How to ace a college interview

By Kristen Gandenberger ’15

I originally thought that my part in the college process was pretty much over on November 1st once all my applications were officially sent off. I then settled in to wait for acceptances and was honestly looking forward to not thinking about next year for a few months.

But then in January when all the acceptances came rolling in, so did the invitations to interview for scholarships. As awesome of news as that was, it was also super nerve-wracking. I hadn’t expected to interview anywhere, and none of my friends or siblings had ever experienced that part of the college process, so I had to go through it pretty much completely blind. However, I made it through all three of mine (at Marian University, Capital University, and University of Indianapolis) alive and managed to win three scholarships from it, so now it’s my duty to share my tips and tricks with the next generation.

After a long day of interviewing, I pose with a greyhound, the official mascot of University of Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy, my mom)

After a long day of interviewing, I pose with a greyhound, the official mascot of University of Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy, my mom)

1. They care about how you work with groups. At all three scholarship competitions (the fancy name admissions counselors called these interview days) I participated in, there was some form of teambuilding activity. Capital had us play “get to know you” games with other interviewees, current students, and admissions people that acted as a more informal interview. The other two schools put participants in groups of about 10 and had us solve those cliche “end of the world” scenarios where we could only pick like six people out of a list of many characters  to live and repopulate the human race (weird, I know).

The important thing with activities like these is to make sure you don’t overpower another kid. There was an extremely talkative boy in one of my groups like this and by the end of the session everyone hated him because he was totally hogging the proverbial mic. Something I did that I think ended up scoring a lot of points was after a boy was accidentally cut off, I said, “Sorry, Ben did you have something to add?” This made me look assertive but also self-aware of my own talkativeness.

2. You’ll probably have to write more essays. Not gonna lie, when I found this out there were audible groans. But all three schools had me write another essay- one due before the competition day (Marian), one that I had to write while on campus for my interview in a span of about 50 minutes (Indianapolis), and one where the prompt was handed to us during the competition day and written after the interview (Capital).

No matter how your school does it, chances are the prompts will be really hard and possibly sucky (expect a lot of “where will you be in 15 years prompts- not great for someone like me with an undeclared major). I didn’t feel strong about any of the essays I wrote, but I feel like I took a unique approach that helped me stand apart, which ultimately helped me. The advice that my dad gave me about essays (that ended up working for me) is to not be afraid to turn a prompt on its head. One prompt wanted me to describe what a movie made of my life would be about, and I ended up explaining that the best media in which to capture my life would actually be a sitcom. This came up in my interview and my interviewers loved it.

3. Don’t be nervous for the actual interview. They’re actually way more relaxed than I originally worried. In fact, University of Indianapolis didn’t have a formal interview at all! Marian had me in a room with two faculty members (one of which was a very non-threatening and adorable nun) who asked me mostly questions that I had already written essays for that school about. However, Capital held group interviews, with three interviewees and two faculty members in a room.

I am naturally  very casual person, so I went into my interviews with a piece of advice that my sister gave me: talk to the panel like you’d talk to Grandma. This mindset allowed me to speak toward the panels as the authority figures they are, but also have a sense of familiarity and friendliness to keep me from being (too) awkward.

4. Treat the entire day like you’re being graded. One of my close friends participated in an interview day like this at UC and had the inside scoop from some Mercy alum that she connected with while there. Those students said that interviewees are being watched and essentially judged (yikes!) all the time. They said that the university staff and students that interviewees sit with at lunch had a say in picking scholarship winners.

Thinking back on my scholarship experiences, I believe this holds true. At all three schools, interviewees sat with faculty and current university students at lunch. At the first school I competed at, one of the faculty members at my lunch table (an adorable, elderly nun named Sister Stella) ended up being on the panel that did my official interview! Making a good impression on her at lunch definitely gave me an advantage later. Obviously, sucking up isn’t genuine and is easily seen through, but making good conversation with these important people can never hurt your chances.

Despite everything in this post, really I think the best advice I can give is the truly cliche stuff: be yourself. The best way to stand out and make a good impression is to put on your confidence pants (or in my case, confidence combat boots), but your best foot forward, and try to present the best version of your awesome self to whoever is watching you.

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