You have submitted all applications. You believe you did your best to traverse through the complicated U.S. application system, and now you are just waiting for an email from the other side, ideally, one starting with “Congratulations!” To your surprise, the next email you receive is asking you to reserve an interview slot with an alumni, an admission officer, or multiple of them (though extremely rare).
What is all this about? How important is the interview? What will the interviewer ask? How should I prepare for that?
This guide will paint a complete picture for all these questions you might have.
What Is An Evaluative Interview?
At its core, an evaluative interview is a way for the college admissions office to know you as a person beyond your application. The interview is generally an hour-long conversation with an alum/interviewer who will mostly guide the conversation with questions about yourself, your academic interests, and your reasons for applying to this particular college, etc. The three most important things colleges want to know are:
(1) your application information is real
(2) you exhibit genuine interest in them.
(3) What makes you stand out beyond your application?
Perhaps the one that requires the most explanation is (3). Primarily, an interviewer is not looking for what you did in high school but rather why you did them. For instance, being an international math olympiad finalist is extremely impressive, but that information is in your application. What the interviewer wants to hear is why you participated in an activity and how that relates to your academic interests. In particular, why do you like them or why are you passionate about that activity?
Beyond that, the interviewer will also observe the way you present and deliver, which may be filed as a report to the admissions office for potential consideration. For instance, if you exude confidence and are elaborate, the interviewer will look favourably upon that and note it on the report.
How Important Is The Interview?
Fortunately, an evaluative interview is not a big part of your application status. It is more of a cherry on top thing and a way for colleges to know more about yourself, and vice versa! An evaluative interview rarely makes or breaks a deal, and the interview is so much of an afterthought that it is only conducted by the most competitive colleges in the U.S. The truth is people often over-stress themselves for an interview, which tends to backfire. Just treat an evaluative interview as a slightly more formal conversation with your best friend!
As always, one thing to keep in mind in this conversation is that you need to let the interviewer know you better beyond your application, and so often you have to be personal and be able to talk about yourself. I remember when I was doing interviews back in 12th grade, the interviewers often asked me to describe my biggest strength and weakness. In those cases, I always said that my strength is perseverance and then proceeded to provide an example about learning English 24/7 to get to the native level in one semester. In a nutshell, it is helpful to highlight your core personalities are and provide an example where that trait is relevant.
What Will The Interviewer Ask?
It is helpful to know what to expect before going on an interview with an alum. Although the exact questions will depend on the flow of the conversation or your application profile, there are three categories of questions an interviewer will generally ask:
|Question Types||Potential specific Questions|
|Why X? (100% will appear)||Why X college/university, why X major/field.|
|Future Goal and Aspirations||Where do you see yourself in 10 years, how will X university help you achieve your goal, how will you contribute to X college as a student.|
|Personal experience||Describe what you did in X club, what did you learn from this particular volunteer experience?|
As you can see, most questions are personal and each individual will have a unique take. The biggest tip to approach all those questions is being genuine. Do not try to be someone you are not because you think colleges will like a particular personality. They celebrate a diversity of thought and really hope that each person they accept is unique in his/her own way.
Towards the end of the interview, an interviewer will also ask you whether you have additional questions. You should utilize this opportunity to ask specific, not easily Googleable questions to demonstrate your interest. The interviewer will know that you have done extensive research on his/her alma mater.
How Should I Prepare?
Even though an interview is not as big a determinant as your GPA, there are a few things you can do before your interview to stand out. Here are a few:
1) Research the college and the specific department you are applying to. Pick out the special programs, aspects, and classes that you can mention during the interview.
2) After research, try coming up with specific questions you want to ask the interviewer. Those questions should either have personal connections or not easily available on the school website. You could ask about his experience with particular programs as an undergraduate or seek some class recommendations (personal connections). You could also ask about the school culture and environment. To give a better idea, below are some sample questions that I have asked toward the end of the interviews:
- I noticed that there is this specific research program open to first-year students in STEM (only asked if the interviewer majors in a similar discipline). Ask if there are any specific qualifications and/or experience which will help for selection into that program? [specific, non-Googleable question]
- What is one favourite activity you used to do as an undergraduate at X university? What is your favourite restaurant/dining hall around the campus? [Personal question]
3) Know your ‘Why X?’ questions well. They will be asked 100% and can be prepared beforehand. You should know why you are applying to this college. You should also be confident about why you are planning to study this discipline.
Hopefully this guide was able to give you an insight into the entire process of an evaluative interview. Again, an evaluative interview is rarely a deal maker nor a deal breaker. Not knowing that, I definitely was overly nervous and underperformed during the process only to realize how unnecessary all of that stress was posthumously. Please don’t put too much pressure on yourself for this!
Best of luck, and be sure to revisit when you have an evaluative interview scheduled!