As you submit your applications this fall, the chances are, you’ll be applying to at least one school that includes an alumni interview as a part of its application process. Although these interviews are usually not mandatory, applicants tend to be eager (but nonetheless nervous) to accept them. A few months down the road, you’ll be submitting scholarship applications – and again, at least a few of these will require that you sit down with someone or a panel of people for an interview. I am here to tell you that the college alumni interview and the scholarship interview are two entirely different beasts, but that neither should be something to work yourself up over.
The Alumni Interview
I went on six of these and they were truly the most relaxed, laid back talks I’ve ever had the pleasure of wrongly stressing over. You can predict the informality when I tell you that of these six, three were held at my local Starbucks and one was at the interviewer’s house. And you can validate your prediction when I tell you that in the first of these interviews, the man brought up the cult comedy classic The Big Lebowski as a conversation topic (Side note: If you have not seen this movie, please stop reading this article and, by any means necessary, find and watch it now).
Most of the time, alumni are not trying to trip you up. They aren’t grilling you on your extracurricular involvement, or tearing apart your resume, or asking about your SAT scores. All of that nonsense is reserved for the admissions committee. Alumni are there to find out what makes you tick. They want to know what you love, what you value, and how you handle yourself in cordial conversation. If for some reason your personality did not translate well from your application to the admissions committee, alumni interviews serve as a way to finally fix that. So don’t be afraid to laugh, smile, or crack a joke during your coffee date with your interviewer. Really, most of the time it is actually just a coffee date.
One other thing to keep in mind about these kinds of interviews is that they aren’t, by any means, one-sided. After your interviewer asks you some basic questions, he or she is undoubtedly going to ask you if you have any questions for them regarding their college experience. Straight up – it is bad if you don’t have any questions for them! So come prepared with some simple questions they can answer for you. Not having any inquiries has the potential to be perceived as you not having much interest in the school.
The bottom line with alumni interviews: be comfortable, don’t stress, look forward to them, and use them as a way to show interest and illustrate your personality.
The Scholarship Interviews
And now for the other beast – scholarship interviews: Obviously scholarships range in value, and with it will most likely range the intensity of the interview. The commonality here, however, is that something tangible (financial aid) is immediately at risk. Yes, the alumnus will write up a report to send to the admissions committee, but their say is usually very minute. With the person or panel interviewing you for scholarships, though, they are often the same exact people deciding who eventually gets the money. Additionally, you are no longer one of 30,000 applicants, but probably one of 30 finalists. Basically, these interviews matter more.
That being said, you can, and should, fully show off your personality. It just might not be time to dive into a conversation about how many times the word “dude” is used in The Big Lebowski. Be ready to think quickly, and defend your positions and beliefs. A favorite of scholarship interviewers seems to be bringing into question your stances on issues, not because they disagree with you, but because they want to be assured that you can think critically and stand your ground in a conversational debate. They don’t want to hear you ramble on about nothing. They want you to be concise and effective with what you tell them. This is the time to put your best foot forward and stand out among the other interviewees. Dress is more formal, talk is more formal, and your impression will matter more. Though you might be looking forward to the coffee shop date more than your 2:00 sharp interview time at the Rotary Club’s offices, you have a far more direct influence on whether or not you get the scholarship than whether or not you get into such-and-such school.
Regardless of the context, none of these interviews should be anything to worry about. They, like all of life, are part of a vast learning process. Be excited.