What Happens in an Alumni Interview?

At this point during the year, students applying to colleges might have to do a few alumni interviews. These can be stressful, especially when students are trying to balance schoolwork, applications, and extracurricular activities all at one. Thankfully, alumni interviews only count for a tiny portion of a college application. The purpose of these interviews is for an alum to look for red flags in interested high school students, not to reject a bunch of people. This should make students feel more at ease. By viewing alumni interviews as casual chats instead of highly stressful situations, students can approach these interviews with a better mindset.

Many colleges do not have interviews at all. Plenty of larger schools do not have the time to interview every student, and even schools that do offer interviews only have available alumni in certain geographic areas. Top liberal arts and Ivy League colleges are the best candidates for offering alumni interviews. Even so, not every applicant will get an interview, just because of scheduling difficulties. Imagine one alum in New York City trying to interview everyone who applies to Columbia, or a similar situation! Since these interviews count for very little, there’s no reason to be worried if students get few or even no chances to chat with an alum. Applicants will not be penalized if they have no interview offer, but if there is an interview option, students should take the opportunity to talk to an alum.

What Happens in an Alumni Interview?

All alumni interviews follow a similar format. They usually last for about half an hour to an hour, in which the interviewer asks the student why he/she applied to that particular college and what kinds of things the student does at and outside of high school. There is also time for the interviewer to answer questions about his/her own college experience. Students who have the chance to go to an alumni interview should be prepared for all of these topics, and they should always have questions ready about that particular college.

How Can Students Prepare for an Alumni Interview?

Again, remember that this isn’t like a job or internship interview, and an alumni interview is not a make-or-break part of the application process. In fact, it’s most likely that the interview will not affect admissions chances at all, unless there is an obvious problem during the interview. Students will strong grades, test scores, and an impressive application will still have a good chance of admittance. A great interview could potentially boost a weaker student, but the interview is still less important than grades, essays, test scores, etc.

Even though an alumni interview does not have high stakes, students should dress properly for these occasions. A full suit may not be necessary, but students should look presentable and tidy. It is also important to have questions ready for the alum, which could include asking about the alum’s experience or a particular program of interest at that college. The wrong things to ask are questions that could be answered with a few clicks on a college’s website—do basic research first, instead of asking simple questions during the interview. Students need to demonstrate to alumni that they’ve taken the time to learn about the college and have found specific things that they like. Finally, students should always follow up with a thank you note or email. There are plenty of other handy tips for alumni interviews in this US News article, as well as this blog post from the New York Times.