Nailing the Alumni Interview
Walk into any Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, or public library around the holiday season and at least a few tables will be occupied by teen/middle-age dyads, with the older member asking things like, “Why our College?” or “What’s your favorite activity?” Alumni interviews are NOT an overwhelmingly important part of the college application process, but they do count and a successful meeting can provide a slight boost to your admission prospects. Therefore, the College Transitions team is here to offer a few tips to help you make a positive impression.
Prep and Practice
Develop intimate knowledge about your prospective school well in advance of the interview—frantically checking your phone for university factoids at stoplights while driving to your interview won’t cut it. Your knowledge of the institution needs to be deeply engrained so that you’re able to talk naturally and substantively about it.
Alumni interviewers like when they learn something new about their alma mater from an interviewee. Be the guy/gal who tells your Stanford alumni rep that their engineering department is so cutting edge that they recently developed Gecko-like gloves that allow people to climb glass walls like superheroes. Be the guy/gal who explains to your Kenyon College interviewer, that you were impressed that out of 42 college and universities in Ohio, Kenyon grads finish with the second lowest debt sum.
Equally important is that you develop an intimate familiarity with your resume. Be prepared to discuss your courses, activities, interests and objectives going forward. Questions you might be asked include:
Why are you interested in our college?
What extracurricular activities at school and in your community have been most important to you?
Which subjects and courses have you enjoyed the most? Which have been the most difficult?
What will your high school miss most about you?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
If you could change one thing about your current school, what would it be?
What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?
What do you like to do for fun?
Describe a challenge that you have overcome?
What is your favorite book? Why?
Reflect on the above and other similar questions beforehand. Don’t go into your interview cold. Ask your counselor to conduct a mock interview and provide feedback, if possible. You’ll likely gain a helpful pointer or two and feel less nervous on interview day.
Remember the little things
Typically, the alumni interviewer will contact you to suggest a time to chat. Unless you are scheduled for pancreas surgery or are testifying before congress (or something less random but equally important), accept whatever date and time you are offered. It’s important to acknowledge that this adult’s time is more valuable than yours; hence, saying that you can’t meet after school on Tuesday because you have a Halo 5 tournament at your “bro’s” house is not recommended.
Shake hands with your interviewer. Say “please” and “thank you.” Offer a “bless you” if he or she sneezes. Send a follow-up note or email expressing your appreciation. As is true in all of life’s arenas, a little politeness and courtesy can go a long way.
Right before you is real life human being who spent four years at one of your prospective colleges. Hopefully you will be naturally bursting with questions for them. Ask them about their experiences and how their college has contributed to the person he/she is today, while acknowledging that the interviewer may be far removed from his/her college experience. Avoid questions about class size, course offerings, and specific professors. Instead, ask questions that your interview is qualified to address and comfortable answering, such as:
What do you think distinguishes your alma mater from other similar colleges?
What did you find most enjoyable about your college experience?
If you could recommend one thing to an incoming student, what would it be?
How did your alma mater help you find employment after graduation?
Do you find that your connections to the college community are still strong? If so, how have you maintained your connections?
Do you still find that your college education is useful or relevant even today? If so, why?
Whether or not a given college places significant weight on the assessment of their alumni interviewers (some schools do more than others), the process of chatting with a knowledgeable individual should be a positive and enlightening experience. Be your most polite, inquisitive, and knowledgeable self and the interview will take care of itself.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).