6 steps to ace a college interview, according to an expert who worked in Ivy League admissions

Shirag Shemmassian.Dr. Shirag Shemmassian.
  • Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is a former Cornell admissions interviewer and a college admissions expert.
  • After years of helping hundreds of students get into top schools such as Harvard and Princeton, he’s able to offer his best college interview tips.
  • For one thing, he writes, families should view “optional” interviews as “required.”

For years after graduating from Cornell University, I served as an alumni interviewer to help make admissions decisions.
I want to offer my insights to help you excel at these interviews with relative ease.

1. When colleges ‘encourage’ you to schedule an ‘optional’ interview, they mean ‘required’

Colleges want to see demonstrated interest because it indicates your likelihood to enroll there if admitted.
The reason they want to know your likelihood to attend is two-fold: 1) to make sure they enroll their target number of students; and 2) to protect their yield, that is, the percentage of admitted students who enroll.
Yield matters because it impacts a school’s rankings. A school with a high yield will be seen as more desirable and be associated with greater prestige.
If you don’t accept a college’s interview offer, the admissions committee will doubt your willingness to go there, which would hurt their yield.
Therefore, consider the admissions interview a requirement to show schools your willingness to attend.

2. Clearly demonstrate your fit with the school

Consider the following two students’ responses while being interviewed for admission to Columbia:
Student 1: “I love philosophy and want to study it in college.”
Student 2: “I’m so excited about the prospect of studying philosophy at Columbia because several professors specialize in metaphysics, my area of greatest interest.”
Clearly, Student 2 has communicated how Columbia is the perfect academic “fit.” Moreover, based on these two responses, the interviewer will assume that Columbia professor will also be interested in teaching Student 2.
Don’t just consider what the school can offer you. Consider what the school wants to see in its student body as well.
Related: I’ve been helping kids get into top colleges for nearly 15 years, and parents always seem to ask me the wrong questions

3. Mention aspects of your background not covered on your college application

Do you wish you had additional room on your college application to discuss a critical aspect of your background?
College interviews offer the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Admissions interviewers are advised to encourage students to share things about themselves they weren’t able to – or didn’t feel comfortable to – discuss on their application.
This is not a license to over share. However, you could bring up a personal difficulty that led to low grades during sophomore year or a hobby that occupies a significant amount of time. The interviewer will then report that information to the school for consideration.

4. Enthusiastically discuss your interests

College admissions committees love accepting students who are intellectually curious and who go deeper with anything than surface-level pursuits – whether academic or non-academic.
Therefore, it’s important to discuss how you spend your time on serious hobbies, such as building robots, hiking, or Middle Eastern history.
For example, a student who simply says they love to hike will not come off as impressive as a student who describes how they spent three weeks one summer hiking the Appalachian Trail with their mom, and how the experience brought them closer.
Related: A New York SAT tutor who charges $1,500 an hour shares his top pieces of advice for nailing the exam

5. Come prepared with specific questions about the school

Alumni interviewers love their school. Otherwise, they wouldn’t volunteer their time to interview applicants for admissions.
At the end of each interview, your interviewer will ask whether you have any questions about the school.
If you don’t have any questions, you will not demonstrate interest. Rather, you will seem disinterested.
Instead, make sure to research the school’s site thoroughly prior to your interview and come with specific questions that you were unable to find answers to online.
Even if your interviewer doesn’t know the answer, you’ll show them you did your homework and are taking a serious interest in their school.

6. Send a thank you note within 24 hours

Admissions interviewers are asked to submit a report about their experience meeting with you.
Sending a thank you note to your interviewer within 24 hours will not only demonstrate courtesy, but also leave one final positive impression before they submit their feedback.
Include in your note specific reasons why you appreciated their time and insights. For instance, did they provide information about campus life that strengthened your already strong interest to attend? Let them know.
Dr. Shirag Shemmassian is the founder of Shemmassian Academic Consulting and a college admissions expert who has helped hundreds of students get into top schools such as Harvard and Princeton. He is also a former Cornell admissions interviewer.
Growing up with Tourette Syndrome in a middle-class family, Dr. Shemmassian was often mocked by peers and teachers and discouraged from applying to elite colleges. So he taught himself everything he needed to know to graduate debt-free with his B.S. in Human Development from Cornell and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from UCLA.
Dr. Shemmassian has been featured on The Washington Post, US News, and NBC, as well as been invited to speak at Stanford, Yale, and UCLA. He presents on topics including standing out on college applications, writing memorable college essays, and navigating higher education with a disability.
Source: Business Insider
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