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College Interviews: Tips for Showing Up

My pre-set questions are all variations on ‘Why do you want to go to my alma mater'?

In the personal-growth industry vernacular, “showing up” doesn’t mean arriving to your destination on time.  It points to the more esoteric notion of being there for yourself: being present to the moment you are in.  Another way of saying it is to “take responsibility for the energy you bring into [the] space,” to quote Oprah, quoting Dr. Jill Taylor of “My Stroke of Insight.” (All my girlfriends will know this reference immediately, but if you don’t, look it up). 

Energy is a palpable, visceral clue that can be read by others that share your space.  It’s something you can choose to adjust at any given moment if you can become more self-aware.  That might be hard to do if you are younger than 30, but not impossible.  Allow me to share some helpful tips on how to summon your attention to your energetic presence in preparation for your college interviews.

Interviewers know all about showing up, so it’s not surprising that they take issue with an unprepared or unconscious interviewee.  Especially when that interviewee has the enviable task of talking only about him or herself.  High school seniors in a college interview aren’t facing a quiz about recent stock market fluctuations or NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover.  Perhaps the only question requiring research will be “Why do you think this college is a good fit for you?”  That’s it.  Still, despite the many well-prepared or naturally personable high school seniors that I’ve met through my alumni interview roster, there are always the ones who are nonplussed. 

A friend of mine who has interviewed college applicants for her ivy league alumni association for over 15 years had this to say about it, “My pre-set questions are all variations on ‘Why do you want to go to my alma mater’ and inevitably, the interviewees are not prepared to answer or stumble through an inarticulate response.  Ugh!” 

She urged me to share these tips with my college essay students:

1. Dress like a teenager with ambition.  No need to wear a suit but don't dress like you don't care.  Similarly, be punctual and do not chew gum.2. Come prepared with questions.  Every interview -- job, college, internship -- will end with, "So do you have any questions for me?" and it gives the impression that you care if you come prepared with questions specific to your interests.  Looking blankly and saying "nope" gives the impression you're really not interested enough or haven't done enough research to have questions.  Have a pen and paper to take notes if appropriate.  Shake hands when you arrive and leave and send a thank you note/email.

3. Think critically beforehand about potential questions that may be asked and/or have something in mind that you want to get across.  If you have a particular passion or interest and the questions don't ask about it, be sure to mention it.  Colleges want to make a good fit; it's your job in the interview to impress upon me why you're a good fit for the school.

4. Don't be arrogant or make sweeping generalizations.  Think before you speak.  The way you speak with other teenagers is not the way to speak to somebody with whom you're trying to make a good impression.

Good advice.  I try to mitigate the “nopes,” by requiring my essay students to complete a questionnaire before I meet with them.   That way I know they’ve done at least their fair share of thinking before I start brainstorming with them.  Still, sometimes I get a sense from some students that their attention is not really on the task at hand.

In my capacity as an alumni interviewer, I am aware that to you, I might appear like “Mom” or some indeterminate older female that has nothing to do with your life.  But I have showed up for you. I am going to help you through this interview, I am going to make it as easy as possible for you to feel good about it; you don’t even have to meet me half way – just show up with energy that says, “I’ve made a choice to be here.” I’m sure my friend would agree that doing so will make it more enjoyable for us, and result in a better outcome for you.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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