Ace the College Alumni Interview
Updated: Feb 9
College alumni interviews are often an overlooked way for students to increase their odds of admission. Highly selective colleges generally do not have enough staff in their admission offices to conduct interviews, so they rely on alumni to conduct the interviews and evaluate the applicants. While the interviews are not one of the biggest factors in the admission decision, they are one of the easier ways students can boost their odds of admission. They also help prepare students for job interviews later in life.
Optional Generally Means Required
Colleges will indicate that the interview is optional, but I never had a student decline an opportunity for an interview when I interviewed students for Duke University. Just as optional “why us” essays in college applications should be treated as required essays, optional interviews should be treated as required interviews. Colleges sometimes describe things as being optional because they want to test how motivated students are to attend their school.
Are you worried that your kid doesn’t interview well? Your kid can manage expectations. If your kid has a stutter, ADHD, or some other condition, your kid can share that by email with the interviewer when setting up the appointment for the interview. The student’s email can say something like “I am looking forward to the interview with you. As a heads up, I want you to know that I have a stutter. I am working on getting rid of my stutter. I just wanted to let you know in advance so you don’t worry that I am getting nervous in the interview.”
Student Safety in Alumni Interviews
Oh no, what is a section on student safety doing here? You might be thinking that no other guidance raises the issue of student safety in admission interviews. That seems to be true of the guidance given to students, however, colleges routinely cover the importance of student safety with alumni interviewers. Colleges want to reduce the risk of their liability if something happens.
So how do you keep your kid safe in an alumni interview? The interviews should be in a safe neutral location, such as Zoom, a public library, a bookstore, or a café. Interviews should not be held in the student’s house or the interviewer’s house.
Questions for College Applicants
The alumni interviews are typically not “hardball” interviews. Students can prepare for these interviews. Here are some typical questions:
Why do you want to go to X University?
Why do you want to study topic X?
What did you do last summer? Why?
What is your favorite extracurricular activity? Why?
Are you in your high school’s most advanced program (e.g., International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, etc.)? If not, why not?
In regards to the why X University question, students likely have already prepared an essay on that topic. The student’s answer should include details that demonstrate knowledge of classes offered, professors, and extracurricular activities.
The only question students seemed to trip up on with me was that last question about advanced programs. When I asked students why they were not enrolled in their high school’s IB program, they often told me that they tried, but it was too challenging. A better answer would have been to say they wanted to have greater flexibility to take certain classes (e.g., orchestra).
Questions to Ask the College Interviewer
The questions asked might not provide your kid with a chance to add something important that is missing from the application. When your kids are asked if they have any questions, that can be an opportunity to focus on information missing from the application. For instance, a kid could ask: “May I tell you about how I made a meaningful difference in my community?”
Thank You Email to the Interviewer
Sadly about one-third of the students I interviewed for Duke University never sent a thank you email. The problem is not limited to students who apply to Duke. Yale prepared a Pinterest pin with guidance for students on interviews. It states that students should send a thank you email after the interview! I always included in my summary of the interview whether or not the student sent a thank you email. People who do not send thank you emails are far less likely to be hired for jobs. Sending a thank you email is a sign of gratitude. People who demonstrate gratitude are more likely to succeed professionally. The Common Application just added a new prompt option for the personal essay – it is about gratitude.
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