Your alumni interview is coming up. I know it seems daunting, but the interviewers are looking to advocate for your background, achievements, and interests. They’ll be describing your personality, warmth, sense of humor, and ability to communicate to the admissions officer. In turn, you’re evaluating them and their alma mater, too. Let’s prepare you to shine.
Not Lex Luthor
Alumni interviews are finally a chance to interface with a real ambassador from a university to which you’re applying. February is usually when these schools will have their alumni reach out to you for an interview.
Sitting down face-to-face with an alumni who has some amount of control over how that university perceives you can feel daunting. But don’t worry, colleges instruct alumni who participate in interviews to view the interaction as being your advocate. They’re not there with the purpose of antagonizing you. You’re meeting a mentor and ally, not Lex Luthor.
You will not be at a disadvantage if you aren’t able to have an interview, and they are in most cases optional. Think of them as an opportunity to get more information about your university of interest. Flip the script- you’re interviewing them.
Do alumni interviews affect your chances of admission?
Alumni interviews are a lot like your letters of recommendation from your teachers in their impact; great interviews or rec letters contribute marginally to increasing a student’s chances of acceptance to a university. However, a weak alumni interview or an indifferent rec letter from a teacher can greatly reduce an applicant’s chance of acceptance. The impact of negative letters or interviews outweigh their positive counterparts.
Ivy League admissions offices weigh alumni interviews a bit more than other universities. Schools from Brown to Dartmouth to Harvard indicate that alumni interviews rank as “considered” as an admission factor. Some schools such at the the University of Pennsylvania place an even bigger emphasis on interviews, citing them as an important consideration. In any case, it’s a good opportunity to learn more and make an impression.
Show up early. This isn’t a situation where you want to sabotage your first impression by showing up late. Ketchup stains on your shirt- not recommended. But hey, if the day of, you spill ketchup on your ironed and pressed shirt, I’m sure you have a great story about how it got there. Be polite, and express gratitude for the interviewer’s time, and you’ll do just fine.
Flip the script
So you’re going to an alumni interview for your dream school. You’ve determined it’s a perfect academic and social fit for you. This is your chance to fact check those impressions. Yeah, the interviewer is determining your suitability for the school, but you’re also determining the school’s suitability for you.
You’re in the company of someone who knows the student experience of the school- the good, bad, and the ugly. The interviewer spent their college career there, and the university has entrusted this alumni with the interviewing responsibility because they see them as a good representative of their brand. This seems like the perfect opportunity to ask questions, learn more about the school, and get a better sense of whether or not it’s the right fit for you.
If you approach the interview with this perspective, it will help you see the process in a healthier, more balanced way. The interview isn’t just a test to see whether you’re good enough. Instead, it’s a mutual assessment of fit.
What to expect: alumni interview questions
Your interviewer has volunteered their time to meet you. Each university has a different set of instructions to their alumni interviewers, so there can be a lot of variation, but it’s usually an informal conversation between two great minds. The interviewer wants to become your advocate, get to know you, and bring out your best qualities. They are also ready to help you learn more about the opportunities available at their alma mater.
The interviewer will have some prior information about you in a report form, and some questions for you, woven into a conversation pretty organically. You can expect questions about your time in high school, your personal and social life outside of school, and your expectations of and desires for your college experience.
You may be asked for an example of your personal growth in high school, what your interests are outside of school (and why you’re drawn to these things), and what you’re most looking forward to in your college experience. You’ll probably be asked about your prospective major, too. After the interviewer has heard your answers to their questions, there will generally be a chance for you to ask questions as well.
Definitely ask the interviewer to share their stories about their time on the campus, something they wish they’d known before their freshman year, and a fond memory or proud accomplishment. Don’t expect the interviewer to be too transparent about the school’s problems or internal politics- they are the face of the brand, after all. You can still get some honest insight by phrasing your question like “Is there anything you wish you’d known before your freshman year that I can benefit from learning from you now?” This is an open-ended question that invites an implication of regret and will give you some insight into the resources and pitfalls on campus.
At the end of the interview, you’ll be prompted to include anything else you may not have had the chance to organically weave into the conversation. The prompt will go something like “Is there anything else you would like me to share with the Admissions Office?” or “Have I missed anything that is important or that you had hoped we’d discuss?”
Your interviewer will privately fill out an interview report form reflecting on how your conversation went, and and share it with the admissions office.
Tips for your interview
This is a valuable opportunity both for you to make an impression and gain more information about the school.
- Prepare questions for your interviewer. This also helps demonstrate your genuine interest in the college. Make sure your questions aren’t the kind that can be answered by Googling. Asking your interviewer something like “how many students attend this school?” comes off as unprepared. Ask more qualitative and subjective types of questions about the student experience.
- Research the school and have a few talking points in mind to demonstrate why you’re interested in the college and why you’d be a good fit. Is there a particular professor you want to study with? Is there a new lab or facility like a student-run maker space? Are you interested in a major that this college offers that many others don’t? Browse current events and facilities being built or expanded on the campus and position yourself as a future user of these facilities.
- Be there on time, neatly dressed. You don’t need to wear a suit. Just put something together that is business casual and neat.
- Interviewers don’t want to hear you reciting perfect answers that you’ve memorized for common questions; they want to know who you really are.
- “Why are you interested in this school?” You don’t need to script and memorize your answer, but this question is definitely going to come up, so give it some serious thought so you’re prepared.
- Research their interviewer on LinkedIn prior to the interview. Know about their major and program during his or her time at the school.
- Ask the interviewer about their experience at the school! In fact, ask them their fondest memory, something they wish they’d been warned about going in, any obstacles they faced, the support systems on the campus in place for those obstacles, their proudest achievement on the campus, the alumni network and their own level of involvement within that network today… ask for narratives and qualitative info.
- Follow up with a thank-you card or email to your interviewer the same day or the day following your interview. Do not wait longer than 48 hours to express your gratitude as it may come off insincere if delayed.
What to avoid
- No need to discuss your GPA or grades. The admissions office has that on paper. This is an opportunity to present more exuberant parts of your personality harder to showcase transcript.
- Don’t overshare. Don’t get too self-revealing about personal details. This isn’t the place to discuss your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend or discuss Brad’s party last week. Be yourself but don’t volunteer irrelevant information.
- If you’re the type of person who rambles when nervous (I know I am), then plan some topics you want to discuss, and stick to those topics pretty closely so you don’t leave the meeting face palming like “why did I even say that though?”
- Avoid nervous filler chatter. Deep breaths. Bring a bottle of water with you. You don’t need to fill every moment with chatter. Some lulls and silences are okay, evoking calm composure.
- Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Also, don’t misrepresent your interests, your prospective major, or your grades.
- You don’t need to talk about other colleges to which you’re applying. Instead, discuss what you’re looking for in a university broadly, and then specifically why this interviewer’s alma mater appeals to you.
- Don’t be too self-centered or launch into a monologue. Remember to ask questions to your interviewer about their experience on the campus, too.
You’ll do great! If you need help preparing for your alumni interview, consider working with an Empowerly counselor to practice and polish your confidence.