College Admissions: How to Ace the (Virtual) Interview

College Admissions: How to Ace the (Virtual) Interview

Congratulations! You’ve made it! By now, you’ve written the personal statement, made it through all of the supplements, and submitted your Early Action and Decision applications. Now… what’s next?

Any time now, you may be contacted by an alumni interviewer who is interested in interviewing you. Make sure you’re prepared for your interview by reading below!

Interview Requirements

Let’s start off by talking about the schools that require or recommend interviews during the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. The lists below include the schools that MEK students often apply to. Review the list carefully to make sure that you aren’t surprised later!

Ivy League Colleges/Universities

College/UniversityInterview Policy
Brown UniversityRecommended to submit video portfolio
Cornell UniversityRequired for Architecture program and School of Hotel Administration, recommended for Art program
Yale UniversityRecommended
University of PennsylvaniaRecommended
Princeton UniversityRecommended
Harvard UniversityRecommended
Dartmouth UniversityRecommended
Columbia UniversityRecommended

Highly Competitive Colleges/Universities

College/UniversityInterview Policy
Bowdoin CollegeRecommended
Colgate UniversityOptional
Duke UniversityRecommended
Georgetown UniversityRequired
Johns Hopkins UniversityOptional
Middlebury CollegeOptional
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyStrongly recommended
Northwestern UniversityOptional
Rice UniversityOptional
Stanford UniversityOptional
Swarthmore CollegeRecommended
Tufts UniversityOptional
Vassar CollegeOptional
Wake Forest UniversityRecommended
Washington University in St. LouisOptional
Wellesley CollegeRecommended
Wesleyan UniversityRecommended

Special Programs

College/UniversityInterview Policy
Stevens Institute of TechnologyRequired for Accelerated Pre-Medicine applicants, optional for all other applicants
The College of New Jersey7-Year Combined BS/MD Program, invitation only
Pennsylvania State UniversityPremedical-Medical Program and Schreyer Honors College, invitation only
Rutgers University7-Year BA/MD Joint Degree Program (NJMS-NWK), invitation only
Drexel UniversityBA/BS+MD Early Assurance Program (4+4), invitation only
Boston University7-Year Liberal Arts/Medical Education Program, invitation only

United States Service Academies

College/UniversityInterview Policy
United States Military AcademyRequired
United States Naval AcademyRequired
United States Air Force AcademyRequired
United States Coast Guard AcademyRequired
United States Merchant Marine AcademyRequired

 

The interview is an especially useful tool for students to put a more personal touch on their applications. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, most, if not all, interviews will be conducted virtually. This new platform of interviews offers a number of pros and cons:

PROSCONS

1.   Take the interview in a safe, comfortable, and controllable environment

2.   Possibility of showing additional application materials/documents through screen share

3.   Less unpredictability (i.e. lateness due to traffic, high background noise)

1.  Subject to unpredictability of internet connection

2.  Less personal connection throughout interview

Tips for the Virtual Interview

TIP 1: Background

Clean your room/surroundings! Your interview will now offer a small window into your home/room, and you do not want to be conveyed as a messy or lazy student. You also do not want to use a virtual background either: virtual backgrounds often slow down the network connection and present issues for audio and video.

You do not have to curate your background with awards and certificates, but if you so choose, you can put one or two elements that can act as conversation starters (i.e. an easel, an original painting, a musical instrument).

Notify your parents/siblings that you will be in an interview during the time for which you are scheduled. It is not appropriate for them to make appearances during the interview, unless otherwise instructed.

TIP 2: Internet Connection & Audio

Test out your Internet connection in advance. If you are nervous that there may be Internet issues during your interview, prepare for the worst. Use an Internet hotspot or use a physical LAN cable instead of Wi-Fi. Do not allow for any complications!

A few days before your interview, test your Internet connection at https://www.speedtest.net/, a free resource that is very helpful in diagnosing Internet issues. You want to aim for upload and download speeds above 600 megabytes per second (mbps) in order for the video call to be completely clear of any interruptions.

You may also want to test out your audio in advance. If you think you will have audio issues, arrange to use a pair of working headphones or earphones with an attached microphone, instead of relying on your computer’s system microphones or speakers.

TIP 3: Posture & Physical Appearance

Angle the camera so that, at the very least, you are visible up to your shoulders. Make sure that the lighting allows for the interviewer to see your face clearly. Usually, if your main light source is behind you, there will be a shadow over your face, making it hard to recognize your face.

Make sure to sit up straight and sit still! This will not only allow for a good impression, but also clearer audio, as you will be able to project your voice more effectively.

If you know that sitting in a swivel chair will tempt you to pivot back and forth, change your chair to one that won’t allow you to fidget.

TIP 4: Practicing

During the week before the interview, think about the responses you will give for anticipated interview questions. Don’t plan the responses to a tee or write them down; it is just as important that your responses are natural and not rehearsed as it is that they are detailed and deliberate.

Some of the questions you can anticipate are:

1. Tell me about yourself in 1-2 minutes.

2. Why do you want to attend X school? Why do you want to study your chosen major?

3. Tell me about your high school.

4. What are some of your hobbies?

5. What extracurricular activities do you enjoy most/are you most involved in?

6. What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

7. What do you like best/least about working in groups?

8. What are your proudest achievements?

9. Who is your role model?

10. Any questions for me?

When you’re practicing your responses, practice designing a quick outline of the things you want to say before you start talking. This way, you will be structured, detailed, and focused. You can also prevent yourself from using filler words, such as “like,” “uhmm,” “sort of,” etc. 

Filler words often come from a lack of confidence in what you want to say next. But if you have a plan of what you want to say during your response, you won’t need to use these words to buy you time to think.

TIP 5: Research!

Some of the most difficult questions that the interviewer can ask will be about the school. Why do you want to go to the school you are interviewing for? What about the specific program you are applying to attracts you? What is your favorite building on the campus? While there is no right answer to any of these questions, there is a wrong answer: “I don’t know.” Make sure you do detailed research about the school before the interview! You should do enough research to be able to brag about the school to the interviewer.

The most common final question in an interview is, “Do you have any questions for me?” There are two things that you should definitely avoid when answering this question.

1. Saying that you don’t have any questions: This is the number one wrong answer to this question!

2. Asking a question that you can easily answer by looking at the website: This shows that you have not done your research.

Make sure to do your homework so the interviewer can get the impression that you are passionate about the school you are interviewing for.

TIP 6: Pre- and Post-Interview Correspondence

If you have a resume, send it to your interviewer at least one day before your interview, so they can use it to prepare more personalized questions. During the interview, you can also have it ready on your screen for if you want to refer to something by sharing your screen!

After the interview, make sure to send your interviewer a thank you note that is specific to your particular interview. Refer to a particular conversation that you had, or something interesting you learned from them. This way, you can also remind your interviewer about something special about your interview. Keep in mind that your interviewer is probably interviewing many other students as well, and you do not want to be confused as someone else as they write their interview notes!

Still Nervous?

MEK offers interview practice sessions for students applying to either private middle and high schools or colleges! Interview practice meetings are one-hour long: a 30-minute mock interview followed by 30 minutes of feedback and important pointers, all conducted by expert counselors.

For more guidance and information, refer to our Academic and Admissions Counseling information, or contact us to get started!

Good luck on your interview, and we hope to see you soon!

Jaehee Ahn

Jaehee Ahn is MEK Review's Assistant Director of Academic Counseling Services and a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. She is also an alumnus of MEK Review's SAT Prep program. If you have any questions about our College Counseling programs or wish to set up a consultation, you can email Jaehee at acs@mekreview.com.

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