Acing the Alumni Interview

You’re a Senior.  It’s late January.  You’re finished with the college application process…right?  Maybe not.  For many of you, the alumni interview is next on deck.  So what does that even mean?  Is the interview important?  How can you impress your interviewer all the way to an acceptance letter?

While certainly not the most important part of an application, the alumni interview should not be as easily dismissed as some would have you believe.  You should think of the interview as a way to add another dimension to your application – personality!  Let’s face it: even if you wrote a stellar essay, you’re probably more interesting in person than you are in 500 words on a white sheet of paper.  An effervescent personality isn’t the only key to a successful interview, however.  As an interviewer for Duke, there are several things I wish my students knew…

1) I haven’t read your application.  I know your name, your contact information, and a few basics (high school, intended major), but that’s all.  You will probably repeat some of what you wrote on your application, but you should expand on those ideas and turn them into conversations rather than bulleted lists.

2) Give me something to work with.  Short answers and empty stares toward the door don’t help me chat with you for thirty minutes to an hour, and they don’t help me communicate with the admissions office.

3) Be prepared to answer the inevitable “why Alpha University?” question.  I’m trying to gauge your interest in my dear alma mater, so I want to believe that you’ve done your homework on the school and you know why it would be a good fit for you.  Give me details – perhaps student activities you hope to pursue, unique academic offerings you’ve read about, or a personal connection you’ve made with a student or alumnus.

(True story: A well-meaning applicant once told her interviewer that she wanted to attend Duke because “I’ve had the Duke cheerleader outfit since I was, like, really little.  I am, like, the most spirited person you’ll ever meet!”  Result: Skinny envelope.  Lesson: Saying you’re a fan of the sports team isn’t going to cut it, at least not if it is your only response.)

4) Know your passions.  One of the main ways to add depth to your application is to communicate your passions, whether academic, extracurricular, or otherwise.  Prior to your interview, give some thought to what or who has inspired you and anecdotes that illustrate your interests.  Try to tell stories that you didn’t include in your application.

5) Ask questions.  You don’t have to ask anything profound, but ask something.  Ask about the balance between academics, extracurriculars, and social life.  Ask about the typical student.  Ask what I think is the most remarkable aspect of the school.  You can even ask about a specific program because, while I may not know the answer, I will at least appreciate your effort.

Finally, accept the interview.  For most schools, the interview is a “suggested” not “required” component of the application, but it will help the admissions officers distinguish your application from the pile (personality, remember?).  The interview takes on particular importance during years with significant increases in applications.  If you don’t accept an interview, you can come across as uninterested, which suggests that you may not accept a place in the class either.  Alumni interviews are usually relaxed and casual conversations, so just show up with a smile on your face and some stories in your back pocket, and start talking!

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