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My Experience as an Admissions Interviewer

Nov 08, 2013

While it's been years since I graduated high school back in 2007, my first-hand experience with the college application process remains vivid in my mind. Between the AP courses/tests, taking the SAT/ACT and the pressures to maintain a competitive GPA, the life of an ambitious high schooler is no doubt, stressful. In the years since I was accepted into College, acceptance rates (on average) have continued to decline. In 2012, my alma mater had an admission rate of only 12.4%. If you're preparing to apply to college or in the midst of the application process, this article should serve you well.

Background on Senior Interviewer Program

Claremont McKenna is a small, Liberal Arts college with approximately 1,200 students. Because the institution is highly selective, the admissions department allocates much of its time to ensure the incoming class is well-rounded and a good overall fit. To aid in this process, a handful of college seniors are selected to participate in the admissions process annually. The philosophy behind the program is simply that current students (who have been immersed in the college) have the best perspective in regards to what type of student will both enjoy and excel at Claremont McKenna College (CMC). Over the course of my senior year, I interviewed a large number of prospective students and had the opportunity to converse with many of their parents as well. Unlike many of the larger institutions across the nation, candidates applying to CMC are considered to be much more than just a number or statistic.

Should You Participate in an on Campus Interview?

At CMC, prospective student interviews are optional, however, choosing to partake in a campus interview may or may not be your best bet; let me explain. Because all institutions are different, each college/university seeks out a particular type of student. If you believe you fit the institutions criteria, interviewing will most likely work to your advantage. In the event you're not as strong on paper, but have a fabulously bubbly and vibrant personality, I would strongly encourage you to interview. If you're unsure if you fit the mold of an ideal candidate, think twice before interviewing. With that said, your ultimate goal should be to attend an institution that suites your needs and fits you well; rejection hurts, but sometimes it's for the best. Despite the fact that college rankings are of the utmost importance to many students, it's also important to keep in mind that in order to be productive and successful in college, you must be surrounded by likeminded people and immersed in an environment you feel comfortable in. Looking back on my college experience, happy students are often successful students.

What Do I Look For?

As a Junior in high school, you're probably only 16 or 17 years old. No, I don't expect you to be a professional interviewee at that stage in your life; as a matter of fact, I expect you to walk in sweating, nervous and feeling like there's a slight change you may need to excuse yourself to throw up. Interviews are stressful and no matter how much you prepare, nothing compares to the real thing. Embrace your human qualities, you're not only allowed to be nervous, you're supposed to be that way. Here is a list of things I tend to look for:

  1. You carry yourself well, act mature, professional, make eye contact and can produce a firm handshake.
  2. Don't come off arrogant, narcissistic or self-centered. While you may indeed be an accomplished high school student, you're one of many and there is always someone just as accomplished, if not more so. 
  3. Enthusiasm and excitement are good things; try and embrace your interview experience. Remember, the person interviewing you wants to get to know the real you. We can tell if you're being genuine or not, so refrain from putting on an "act" because we see right through it.
  4. Continuous engagement. If you're not interested in your interview, neither am I.
  5. Preparedness. If you're going to interview, be sure to do your due diligence beforehand. If I ask you to tell me a little about the school and why you're applying, please please please have an answer. The more you know about the school, the better. If you're considering doing an overnight stay or spending the day on campus, I highly encourage you to do so prior to your interview. Doing so will increase your credibility and give you the opportunity to more easily speak about the school.
  6. I want to see that you're ambitious and driven to succeed.
  7. Have a personal story in mind that will leave a lasting impression. Following each interview, it was my responsibility to immediately write up a summary and my analysis of how the interview went. Leave me something to remember you by.
  8. The majority of colleges/universities that conduct on-campus interviews rely on a wide range of commonly asked interview questions. Despite the fact you will be unable to know the exact questions beforehand, there are plenty of resources online to help you prepare adequately.

All in all, millions of students apply to college/university each and every year. You're going to be competing with thousands of them and it's important to differentiate yourself whenever and wherever possible; a prospective student interview can be the means of doing just that. On paper, y'all are more or less the same, so these differentiating factors I speak of are extremely important.

Daniel Black graduated from Claremont McKenna College in May of 2011. Considered by many to be a thought leader in the education space, Daniel is a regular contributor to a number of sites and blogs and enjoys providing advice, suggestions and recommendations to both students and recent college graduates.

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