"The most important thing is someone who is genuine. If you have a prepared answer, I can hear that. I can hear that you're feeding me lines," says Cohen of the MIT candidates he's interviewed.
[Get more application tips from the College Admissions Insider.]
Metzman, the Penn alumnus, echoes this point.
"Don't try to be what you think we're looking for. Be who you are, and we'll work from there," he says.
6. Don't be shy: This is your shot at showing the school who you are beyond the application, so answer questions openly and with details.
"If [the students are] only answering 'yes' or 'no,' it doesn't really give us a feel for who they are, their … intellectual curiosity, what they're excited about—we don't get to know that," says Anu Reddy, a Duke University alumna and interviewer.
Georgetown alumnus Esposito adds, "The more you talk to the interviewer about yourself, the easier it is for the interviewer to write a meaningful report."
Esposito also suggests that students share relevant anecdotes. One of Cohen's MIT candidates, for example, explained that he first became interested in friction—or rather, the lack thereof—when he took a curb too quickly on his bike and fell. Personal experiences and anecdotes tell a more in-depth story of the candidate and make them more memorable, Cohen says.
7. Don't restate your application info: Use the interview to supplement your application—not to repeat it.
"The university knows what your SAT scores are, what your GPA is, [and] what your grades are in class. The purpose of the interview is to tell us more about yourself. What makes you tick? Why do you want to come here? What interests you? What are your passions?" says Esposito.
The interview is also an opportunity to elaborate on parts of your application that may need explanation. For example, Metzman remembers how one of his Penn candidates listed very few extracurricular activities in her application. In the interview, the student made a point to explain that she was very busy working three jobs to support her family.
[Learn why college students should consider a part-time job.]
8. Ask questions: MIT's Cohen points out that the alumni interview is a "two-way street." The alumni learn about the students, and the students learn about the school through the alumni.
Reddy says of her Duke candidates, "They get to find out why we chose Duke. And so that's one area where I can talk about Duke's benefits as an alum, having been there. I was in their seat at one point, so what did I go through?"
9. Keep in touch: Four years after his Georgetown alumni interview, Bakios still occasionally E-mails and visits with the graduate who met with him in high school.
He says that if a student gets along with the graduate, "One of the best parts of the [interview] process is that it sort of gives you someone to advocate for you a little bit."
Bakios plans to connect with prospective students after he graduates this spring by becoming an interviewer himself.
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