College applications are a wonderful tool for showcasing your interests, accomplishments and character. From transcripts, to extracurricular resumes to essays, they provide students a chance to introduce themselves to admission officers. But, I think all parties involved would admit, that applications are an imperfect tool. Sure applications might highlight a student’s accomplishments athletically, but they rarely provide space for a student to demonstrate the teamwork, determination and resiliency they learned throughout each of those practices under the hot August sun and the leadership skills they honed as a senior captain. Yes, the application allows you to submit a transcript and demonstrate your academic strengths. But a transcript cannot encapsulate your sophisticated intellect, or your undeniable passion for foreign languages, or the interdisciplinary way you approach academic challenges. Essays and recommendations provide more freedom, flexibility (and higher word counts) to expand in depth on some of these topics, but no one believes your 17-18 years can be condensed into the 10-15 pages that make up a completed application. And, while I certainly cannot argue convincingly that an interview fills in all the gaps, it does allow you to literally introduce yourself to a campus, to expand upon those parts of the application that are meaningful to you, to demonstrate the many wonderful character traits that make you who you are.
A firm hand-shake, a thoughtful and engaging dialogue and a demonstration of your kindness, your humor, your sensitivity and your passion go a long way toward allowing admission officers to get to know you, and, more importantly, to see who you might be on their campus. I often compare interviews to letters of recommendation in reverse. A letter of recommendation is written by a counselor or teacher or coach who knows you incredibly well, but who likely does not know the institution to which you are applying incredibly well. During an interview, the interviewer doesn’t know you at all, and certainly won’t come to know you in tremendous depth during the course of your 30-minute interaction. But they do know the school they represent incredibly well, and they can imagine how you might impact their campus during the course of your four years there. Will you do research with faculty? Will you be critical to moving discussion forward in the classroom? Will you design your own major? Will you light up their stage? Will you be a bridge-builder, a leader, an impact player? Will you make your hallmates’ days just a little bit better through a friendly smile and an overwhelming generosity of spirit? Will you make others laugh, in the good times and bad? It would be difficult to convey these attributes in a paper application, but far easier to demonstrate them in person simply by being yourself.
In essence, interviews elevate you from a two-dimensional entity within an application, to a three-dimensional individual. It can take you from an application to an applicant. They can help you to stand out, to be more memorable, to convey with personality the messages you tried to impart through the many pieces of your application. They help you leave a more personal impression on the admission officers who will eventually review your credentials and who will decide whether or not to offer you admission.
While admission interviews are not overly common, they are part of numerous admission processes, especially at smaller, selective institutions. Interviews are often structured as either informational (meaning you have a chance to ask questions of a current student, admission officer or alumnus but no evaluation of that interview takes place and an interview is not considered part of your application) or as evaluative (meaning a report of the interview’s proceedings will become a formal component of your application to be evaluated along with other factors). Often evaluative interviews are also informational as they still allow you a chance to ask questions of your interviewer about the institution. It’s this reciprocal exchange of ideas that not only allows an institution to better know you, but also allows you to better know the institution. Interviews can be conducted by admission officers, current students, alumni and even over Skype (all of which are equally valuable uses of your time). No matter what form they take, they serve to demonstrate your interest and are designed to enhance your application in a positive manner. Where available, we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to enhance and personalize your application to colleges.
All of us on the College Counseling team are eager to assist you in determining whether interviewing is available at the schools to which you are applying and helping you to prepare to put your best foot forward. We offer mock interviews, advice on dress and comportment, and insight on how to discern the key messages you wish to share. Please seek out your college counselor should any college interviews be on your horizon.
Mrs. Wendy Livingston, Associate Director of College Counseling