Each year more and more small to medium-sized colleges are integrating an interview into the college application process. In some cases, colleges are replacing their supplement essays with an interview. That’s a big YES! for many students for whom the admissions essays present a bottleneck to self-expression.
Interviewing is an art. It is an art in staying focused and sharing. It is an art in learning about how you can best act yourself. Interviewing builds self-esteem and provides experience in the life-long art of being interesting. But it takes time to learn how to interview naturally. So as you enter the world of interviews, have patience with yourself. This is a first step. Ready for some tips? Let’s go!
1. PREPARE. Absolutely! Always go into an interview well informed. Research the background of the person who will interview you. Go in well versed in your interest in the college. Know the mission and the values of the college and how they align with your own. Come up with good questions that will allow you to create a connection with the interviewer. Do a mock interview to practice your skills. Find something dressy to wear that feels comfortable: think brunch with your aunt and uncle.
2. USE A 3 x 3. When I applied for my first tenure track academic job, I had 25 interviews. For each job I created a worksheet which allowed me to field any type of question. I answer almost every question that came up by connecting it to my own strengths. I could then back up my response with an anecdote or story about that particular strength. And finally, I could say how this strength or interest had led me to the college. This is an abbreviated version of what my 3 X 3 looked like:
3. BE A GREAT LISTENER. Listening is key to good communication. Good listeners make excellent collaborators and teammates. Being a good listener requires focus. The key to great listening is to hear everything that is being said without getting caught up in your own thoughts. Try to put all of your attention on the person speaking. Don’t interrupt. Wait until the interviewer has finished asking a question before trying to jump in with an answer.
4. SHOW YOU HAVE A TEACHABLE NATURE. It’s important to always want to learn and never become complacent with or arrogant about the knowledge you have. It shows people that you’re open to their ideas, okay with constructive feedback, willing to do things differently or ask for help.
5. BE TRUE TO YOURSELF. Confident interviewees know and express their values and interests. Don’t hold back—be yourself and share who you really are. Steer the conversation toward your strengths: about how well you worked with your teammates, how close you were with your teacher, or what values you prioritize on the high school campus. This is where your 3 x 3 comes in handy.
6. SHARE YOUR INSPIRATION. Also, if you’ve taken any classes, read any great books or had a meaningful conversation lately, mention what you learned and its application to who you are and what you enjoy doing, or what you imagine for yourself in the future.
Learn something new this week that is related to your academic interests. Watch an educational video or read an article. Practice sharing what you learned with others. This is also a great way to cement the learning.
7. WRITE A THANK YOU NOTE. This couldn’t be more important. Within 24 hours, send your interviewer an email or send a handwritten note. Thank your interviewer for the time and effort it took to meet you. Comment on some aspect of the interview that you enjoyed. Express renewed interest about attending the college. Keep it short and to the point.
And now for the Thanksgiving part. All of these tips will help you to connect better with your loved ones and with people you are meeting for the first time. Try out a tip or to at your family gathering and see what difference it makes.
Thank you! Last week I had the pleasure of speaking in front of over 500 families at Mountain View Los Altos High School. It was a wonderful step out of my daily routine. (You’ll find me most days seated behind a computer in my home office.) This experience of connecting with many people at once, to deliver a message and share useful information, en masse but in person, is one of the thrills of being human. It allows me to tap the pulse of my purpose. If you were there, thanks for coming. If you weren’t there and wish I could speak at your high school, parent group or parent-teacher-student organization, please reach out to me. I’d love the opportunity!
We are entering the tunnel of the early admission deadlines. Here are my notes and tools:
October Task list: What To Complete Before Early Deadlines
Early, Regular, Not sure… If you haven’t yet decided whether you are applying early, then here are my tips.
Stay on top of your email. Be sure to check your email on a daily basis. For the moment, you are likely receiving important emails from the counseling office at your high school. Soon you will begin to receive emails from the colleges to which you have applied. This will continue through May 1st, then you will be asked to make a decision and choose one of the colleges that have admitted you. If anything is missing from your application (a letter of recommendation or a test score), the college will contact you by email. A college might also request further information from you. Failure to respond to these emails can put your admission at risk.
Before you let others read your essays. You’ve put in a lot of work on your essays and you feel really good about them. So when you request others to read your essays and provide feedback, first get clear in your mind about what kind of feedback you would like to receive. People are coming from their own experiences and backgrounds which can lead to the too many cooks in the kitchen scenario. So before you let your readers loose on your essay, tell them what feedback would be useful and what you want to hear about. This way you avoid getting responses that might not be helpful to you. Examples:
--I am really happy with my essay. Can you tell me if my final message is clear?
--I would like to know how you respond to my essay?
--I need someone to simply read over my essay and see if it could be better.
You will have your own ideas about what kind of feedback you need. Communicate this to your reader for the best possible outcomes of the exchange.
Stress Less. This is a stressful time on many levels. How much of this stress comes from you putting pressure on yourself? How can you stop pressuring yourself? When I catch myself ramping up my own stress, I imagine that I have a dial in front of me and I turn down the volume on the stress. Try taking a 10 minute break just to break. Step outside and feel the sunshine on your face, watch a bird or listen to the wind. Put in your earbuds and play your favorite song. Take a quick walk around the neighborhood. Sit and breathe in and out for a count of 4 each inhale and exhale.
Check Your Self: Social Media and Data Mining
Wondering if admissions officers will research your online presence? Assume they will.
