Many excellent institutions of higher learning, whether the commonly recognized “elite” or so-called 2nd tier ones, see it as an information gathering opportunity for admissions purposes, of course, but also as way to personalize their school in the applicants’ eyes. It’s also a chance to show a welcoming attitude towards the aspiring future-freshman so they don’t feel like we’ve reduced them to a collage of numbers, ink and accolades. In the case of alumni interviews, it’s a great way to show the applicant the meaning and importance of strong alumni network post-graduation. For the alumni interviewer, such active volunteering demonstrates loyalty and provides a fulfilling sense of attachment and involvement with their alma mater. Such efforts serve to strengthen the entire college/university system no matter where the applicant ends up matriculating.
2. What does the admission interview means to the college and what it is intended to accomplish?
In the context of international students especially, it really is a personalized way of bridging cultures in order to further evaluate an applicant’s personality, academic interests, passion for and specific knowledge of the college, English proficiency, social skills and other key areas that sometimes need more illumination. Usually it’s an informal informational session for both parties, qualified applicant and interested college alike. Other times it’s at the student’s request, especially if they’ve made effort to come and visit the campus on their own; this does depend on the time of year requested and how that specific school operates. Some smaller colleges place more emphasis on it to gauge how interested the student is in actually coming to their school. In some rarer cases it can even serve as a fact-checking session to either reinforce OR diminish a decision where the admissions officer is leaning one particular way. In no way is not having an interview any kind of penalty.. In many cases, all other considerations traditional assessment measures being equal, the admissions office wants to know more about an accomplished, high-potential individual before offering them a valued spot among the ranks of the incoming class (especially if that sought-after candidate is on another continent). Unfortunately, due to the sheer number of applications received by major schools and Ivies and limited manpower and time resources, it is usually a relatively low number of applicants who are offered an interview.
3. Can you tell us what is the most impressive interviews you had in the past?
We’re dealing with kids here, a fact that some people in the process easily lose sight of if they’re too wrapped up in the competitive aspects, profit-motive or statistics-driven bubbles. So I personally just love seeing these young students put their best foot forward and do their best relative to their skill set and life situation. Because each school is looking for something a bit different in order to complement the existing student body and further the stated goals of the school’s mission. Many impressive interviewees simply left me with a feeling that they were very natural and open, and were able to NOT limit themselves in their thinking. They didn’t always have the “perfect” answer—they’re kids who certainly aren’t expected to know everything at such a tender age. They asked some really probing questions about the school that challenged me to give a great answer and showed they’d already conceptualized how they might really fit in and contribute to the school. Some of them had amazing artistic or scientific accomplishments that obviously were naturally integrated into their lives/studies/hobbies. One girl had written her own musical, another kid had bred, raised and sold a few high-pedigree dogs, another had started a composting intiative in her school which spread to the town citizenry and local businesses… all those successful initiatives were authentic extensions of themselves, which is a key to finding happiness, using one’s efforts wisely and efficiently in life, making and impact…oh yeah, and getting into college. What interviewer, alumni or admissions officer, wouldn’t want that kind of kid at their school.
4. What advice would you like to give to students who will be having an interview?
Find a few really specific clubs/organizations/activities they might be interested in on campus and ask the interviewer some targeted questions about them. It gives the interviewer that nostalgic feeling and they’ll probably wax poetic on the topic for a while, even if they weren’t personally involved in that activity in their college days. Especially for international students, for whom English is usually a second, don’t try to speak super quickly to show off your English skills. A thoughtful, positive, engaging, natural conversation is the goal.
5. What types of interviews will you do? (Face to face, phone, Skype, etc.)
Face to face is more common but I have heard of schools dabbling in online platforms like Skype. Sometimes it’s a valid option for reaching students in underserved communities who don’t have the resources to make a trip to the campus.
6. What are the common mistakes that Chinese students usually make during interviews?
Don’t bring or ask to your parents to the interview. Don’t trash other schools during the interview. Don’t try to say exactly what you think the interviewer wants to hear—you’ll probably just end up sounding cliché. Learn how to pronounce the school’s name correctly! And you probably shouldn’t bring any small gifts; it’s a nice gesture but it’s wholly unnecessary and will probably just make the interviewer feel awkward.
7. Are there any rules that you have to follow during the interview?
We generally shouldn’t ask what other schools the applicant is applying for. In the USA when I was applying to my school, I met at the interviewer’s home and it was great; meeting in the home of the interviewer built trust and shows how rich you can become as an alumnus if you study hard and get everything possible out of the college experience. I do know that a lot of schools choose not to conduct alumni interviews in homes anymore due to influence or safety concerns. In China, we’ve always conducted interviews at the company office of one of our alumni who volunteers it, which has been KPMG the last few years. Whatever is most prudent to protect these teens and accomplish the goals of the interview is best.