For the next couple of weeks, all of the Hopkins Interactive bloggers will be writing on a common theme: our thoughts and reflections on the college application process. We’ve all been exactly where you are now and hope that sharing our experiences will help you through this momentous (but challenging!) time in your life. This post is part 1 of 2 I’ll be writing on the topic.
As an admissions representative, I’ve gotten the chance to do something pretty cool for the past two years: I give on-campus interviews to prospective students who have either applied or are thinking of applying to Hopkins. (AdmissionsMark wrote a great blog entry about the process from an admissions point-of-view, so you should definitely read that!) Personally, I had three interviews when I was applying to colleges (not one from Hopkins though), all given by alumni from those schools in a town next to mine. The interviews were very similar in a lot of ways, the biggest being my intense anxiety before and after each one. Back then, to put it frankly…I was convinced I was going to bomb them all miserably. But now, after being able to experience the interview process with a “behind-the-scenes” perspective, I feel much more secure and better able to actually express myself in an interview setting. I obviously love giving interviews because I love meeting the next generation of off-to-college students and helping them get all their questions answered, but I’m also really grateful for the chance to have a job that has taught me such a useful lesson for the future. (It really is a good skill to have – making a good first impression is key!)
So, in an effort to save you from a little bit of that stress, I decided to write about a few of the key things I wish prospective students would remember before, during, and after interviews. It’s sort of a combination of what I’ve learned about interviews in general (from my college interview process, copious interviews for internships, and ever-developing social skills) and what I hope to see from a student when I give an interview. There’s no way to score a guaranteed acceptance into a college from a stellar interview alone (read point #5), but remembering these points can help calm your nerves and make you feel like you have prepared as much as possible for the big day.
#1 Don’t. Stress. Out.
Part of my whole “pre-interview spiel” is dedicated to letting the student know an important piece of information: the on-campus interview is meant to be an informative discussion, not a grill session. I’m not going to ask you about your SATs or your most brilliant plan to save the world via research or how many A’s you got last year. I’m going to ask you real questions that help me get to know you and your interests: what do you do in your free time, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in one of your classes this year, etc. So before you come in for an interview, shake the nerves with some deep breaths and RELAX. You can tell when someone is nervous – if their eyes flit around the room instead of watching me, if their voice shakes, if they fidget. We don’t “take off points” for that, but it puts us on edge and it also is distracting for you when you’re trying to formulate your thoughts.
Another important thing to remember is that I, and all interviewers, hope that you feel comfortable to stop me at any point to ask your questions about Hopkins. Of course we want to get a sense of how well you’d “fit” here and how much you would take advantage of the opportunities available here, but the main goal is for you to leave the interview with as much information about Hopkins as possible in order to decide whether your should apply and, in the future if the chance arises, enroll.
#2 Prepare – but not too much.
Before your interview, prepare by brainstorming possible questions you could be asked. Obviously, you’re not going to be able to figure out exactly what I’m going to want to know, but you can consider your classes and extracurriculars; you can think about how people (friends, family) might describe you if they were asked to; you can reflect on your criteria during the college search, what sets Hopkins apart from the rest on your list, etc. Then, think about how you might want to answer these questions in order to say everything efficiently and coherently.
But one of the worst things is when I ask a student a question and it sounds like they are giving me a canned answer that, no doubt, has been written, rehearsed on family members, and rewritten to sound just right. It should be organic, but you should also make sure you feel comfortable talking about yourself (here, practice makes perfect!). Which leads me to my next point…
#3 Talking about yourself does not equal bragging.
If the interviewer asks about your greatest achievement (or something along those lines), don’t downplay it in an effort to seem modest. You don’t want to be obnoxiously boastful, but you have to toot your own horn and let them know what sets you apart from the rest. I know a lot of people who have trouble with this and who will avoid talking about their positive aspects just because they don’t want to seem snooty or cocky. But one of the greatest things about the interview is it’s a candid, one-on-one way to show me why you’d be a good contribution to the school. As long as you don’t talk about them in an annoying way, your accomplishments will make you seem driven, ambitious, and mature – not braggy.
#4 Come with questions.
As we’ve said in the past, these interviews are supposed to be informative. I would love nothing more than to sit with a student for 20 minutes and answer question after question about life at Hopkins! It’s not a bad thing if you don’t have any questions to ask, but it will make you appear interested and curious, both plusses in the interview room. Even if you come with a couple questions of your own to keep the conversation going, that’s plenty! I’ve had students ask me everything, from questions about Fresh Food Café, to parties on the weekends, to sports and research and life off-campus, to even my least favorite thing about Hopkins. It’s all fair game, so think hard about what you really want to know and don’t be afraid to ask it.
#5 It’s about the whole package…no, really, it is!
I remember driving to one of my interviews, certain that I was going to say the wrong thing and immediately be denied from that school. But something I’ve learned from working with admissions is that, while the interview is important, it is most likely not going to define your shot at getting in. There are so many other things to consider: grades, teacher recommendations, your personal essay, etc. Interviews are great ways to establish a personal connection between the school and an applicant, but taking a little too long to answer a question does not automatically spell “DENY” to Hopkins. Remember that, and the whole mystical interview process seems instantly less scary.
And speaking of the whole package…that goes for your interview-day presentation too. It’s about your words, but your hair and clothes factor into the way the interviewer will interpret what you say. You don’t need to get dressed up in formal wear, but remember that the college application process is a formal one. You should wear business-casual clothes, which don’t include sweatpants, flip-flops, or dirty tee shirts. It isn’t because we’re all shallow that I mention this: it just really helps when it looks like you respect yourself, take care of yourself, and want to be as polished as possible when trying to make a good impression. It shows you care, which is the most important thing of all.
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