While not all admissions offices report to check applicants’ social media accounts, it is best to be safe and review your activity. Admissions may also track your presence on their website (or more generally online). They do this to understand your preferences and gauge the seriousness of your interest in their college.
Here are a few tips for managing these two realities.
Your Social Media Activity
Take a critical look at your social media websites. If admissions were to look at your Facebook account, would they learn something useful about you? Or would they discover that you had posted a comment or photo of yourself that might negatively shape their evaluation of you? Here is a list of things that might negatively affect an admissions officer's view of you:
By the same token, posts that show your engagement in a community, your contributions to positive outcomes are likely to help, not hurt your application.
If you would like to provide admissions with materials that provide a more realistic portrayal of your person, consider using ZeeMe, a personal “locker” that allows you to collect and share videos, photographs, documents, or any other materials that can showcase your activities, interests and person.
Your Online Searches
Also keep in mind that data mining is evermore relevant to all marketing practices, including that of college admissions. Companies such as Capture Higher Education are working with colleges to track the activity of students and help them ascertain whether the student is a good fit and likely to accept admission.
With this in mind, spending time browsing college websites can help improve your chances of being admitted. You should be doing this anyway. Knowing about the colleges you want to attend will improve your interactions with college admissions representatives and your essays, so it is one of the best ways you can use your time.
It’s about time that I answered a question that is now on each and every student’s mind. How many essays will I write? What students really want to know is this: how much work will they be expected to complete and how much time will this take? These are important questions. Students are some of the busiest people I know and their time is limited.
Parents are also concerned about this question. If they are hoping to get advising for their student, how much help will they need? The underlining question parents have is this: How much will it cost?
At this juncture, most students and their parents have yet to understand what goes into the applications. And how should they know? Most parents I meet applied to five colleges with a single essay more than 20 years ago. Some parents studying outside of the country simply provided their grades and test scores. It is hard to imagine what is required by an application when you haven’t seen one.
How Many Applications?
First of all, most students will use at least two online applications to apply to ten or more schools. They will most likely fill out the Common Application and they will complete a state school application such as the University of California application (goes live August 1st). Each state generally has more than one state university system, so students may also fill out a second online state application such as the CSU (California State University) Mentor (goes live October 1st).
If students are applying to other state schools (for example, Western Washington University or Indiana University), they will fill out additional state applications. Some state schools have joined the Common Application: the University of Michigan and the University of Colorado, Boulder, are examples. All of these applications are straightforward and require students to report basic information and submit essays.
Do I provide separate applications to each private or state college?
Yes, in addition to these centralized long application forms within the Common Application or the UC application that go out to each selected campus, you will have additional short forms called supplement applications that you will submit to each college on your list.
If you are applying to Boston University and Pitzer College, for example, you will answer 10 or so questions on their separate supplement applications within the Common Application. On the University of California application you will answer 10 or more questions for each of the separate UCs to which you are applying. For single system state colleges such as Indiana University, or for private colleges that don’t use the Common Application, such as Clemson University, you will fill out a single application.
How Many Essays?
Just as there is a centralized application, so too there are also centralized essays called the personal statement on the Common Application or the personal insight questions on the UC application. Unlike most other state university applications, the CSU system requires no essays.
Just as there are supplement applications, so too there are supplement essays. And this is where the work begins to pile up. You are not expected to write separate supplement essays for each of the UC campuses. However, on the Common Application, for every college or university to which you apply, you can expect to write 3-5 short (250+ words) essays. The math quickly adds up:
10 colleges X 4 essays = 40 essays
40 essays / 10 weeks = 4 essays a week
Most students can’t write four essays in a week. So when I help them organize themselves and schedule their workload, I have them distribute their writing over 15 weeks. This means that if they start to write these essays on August 22nd and they work without procrastinating, they will be done by Thanksgiving. If you are doing the math on how many hours of advising you might need, then figure at least an hour a week for over 15 weeks. That’s 15 hours of advising on the supplement essays alone. Generally speaking, a student needs a minimum of 5 hours of help to write a personal statement for the Common Application or to answer the personal insight questions for the UCs.
Yes, it is A LOT of work. I always tell families that this is like applying to 10 jobs. Not only do you fill out applications and write essays, you also interview and communicate with admissions representatives. The good news: this work is not a waste of time. You are building a skill set in this process that prepares you to seek employment (you'll start applying to jobs as a college student). If you write your essays thoughtfully, you'll also know yourself better and begin to understand what it means to be yourself in college and to define yourself in the job force.
As in life, no effort is lost unless you lose sight of it, so the best mindset for the college application crunch is a positive one. You’ll be in the trenches with all of your peers, so know that you won’t be alone. As I recommend in almost every post here, try to make it fun. Pair up with friends, quit your desk and go find an inspiring place to put in a few hours of work. With just a little bit of creativity, this truly can be an enjoyable undertaking.
If you would like to get a jumpstart on your applications this summer, please consider joining me at my Camp Application during the weekend of August 18th-19th. You’ll have homework to complete over the summer and by the end of the camp you will have drafted your Common Application personal statement, outlined your UC essays, and completed the central sections of your Common Application and UC applications. You’ll also learn how to start on your supplement applications. Sign up soon! 4 seats remaining. See below for details.
Felicia Fahey PhD
Felicia is a comprehensive educational consultant. She works with college bound students of all ages close to home, across the country and around the globe.