College Visits & Interviews
One of the most important steps in your college search is the campus visit. It should be the most influential factor in shaping your impression of a college. You need to recognize the value of these visits, and make each one as thorough and productive as possible. No impression or review of any institution is as important as the one you form on your own.
Visiting colleges does not come without challenges. A significant sacrifice of time and energy (and money) is required to plan and to carry out these trips. Once you are on campus, there is limited time and exposure available to form an opinion. The quality of interviews or tours varies greatly within an institution. On different days, or different hours of the day, one can see wide variations in activity levels on campus. Often it isn’t convenient to find a time to visit while students are on campus. These problems notwithstanding, the visit is a critical piece to making a sound decision.
- Make your visit “official” by going to the admission office and taking advantage of all services available.
These usually include a tour and group information session. When going on campus tour, please note that you are seeing the school through the eyes of your tour guide. Use the tour as vehicle to see yourself at that school. If individual interviews are available, it is best to take advantage of that offer! (Each of these services should be researched and scheduled in advance of your trip—simply call the admission offices to set things up.) The college visit is primarily an opportunity to gain information on that college.
- Listen carefully to what is said in these forums and speak up with questions of your own. Even when a sibling or good friend is already in attendance at a college where you are looking, you don’t have all the information you might want. Others can add to your knowledge, or confirm thoughts you already have about that college. See the bottom of this section for sample questions that you can ask your tour guide.
- Make careful note of the name and title of anyone who speaks to you or with whom you speak during your visit. Most often this will be an admission officer. It is good practice to follow your visit with a thank-you note. That person also should remain a valuable contact at the college for future questions or advice. Don’t hesitate to ask for his/her business card.
- Take good notes during your visit. Often things that seem so fresh in your mind about a school will become more distant over the ensuing months. A visit made in June is important months later as you make final decisions regarding applications or the decision to attend.
- Extend your visit beyond the two hours typically dedicated to a tour and interview. Speak with other students or spend some time in the student union. Read bulletin boards and observe what takes place on campus. Drive around the town. Have a meal somewhere. If you are with your parents, take a half hour and split up, then come back together and compare notes. Even in the summer, a great deal of insight can be made as to a college’s surroundings and atmosphere. Remember, you will not just be studying at this school; it will be your home for the next four years.
- If you have special interest such as music or a sport, arrange a meeting with a person in that department. Faculty members, coaches and activity leaders are often available and happy to speak with students during a visit. However, these meetings almost always need to be scheduled ahead of time.
- Don’t plan a long-distance trip around just one school. There are few instances in which good colleges aren’t near any other quality institutions. Countless numbers of students head out intent on one school only to return excited about a different college; often it is one visited almost as an afterthought. The point of visiting is to educate yourself regarding options. If conclusions could be drawn from home, these trips would not be necessary.
- Include a trip to the financial aid office. Because cost is central to many college decisions, it is wise to include a trip to the financial aid office as part of any campus visit. This office will provide a good overview of the aid application process as well as any institution specific forms you will need. Even if you do not plan on applying for need based aid, the financial aid office will have information on merit aid awards and other ways to help meet the costs of their institution.
- Write down names and contact information for anyone you meet with, or get their business cards.
- ENJOY YOURSELF!!! Colleges and universities are set in wonderful locations that are often fun to visit. Interviews and tours are not something to fear. You control the process more than you realize. The opportunity to choose a place to study and live for the next four years is a great privilege, so relax and make the most of the process.
SAMPLE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR TOUR GUIDE:
- How large are your classes? Who teaches them? Who grades tests and exams?
- Do students work primarily for grades rather than interest in the subject matter?
- What are the opportunities for undergraduate research? For internships?
- Have you been in any faculty homes since you’ve been here?
- What are the study abroad programs like? Are they popular?
- What is the career services office like?
- Any chance we could see a class after the tour?
- What did you do this past weekend?
- Where do students hang out? I have a few hours—where would you suggest I go next?
- What are the hottest issues on campus?
- What are the primary social groups on campus? What is the social life like?
- Why did you choose this college? What would you change about it?
- What do you think is the most distinctive aspect of your education here?
If a college or university grants individual interviews, we strongly urge our students to take advantage of this opportunity. A one-to-one meeting with a member of the admission staff is always productive and helpful. Since admission office calendars usually are crowded, it is important to telephone the office well in advance of the day you wish to visit, or set an appointment for an interview online.
Interviews are usually not the basis on which admission decisions are made. Instead, the interview is an opportunity for you to learn more about the institution and for you to augment the information that you gave (or will give) in the application.
Many colleges provide “local” or “alumni/ae” interviews. In this instance, students meet with an admission or alumni/ae representative here in the Seattle area. Ask the admission office if they schedule such interviews, especially if you have been unable to visit the campus. It shows that you are taking an active interest in that college, and gives you a chance to learn more about life on that campus.
* As an underclassman, you may or may not be able to interview at schools. You should contact schools directly to find out if you can.
PREPARING FOR AN INTERVIEW:
Even though it is impossible to predict exactly what an interviewer may ask, certain types of questions are common. One bit of general advice for you: keep up with current events, preferably through newspapers, but at least through television and radio. The interviewer may be interested in your opinion on current news, so be sure you know what you think! It is also a good idea to be prepared to discuss something that you have read recently for your own enjoyment.
The typical college interview lasts about thirty minutes, and usually opens with questions that you can answer easily and comfortably. Then, the interviewer may pose more difficult—or surprising—questions. Be prepared to answer questions about yourself, your school, your work, and your interests. In some instances, you may need to pause for a few moments before producing an answer. It is perfectly all right to say something like, “I need to think about that,” and then reflect for a short while before responding or ask to come back to it later. Overall, the interview atmosphere will be conversational so do not feel as if you are about to face an inquisition or interrogation. However, take great care to be diplomatic and respectful.
Of equal importance are the questions you ask of the interviewer. Again, preparing beforehand is essential; you do not want to ask questions already answered in the information session or on the tour, or questions about programs that the school does not have. Try to make your questions open-ended, like “Can you tell me about students’ involvement in community service?” rather than “Do you offer community service programs?”
Your counselor is happy to do a mock interview session with you at EPS before you have your first interview. Most of our students take advantage of doing a dry run and report that they aremuch more relaxed during actual interviews because they have an idea of what might be coming.
See below for sample questions that the interviewer might ask you and sample topics for questions that you might ask the interviewer.
SAMPLE QUESTIONS THE INTERVIEWER MAY ASK YOU:
- Tell me a little bit about yourself.
- Which subjects interest you the most? Which have been the most difficult for you?
- What are your favorite activities outside of the classroom?
- Have you read anything interesting lately?
- Are you thinking about a specific major or career path? If so, what is it?
- What specific things about this college interest you?
- If you had a million-dollar grant to give away, who would get it, and why?
- What are the “hot issues” at Eastside Prep right now?
- What do you like best about Eastside Prep? What would you change?
- Describe the qualities of the best teacher you ever had.
- What are your best qualities? What are your limitations or what would you change?
- Why are you interested in this institution?
SAMPLE TOPIC AREAS FOR QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT ASK THE INTERVIEWER:
- Academics and faculty
- The student body
- Social life and campus activities
- Campus facilities
- Financial aid – need based and merit aid