Updated: Feb 10, 2022
How to Prepare for Alumni Interviews
Midway through the college admissions process, you may find yourself offered an opportunity for an interview with an alum from your college of choice. While this might seem like yet another stressful wrinkle in an already fraught process, do not panic! If anything, an interview can only help; it offers you a chance to learn more about the school, and a way to cultivate a positive impression that could help sway the admissions committee should you find yourself on the cusp between acceptance and rejection. Below are five tips to help you connect with your interviewer, and to make the most out of this opportunity.
#1: Don’t stress out.
According to a former admissions officer at Princeton University, of the two thousand or so applications he oversaw during his time at the school, only one was negatively impacted by an alumni interview. In fact, at most schools, the admissions committee views the interview more as a chance for you to learn about the school than vice versa. Now, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare or take it seriously, but it does mean that you shouldn’t stress out about it. Go in thinking of it as an opportunity, not a test, and you should have an easier time having a pleasant, relaxed conversation with the alum.
#2: Prepare some questions ahead of time.
The alumni interview is one of your best opportunities to learn about your school of choice from someone who has four years of on-campus experience. They can help you determine if a college is really the right fit for you, as long as you come into the interview with good questions prepared. Try to ask about things that aren’t readily available on the school’s website, or elsewhere on the internet. This is a great chance to get a sense of campus culture— what kind of support the school offers for your extracurriculars of choice, how seriously the students take academics, whether or not Greek life has a significant presence, and so on. If you’re going to spend four years of your life at a school, you want to make sure that it really is the right place for you, and a former student can offer just the sort of insight to help you make that choice.
#3: Present yourself well.
Though there’s no strict dress code for the alumni interview, walking in wearing jeans and a stained t-shirt might not cultivate your desired impression of professionalism. Dress nicely, be polite, and make sure to show up on time. Though this isn’t exactly the sort of thing under one’s control, try not to stutter or stumble over your words— you want to sound as articulate as possible. This all helps to form a positive impression, as does sending a follow-up thank-you email after the interview. (The sooner, the better!) Be polite, be yourself, and try to have a good conversation.
#4: Don’t rehash your application.
The admission committee already has your application— transcript, essay, etc.— so there’s no need to highlight those aspects of yourself during the interview. Instead, it’s a chance to show off the parts of your personality that aren’t so easily reducible to a piece of paper, and let the interviewer see how well you would fit in at their college. Don’t just tell them what you want to major in; talk about what sparked your interest in that subject in the first place. The more passionate, the better! Extracurriculars, hobbies, anything that makes you who you are— all fair game. You are more than your high school transcript— this is your opportunity to let them know.
#5: Know why you want to attend their school.
One of the most commonly asked questions in the alumni interview is why you want to attend the school you do. A good answer is both specific and genuine: talk about a particular program that caught your eye, or a faculty member you want to work with, or anything else that couldn’t just as easily describe a hundred other schools. Enthusiasm is infectious; your excitement for their school should leave a smile on your interviewer’s face.
Above all else, remember point number one! The less stressed out you are going in, the better a time you’ll have, and the more you enjoy yourself, the more fondly your interviewer will remember you. Keep cool, remember what makes you special, don’t forget that thank-you email, and you should have a great interview that sets you up for success. Good Luck!