How To Help Your Teen Ace Their College Alumni Interview
The first few months of the year are when many students receive alumni interview requests. This means a graduate of a university (an alumna or alumnus) is willing to meet and discuss the applicant’s interest in his or her alma mater. Typically, the meeting will last between 30 minutes to an hour, and due to the ongoing pandemic, will most likely be conducted virtually.
Let your teen know that if they aren’t invited to an alumni interview, they shouldn’t worry. Admission officers won’t penalize a student who isn’t contacted. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough alumni volunteers available to meet with every interested student.
An interview, however, can put a positive spin on an application, and students should make every effort to accept an invitation if offered. It allows them to demonstrate their interest in the school, and it enables the interviewer to “put a face” to the student’s profile. This is an opportunity for your teenager to enthusiastically portray their reasons for wanting to attend a particular college or university. Your child should come prepared to share an interesting hobby or anecdote. Interviewers love to hear about unique interests and personal stories.
Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to share with your child.
Greet the interviewer with a warm smile and make eye contact. Introduce yourself with your first and last name.
Prepare to discuss what you love about the school, why you’d like to attend, and how you plan to participate in the campus community.
Have three to five questions prepared to ask the interviewer. Examples include: What do students enjoy most about the college? Is it easy for freshmen to get involved in research? What are your favorite memories about your time at the university?
Remember to send a short, personalized thank-you note after the interview (email is fine) reiterating your interest in the college. Do so within 24 hours if possible.
Arrive late. The interviewer is voluntarily taking time out of his or her schedule to meet with you. Don’t make them wait! In fact, plan to log into the platform five to ten minutes early (which will also help you relax).
Dress inappropriately. Business casual is advised; there’s no need for a dress or a suit. On camera they will only see part of you; do a practice run to make sure you like how you are appearing. And, never chew gum!
Speak negatively about your high school, your teachers, or your classes. Stick to positive experiences throughout the interview.
Start a discussion about politics, gun control, abortion rights, or any other highly controversial subject. You don’t want to risk offending the interviewer.
List other colleges you’re applying to and may want to attend. Focus on the school you’re there to discuss.
Practice! If your child isn’t working with an independent college counselor who can offer a mock interview, then have them ask a school counselor or another adult (a mentor, teacher, or coach). That person should be on the lookout for grammatical errors, filler words, and unrelated tangents. If your teen is willing, you can also conduct the mock interview. Critique everything from your student’s tone to the content of his/her answers.
Tips to share with your teen on how to handle the technical aspects of the virtual interview:
- Make sure your computer is charged. You do not want to suddenly disconnect in the middle of the interview! (Best plan: have your computer plugged into a power source.) Use a computer, not a phone or a tablet, if possible.
- Clean your camera lens. Keep the camera at eye-level. You might need to put a book under your computer to accomplish that. Speak into the camera so that it appears as if you are making eye-contact.
- Turn off all email notifications before the interview starts. You don’t want your computer beeping and buzzing during the interview.
- Don’t have a lot of distractions on the video; choose a quiet place with an uncluttered background. If you’re doing this in your bedroom, make sure it’s not a mess (make your bed, don’t have clothes or clutter on the floor, close your closet door.)
- Avoid wearing white, bright red, and all-black outfits. They don’t typically look good on camera. Blues, greens, purples are a good choice, and solids often work well.
- Do not have light source behind you—it will make it hard to see your face. The light should be in front of you—facing a window is ideal. Some people use a lamp or ring lights in front of the computer to ensure their face is clearly visible.
- Ask a friend or family member to do a run-through with you an hour before your scheduled interview so you can check that your audio/video works. Also verify that your face is well-lit and that your background looks appropriate. Play around with your camera angle to make sure that you are centered in the video, at a suitable distance from the camera.
- Remind people not to enter. Place a “Do Not Disturb—Interviewing!” note on the door!
- Check the time zone of your interview! Do not be late!
- Sit up straight, speak slowly, enunciate, and smile! Be personable, enthusiastic and friendly, just like you would during an in-person conversation.
- Relax, and be yourself. You’ve got this!
Mock interview mishaps
These situations actually happened at One-Stop College Counseling during our mock interviews. We’re sharing them so other students can learn from these mishaps.
A student applying to Barnard College explained that her “top choice” Early Decision school was either Cornell University or Dartmouth College. She went on to discuss the pros and cons of each school. Had this taken place during an actual interview, this wouldn’t have resulted in a Barnard admission.
A Yale University applicant spoke as though he were consulting a thesaurus. Speak from the heart and be natural!
A prospective Tufts University student delivered a five-minute speech on how her parents found the school, her parents believe it’s a good academic fit, and her parents think she would love Boston. Get the idea? Colleges want to know why you think the university is a great choice, not your parents!
A student applying to Princeton University droned on about plans to major in Business…except Princeton doesn’t offer an undergraduate Business degree! Be sure to do your homework and know important details (like majors offered) about the school you hope will admit you.
We hope you can use this information to help your teenager rock that interview! Good luck!
Laurie Kopp Weingarten is the Co-founder and President of One-Stop College Counseling. If you need help preparing for your interviews or would like to learn about our college counseling package, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-233-7851. We work with students in 8th-12th grade. You can also visit our website at www.one-stopcc.com.