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Interviewing Tips

One of the benefits of doing a college interview is that it gives you the unique opportunity to present the side of yourself that an admissions counselor might not get from reading your application.  It is also your chance to ask questions about the college or university which may help you confirm if it is the right place for you.  At the University of Rochester, we encourage all of our prospective students to interview with us because it helps us get to know YOU better — the person beyond the test scores.  We want to know what you love to do, the things you care about, and what makes you unique.

We realize that interviews can be intimidating, so we wanted to give you some tips that you can use for your next college interview.  We asked some of our counselors to share some of their thoughts and experiences with you as well…

Prepare in Advance
Think about key topics you want to cover in the interview in terms of presenting yourself – you can make a note to yourself or a bulleted list.  If there is something the interviewer has not drawn out of you during your conversation, use your list as a reminder to talk about the important things you may have missed.  You should also prepare a short list of questions.  Think about what it is you want to know about the school – academics, athletics, clubs and activities, study abroad options, anything – and ask. This shows that you are interested in us as much as we are in you.

Mark Wells, Assistant Dean in Admissions
“Prepare some thought-provoking questions for the interviewer.  You should be interviewing the college as much as it’s interviewing you.  It shows that you’ve given some thought to the idea of attending the institution. You’re the one who is going to spend the next four years of your life living there (and presumably paying tuition to attend), so what’s important to help you decide whether or not it’s the right match for you?”

“Dress to Impress” Doesn’t Always Mean Wear a Suit
Every institution has its own thoughts on dress code; however, you should always go to an interview looking presentable. At the same time, you don’t want to look better than your interviewer.  For example, at the University of Rochester, the Admissions and Financial Aid Offices have a relaxed summer dress code.  In the summer months, the counseling and supporting staff have been given the green light to dress business casual, so keep that in mind when you come to interview with our staff. Be yourself – but leave the jeans and other colleges’ sweatshirts at home.

Joe Latimer, Director of Diversity Enhancement & Regional Director for New York City
“Dress to impress, but if you’re not the suit and tie type, don’t wear a suit and tie.  Be thoughtful in regards to what you wear for your interview because first impressions count.”

You’re Not Rehearsing a Speech
Pay attention to what the interviewer is asking you and then take a moment to compose your response before leaping into the answer. It’s okay if you don’t have an answer right away; we want to have a natural conversation with you, so try not to rehearse your answers.

Mike Conklin, Admissions Counselor
“Put away the script. In my experience, the perfect interview will feel nothing like an interview at all.  If you want to go through your resume with me because you are excited about all of the things you have accomplished (as you should be), that’s okay, but if you are really amped to talk about that one thing that you love that I don’t know the first thing about, all the better.  I am never more thrilled than I am when an interview turns into a half-hour conversation about the evolution of your interest in Irish dancing, building a canoe from the fallen tree in your backyard, or the theory behind black holes.”

Money Matters, But Be Careful What You Ask For
It’s completely fine to ask about scholarships and financial aid during an interview, but there is a tactful way of doing it.  Counselors are happy to talk to you about the range of scholarships the institution offers and the qualities they look for in scholarship winners, but the interview is not the time to talk specific numbers.

Marla Britton, Assistant Director of College/Community Programs, Admissions
“When students ask about money and aid and how much we will give them, that’s a huge turn-off.”

The Best Interviews

Mark WellsAssistant Dean in Admissions
“The best interviews are those that happen organically. There usually is little or no pretense; the interviewee is real and honest about their strengths and their challenges. The best interviews are ones in which the excitement one feels for a topic they’re discussing becomes contagious; I recently interviewed a student who plans to major in materials science, which is a specialized field that not many high school students know exists.  Still, further prodding revealed a lifelong fascination with rocks, minerals, and crystals; his collection of rock and mineral samples takes up most of the space in his room.

Some students have yet to discover their passion. That’s fine; most seventeen-year-olds haven’t—heck, some 40 year olds haven’t figured it out yet either. What’s important is for the student to engage with the person with whom they’re speaking and offer up some opinions, be they radical or safe, thought-provoking or not, just be yourself—not the scripted, polished, best version of yourself, but the REAL you.  If nothing else, the 20-30 minute interview should present the interviewee with information that supplements the application—not merely repeats it. I love when students tell me things that they would never tell me in their college application, like that they ride a unicycle or enjoy LARPing, because that’s what differentiates you.”

The Worst Interviews

Tanya Strachan, Transfer Representative and Senior Admissions Counselor
“A not-so-good interview usually happens when students give limited responses or one-word answers. If you cannot elaborate on your activities or interests, then it makes it very hard for an admissions counselor to keep the conversation going. Also, when students don’t ask any questions about the school or the admissions process, it makes me believe that they are not interested.”

Marla BrittonAssistant Director of College/Community Programs, Admissions
“When it comes to interviewing, a really bad idea is to lie.  Counselors write interview notes and then read applications, so tell the truth.”

Here are some questions an Interviewer might ask:

  • What are your plans for the summer?
  • Tell me about your family.
  • What are you looking forward to most during senior year?
  • How do you think your friends/teachers/peers describe you?
  • What are your career aspirations?
  • If I followed you around school all day, what would I learn about you?
  • What is the most challenging class you have encountered and how did you get through it?
  • Have you achieved everything you set out to achieve during high school?
  • How did the University of Rochester (or school X) get on your list?
  • What kind of college student do you see yourself being, inside and outside the classroom?
  • If you had a day off, how would you spend it?
  • What genres of music and movies do you like?
  • Of all the things you've accomplished in your life, academic or personal, which one thing are you most proud of and why?
  • What traits are most important to you when trying to decide whether or not a college is the “right” fit?
  • What do you find most fascinating about the subject in which you plan to earn your degree?
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