The College Conversation: Tips for a successful college interview

It is college interview season for high school seniors. Local college alums and admissions representatives from all over the nation are tirelessly meeting with college prospects for the sake of putting a face on the students' applications. Stomachs churn. Butterflies flutter. Doubts fill the room. The college interview is, unfortunately, one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the college admissions process.

The majority of high school seniors will never need to endure this rite — but for those students applying to selective private universities, your time has come.

Please allow me to calm some nerves.

First of all, the interviewers are not out to make you feel uncomfortable. It's actually just the opposite. They want to get the best out of you, and for the most part, will do everything they can to put you at ease.

The interviewer does not expect you to be confident, poised and well spoken. If you're nervous, be honest about it. These men and women are not expecting the 18-year-old in front of them to feel 100% confident and self-assured. It's OK to be human.

Unless you are ridiculously late, offensive or act disrespectfully, your application will still be reviewed.

This is not the place for a suit and tie, nor is it the arena for a formal dress. Be comfortable but not overly casual. You want to show respect by "cleaning up," but you don't want to wear anything that will make you feel awkward during your interview. I recommend to clients that girls wear pants and a blouse or a casual dress and boys wear a button-down shirt and nice pants.

Prepare ahead of time. To get started, brainstorm a list of two to three academic or intellectual strengths and interests and do the same for your extra-curricular strengths or interests. Write in detail about your involvement in the above and consider how these interests are original and uniquely represent you.

Maybe you are an avid reader — inspired by what you read in English class, so much so that your bookshelf is overflowing with novels you read for pleasure. Or biology might be your favorite subject. It might not be the one that earns you straight A's, but it inspires you to think about the world around you. Consider what projects, conversations with teachers, or debates in class got you fired up.

One surefire way to fail a college interview is to know very little about the college to which you are applying. Spend time reviewing the university's website, looking for specific details that illustrate why the college is an excellent match for you. Be prepared to declare your love.

Do not forget that the interview is a dialogue. Especially if this is an alumni interview, allow the interviewer to reminisce about his/her time at the college. Bring with you and ask genuine questions to show your interest. Practice articulating your responses to sample interview questions. Never say what you think an interviewer wants to hear. Don't memorize your responses to common interview questions. Automatons don't sound authentically and thoughtfully. Exaggerating or speaking superficially will make you seem as transparent as your answers.

Be yourself. Speak from your heart. There really aren't any hard questions — you know all the answers since the interviewer is asking about yourself — a subject in which you are the only expert.

Your entire high school career should speak for itself in the pages of your written college application. If you choose to interview, take a deep breath. Reflect on your accomplishments and setbacks. Take your time articulating your responses. This piece of the application process will not be the deal breaker. So, if you do well, pat yourself on the back. If you blow it, it doesn't mean you've dug your grave.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Please send college admissions questions to Lisa@EDvantageConsulting.com.

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