In a college application process that is so extensive with applications and essays dominating the show, interviews are often an afterthought. Because they are not mandated, students rank them below the more daunting, required parts of the application process. Despite this, the significance of the sole face-to-face step on the road to college acceptance should not be undermined. The meeting can be just as important and hard to master as composing any soul-searching essay.
A student who decides to do an interview with anyone affiliated with the college shows his or her commitment to the school said guidance counselor Meredith Negrin. Alumni conduct most college interviews, which usually makes for more casual interviews than those conducted by admissions officers. “Don’t stress about [alumni interviews] because it means nothing [in the admissions process] if it is an alumni interview,” Negrin said. “Though they are low-key, Negrin said, “they are not a waste of time, because if you’re asked and don’t do the interview, it shows you don’t care about the school, and nothing worsens you’re chances [more] than rejecting an interview.”
College counselor Patricia Cleary agrees. “College interviews can be pivotal. If you’re the kid who took time to visit and you showed dedication, they’re going to find you more attractive than someone who has the same GPA [who didn’t have an interview].”
Unfortunately, interview charm does not conquer all. A wonderful interview cannot automatically override a poor transcript. “One young man, whose grades weren’t the best, thought, whatever, I have a great personality, I’ll do the interview and get in. He didn’t even get an interview, because the college rejected him too quickly,” Negrin said.
Once one reaches the meeting, his or her character is judged based on interview etiquette. Unfortunately, students that feel the need to be memorable wind up being inappropriate as a result.
In one incident, Cleary recalls a student whose interviewer was forty minutes late, because he could not leave his work. When he finally arrived, “The student said, ‘You sure took your sweet time coming down here,’” Cleary said. “He [The student] may have been annoyed, but MIT called up and said he was too arrogant.”
Thrusting an interviewer with needless information can also be detrimental and create an uncomfortable interview. “Don’t foist everything on the interviewer. There’re no prescriptions. If things come up naturally, go with it,” Cleary said. Both Cleary and Negrin recommend bringing a resume and certificates, but insist that they should only be used when the interviewer asks about anything regarding them.
Cleary also advises students not to discuss items that are too personal in their lives to prevent making the interviewer uncomfortable. Cleary said, “One student [who did not attend Stuyvesant] had HIV from a blood transfusion, and she wanted to talk about it because it’s such a big part of her life, but she was advised not to [by her counselor]. It’s unnecessary to say something so private.”
Many students feel that the freedom to say the truth no longer exists once they are being interviewed. They fear that what they say may be scrutinized, and thus resort to the safer answers. “People say what [the interviewer] wants them to say,” senior Katrin Bor said. “For something like Macaulay Honors, you want to get in for the grant and the laptop, but you can’t say that in the interview.”
Senior Cheng Xing disagreed. “All the interviewers really want is just more information about me, and to see who I am in person. I didn’t need to do anything more than being myself,” he said.
Small liberal arts colleges are expected to have more eccentric questions than larger universities said Negrin and Bor. In one interview, students in a room were asked to prove that a certain chair in the room existed. However, for the most part, students should not fret about unusual questions.
“Interviews are rudimentary and straightforward,” said guidance counselor Ronnie Parnes, who conducted college interview workshops for seniors from Monday, November 14, to Friday, December 2. Parnes even likens them to first dates, since the interviewer gets to know a student.
In the case that a student is stumped, Cleary said, “It’s fine to say ‘Can you repeat the question?’ or ‘Can I think about that?’”
The length of an interview may also be the line between a thoughtful answer and an impulsive one, because the same number of questions will be asked in a shorter amount of time as in a longer interview.
“I’ve said a few things that weren’t completely detrimental to my interview, but I would have liked to take back regardless, things that misconstrue the meaning of your statement and what you’re really trying to say. Just a stumble of words really,” senior Reema Panjwani said about being on her toes throughout the interview.
When requesting an interview, Casey Pedrick said, “Be open to the dates the interviewer suggests. Try to work your schedule around them, rather than the other way around.”
Students are also advised to research information about the school before they go to an interview. This includes knowing what interests them in a school, anything distinctive about it, campus life, current events in the school, and what specific college they want to go to if it is a university with several colleges. Pedrick said, “Definitely know the major you’re interested in and be prepared to discuss why you are interested in it. Even if you are undecided about your major, be prepared to talk about that as well.”
Though interviews are usually formal, Pedrick advises students to wear attire that allows them to show the best of themselves, yet still remain comfortable. Because interviews are often held in coffee shops or the like, Pedrick said it is fine to drink during the interview, but to also be considerate of the interviewer’s time, and not spend it waiting on a line. After an interview, a student may mail a thank-you note, but no other follow-ups should be made.
One of the worst things a student can do is let their nerves take over before the interview has even started. Senior Hema Lochan remembers an interview where she arrived an hour earlier, but later realized her interviewer hadn’t arrived. “I find out that I’m in the wrong Starbucks, so I start running and then after a while I realize I’m running the wrong way, so I run the other way and slam the Starbucks door open and run right into my interviewer, making her spill her tea on herself,” Lochan said.
Despite all of the obstacles presented in an interview, Xing advises students not to worry because “you can’t fail at showing off,” Xing said. Furthermore, Cleary says that she usually receives positive feedback from college representatives regarding interviews with Stuyvesant students.
The golden rule to these interviews is “to remember to be yourself,” said Negrin. An authentic and natural conversation can bring life to the words on an application and individuality to any applicant.