Acing the Alumni Interview: The Ultimate Guide
7 minute read
For many high school seniors, the college application process can be overwhelming. I remember how anxious I felt during mysenior year of high school, wanting to craft the perfect application so that I could get into my dream school. But one aspect that I overlooked, and often gets overlooked by high schoolers, is the alumni interview. These interviews are conducted by graduates of the college you're applying to and provide an opportunity for you to showcase your personality and accomplishments beyond your application. In this blog post, we'll explore what you can expect from a college alumni interview, tips for preparing, and specific alumni interview experiences from different schools.
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It would be intuitive to think that a college interview should be with the admissions committee, the actual people reading your application, instead of alumni. The reality is that the admissions committee does not have the time to interview every single applicant, but they can leverage their alumni around the country to help out.
With the college interview, you have the opportunity to talk with an alum and show off your personality and interests in a way that is difficult to do through a written application. Remember the interview also goes both ways - it’s also an opportunity for you to ask the alum questions about the school and what it’s like there. Don’t underestimate the value of this as it can provide crucial information about whether the school is the right fit for you.
After the interview, the alum will send a short note to admissions about you. It’s crucial to note that alum do not have significant power in the admissions process. Some may say they do, but the alumni interview is just one part of a holistic profile that colleges use to make admissions decisions. A strong alumni interview is not going to make up for poor grades for example. If you have the opportunity to take the interview, however, go for it. It will give you an opportunity to add yet another bright spot to your strong application.
Further, not all interviews are evaluative and result in the interviewer sending a report to the school. Some interviews are meant to be purely informational and help you learn more about the school, and no report gets sent to the school. You should definitely take the opportunity to do these interviews as well, although not doing an informational interview will not hurt your application.
Not every school offers alumni interviews. Some may require them, others may offer them but there’s no guarantee you’ll get one if there aren’t enough alumni in your geographical area. For the schools that offer interviews to some percentage of applicants, don’t worry if you don’t get an interview. It has no bearing on how strong you are as an applicant and your chances of getting in. Here are just a few of the colleges that offer interviews.
If you’re looking to apply to an art, design, or performance school, chances are that there is a required interview as part of the process. However, always double-check the admissions website of a school to see if you need to request an interview, or if they will just reach out to you when an alum is available.
The alumni interview may only last from 30 min to 1 hour, but putting in some time to prepare and do research beforehand can go a long way in allowing you to put your best self forward during the conversation.
Know the Kinds of Questions That You’ll Be Asked
Your alumni interviewer will typically ask questions about your personal and academic life, with questions like:
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
What are your favorite classes / subjects in school?
What are you passionate about outside of school?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
What is one thing you’d improve about your high school?
What college major are you interested in?
How would you describe your personality?
What interests you about this school?
As you answer these questions, the conversation may drift off into other areas. For example, I had an interview where the alum asked me about my thoughts on socratic circles as a way of learning, and after telling another interviewer I played tennis he went on a tangent about how he grew up next to a famous pro tennis player.
You definitely will be asked questions, but the vibe is usually conversational, so just go with the flow if the interviewer decides to take it in a certain direction.
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Do Your Research on the School
What will help in answering some of the above questions and preparing for the conversation in general is researching the school and ideally the specific program you’re interested in. This can show that you’ve done your homework and are seriously interested in the school.
You can also connect your interest in the school / program with something you’ve maybe done in high school, such as an extracurricular, passion project that you did, a research program you participated in, or an interesting class you took. This can help create a compelling narrative about who you are and what excites you.
Think Through Stories and Examples of Your Passions
What can also help in preparing for the interview is thinking through the stories that demonstrate your personality or what you’ve accomplished. MIT’s website on the alumni interview recommends students to “Think through stories or examples that will give your interviewer a vivid sense of your passions and aspirations.”
For me, I would’ve shared stories about my experience playing competitive tennis, the values that the sport taught me, and the strengths I now have because of it. For you, it could be another extracurricular that means a lot to you or even a particular subject that’s exciting to you. What works best in telling these stories is sharing something that you genuinely find exciting, as you’ll be able to explain it better and show your excitement for it.
I find that a great way to wrap up stories like these is to talk about what you learned and what you gained from the experience. It will show the interviewer your ability to reflect and learn from the experiences, and also give insight into what strengths you think you have.
Dress Nice and Mind Your Manners
When the alum reaches out for an interview (most likely via email), be sure to respond promptly and be flexible about the time and location. If your interviewer hasn’t already specified a preferred way of meeting up in their initial email, emphasize that you’re open to either on Zoom or at a place that’s convenient to meet for the both of you.
When it comes to dressing up to meet the alumni, make sure you have a clean and professional look. This does not mean that you have to come dressed in a full suit, but leave the flip flops, shorts and short skirts, and college-branded apparel at home. A clean button-down shirt and khaki pants or a skirt/dress should work great.
As with everything in life, be sure to get there early. You don’t want to look like a student who’s always late!
Also, remember to be professional in the conversation. If you have a chill interviewer, the vibe should be pretty casual, but don’t share anything that you would only say in front of your closest friends and family. You should also look to inject some enthusiasm and excitement into your voice. Putting some enthusiasm into what you’re saying can really drive home your excitement for the school and for your passions, and help the interviewer understand who you are.
Finally, remember to send a thank you note to your interviewer a day or two after you’ve met. It can be very brief and just reiterate your interest for the school and what you’re passionate about. It could look something along the lines of:
It was great to meet you the other day! I appreciate you taking the time to chat and share more about your experience at X University. It was great to learn how [insert something you learned about the school based on your convo with alum]
As we discussed, my passion project on environmental science has really led me to be excited about X University’s environmental science program and the opportunities it provides.
Ask Them Questions Too
All interviews are a two-way street, and the alumni interview is no exception. While you may be very focused on how you’re going to answering the interviewer’s questions, it’s important to not forget that you’ll have the opportunity to ask the alum questions as well. This is a valuable opportunity to learn more about academics, career resources on campus, extracurriculars, and the overall culture of the campus and community from someone who’s spent 4+ years at the school. This is golden info that you wouldn’t be able to get from a school’s website! Here are some ideas for questions that you could ask:
What did you enjoy most about your time at the school?
What was the biggest challenge you faced at the school?
How important are clubs at the school? Which ones did you participate in?
Why did you choose to attend this school? Did it meet or exceed your expectations?
What help did you receive with your career during your time at the school?
Hopefully your questions will reveal key insights about the school and give you a better understanding of whether it’s a good fit for you.
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