College Interviews: Tips from a Former Stanford Interviewer

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Gelyna Price
Gelyna Price

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Does the thought of college interviews make you sweat? No need for that.

Some of you have wrapped up a few college interviews and others of you will be going through them soon. Hence, we asked our resident former Stanford alumni interviewer at Empowerly, Gelyna, for some tips. Enjoy:

What are some major turn-offs when interviewing students?

  • Making your answers general/showing that you did not do your research on the school you’re interviewing for. You should be conveying to the interviewer that the school you’re interviewing for is your first choice. For example, a student once said “I want to attend Stanford or a similar university because….” in an interview. Interviewers want to hear that you want to attend their school and for you to be able to give specific reasons why.
  • Being overly formal. Interviews are supposed to be casual conversations where the interviewer can learn more about the student. The most important thing is to come across as likable and someone who would contribute to the school’s community. By acting overly buttoned up or not genuine, you’re not going to come across as yourself and the interviewer likely won’t have a great impression.

What are your favorite questions to ask?

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are you curious about?
  • What motivates you to achieve your goals?

Does a clash in personality affect the student’s chances (i.e. if they rub you the wrong way)?

Potentially. After the interview, the interviewer has to fill out information about their impression of the student. If the school was thinking of accepting the student but they came across terribly in an interview, I assume that would potentially lead the school to change their mind, especially at extremely selective schools that admit <15% of applicants.

Not becoming best friends with an interviewer isn’t likely to affect one’s chances, but coming across as arrogant or rude are big red flags for the interviewer and can affect admissions chances. In my mind, I think that colleges want to see that the real student matches who they portray themselves as on paper. For example, if the student comes across as heartless in person but portrays themselves as someone who is constantly caring for others and volunteering to help people in their college essays, there would be a stark contrast and that would therefore be a red flag for the admissions committee.

What are some questions that people tend to not answer correctly?

Tell me about yourself sounds like a simple question but can actually be difficult for people to answer. I often find that people talk about what they do (classes they like, extracurriculars, etc.) rather than who they are and what makes up their identity, which is often much more interesting.

What are the key traits you’re looking for in the college interviews?

I think that all colleges are looking for people who are intellectually curious, have high leadership potential, and people who are compassionate and innovative. All colleges want to accept students who will make a strong and unique contribution to their campus community.

Have you ever sent a bad review of a student?

I’ve never sent a bad review, but I’ve sent many mediocre reviews.

How can someone differentiate themselves in an interview?

Emphasize what makes you unique. Hundreds of thousands of students do the same sports or extracurricular activities, so there are certain aspects of one’s high school career that don’t stand out. What defines you that might be different from others? Have you done an obscure extracurricular activity that your interviewer might not know about? Have you done unique research or taken a class that is not typical, and if so, how can you convey how passionate you are about this?

How can a student infuse knowledge about a school without seeming like they’re reciting the website?

Do research about the specific program you’d like to apply to. Is there a professor’s research that you’re interested in that you can discuss? What makes the major program unique at the school you’re applying to? (e.g. specific concentrations? Research opportunities? A center dedicated to this topic?) Do they have clubs relevant to the clubs you participate in in high school? Be sure not to mention family members going to the school, the geographic location of the school, or generic facts about the school.

What are your best interview tips?

  • Come up with potential questions and outline your answers beforehand so that you’re not caught by surprise and can quickly think of responses to the interview questions.
  • If you’re given the interviewer’s name, look them up on LinkedIn before the interview to find out their career, what their major was, and any additional information about them that you can potentially relate to or ask about.
  • Prepare at least 3 questions for the interviewer that are relevant to them, such as what they enjoyed about their experience, what most surprised them about their school, or how their major relates to their current career.

And finally, here is another great article that gives you some pointers on how to have a seamless virtual interview, if you aren’t able to meet up in person. Just because it’s a digital meeting doesn’t mean you can’t have a genuine connection!

Looking for more guidance on how to ace your college interviews? Don’t wait, the time is now. Preparing for your college interview will make you a better candidate and improve your chances of admission. Book a free consult today to learn how Empowerly can help you get there, with advice from experts.

Questions? Let us know!