How to Capitalize on the Admissions Interview: Advice from a Former Admissions Officer

As a former Admissions Officer at the University of Rochester, I know that the admissions interview is a crucial factor in the decision to admit or reject an applicant. The interview is how you become not just another application on the stack, but a real person with potential. And most importantly, it’s the chance for you to get an Admissions Officer on your team who will go to bat for you during the decision-making part of the process.

While conducting countless admissions interviews with prospective students, I witnessed mistakes as well as missed opportunities, here are a few tips on how to avoid both:

1) Don’t regurgitate your resume: Having a solid resume is important (and we can help you with yours), but the interview is the time to bring out your personality and connect with the interviewer. Use this time to possibly expand on the 1 sentence description of your thesis, talk about activities that didn’t make the page limit cut-off, or explain a GPA or test score anomaly.

2) Don’t let your resume be your own worst enemy: There shouldn’t be anything on your resume that you can’t talk about at great length. Have a concise, organized explanation for each activity, publication, or internship you have listed. Be careful about how you list your language proficiency- an interviewer may just speak French fluently and be ready to conduct part of the interview in French.

3) Don’t waste time: If you have an interests section on your resume don’t list anything you can’t carry on a conversation about and are not genuinely interested in. By including something you don’t actually care about, you have missed a golden opportunity to connect with your interviewer and show them your knowledge and passion on a subject. You never know if your interviewer is a fellow Russian literature enthusiast who wants to spend half the interview talking about Fyodor Dostoevsky’s search for truth in The Brothers Karamazov and Vladimir Nabokov’s insufferable protagonist in Lolita (yes, this actually happened to me once). And even if your interviewer doesn’t know the slightest thing about yoga or white water rafting, being able to explain what it is and why it interests you, is a way to show off your communicative and social skills.

4) Don’t let your surroundings get you into trouble: If your interview is in-person or over Skype should be dressed appropriately. If your interview is over Skype, don’t let the interviewer be able to see a messy room or inappropriate posters behind you. For Skype and phone interviews, make sure you are in an interview-conducive environment, meaning some place quiet: don’t have the television blaring in the background, put your cell phone on silent or do not disturb, and make sure those around you know that you are unavailable.

5) Don’t be late: Whether it’s an in-person, phone, or Skype interview make sure to be on time! If you are traveling to an in-person interview, visit the interview location the day before if possible and give yourself plenty of time to get there the day of, in case of traffic or public transportation delays. For phone interviews, I suggest giving the interviewer 2 contact numbers to reach you at- you don’t want to be out of luck if your cell phone battery dies.

The admissions interview is a great chance to continue crafting your personal narrative that you’ve already established through the rest of your application materials. Before your interview, you should have a plan for what you want to get across and find a way to work this into the conversation. I recommend conducting mock interviews in a realistic setting either by enlisting the help of family/friends or by utilizing the InGenius Prep interview services.

About the Author

I am a former Admissions Counselor at University of Rochester’s Undergraduate Admissions Office, where I reviewed applications, conducted interviews, and recruited many students through various on-campus and regional events. Currently, I am pursuing a JD at Harvard Law School, where I am Managing Editor for the Harvard Law and Policy Review, Juvenile Justice Chair for Child and Youth Advocates, and a member of the Black Law Students Association. I graduated from the University of Rochester with High Honors in Religion, as a Keidaeans Senior Honor Society member, and was Class President sophomore through senior year. I discovered my passion for teaching while in college as a tutor for inner-city school students and a Teaching Fellow within the Religion Department. I was able to continue my interest in teaching as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco from 2009-2011 in the youth development sector. While in Morocco, I lived in a small, rural town teaching English to all age groups and helped high school seniors Prepare for their TOEFL exams and apply to University. My favorite part of working with students on applications is seeing their development over time and helping them achieve their full potential. In my free time I enjoy practicing yoga, getting sucked into a TV series on Netflix, and reading anything (from Game of Thrones to The Brothers Karamazov). I am so excited about helping students once again!