of months later, I spoke with a friend who had also toured many campuses. She said “Hands down, this College had the best tour and information session.” It was the SAME College! You may not always connect with the first people you meet on campus, but find it’s actually a great fit. Be open-minded!
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