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Preparing for a college interview

College applications are submitted, and for some, it’s now time for interviews.

The first thing we need to do is to shake that image of the stereotypical elderly, tweed-jacketed, pipe-smoking, bespectacled, cranky admissions person. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that many college admissions staffers today are young, multicultural and far from cranky.

For people who loved their college experience, working in admissions is often a way to stay on at their alma mater and share their enthusiasm with high school students. Admissions entry-level jobs involve lots of not-so-glamorous travel, visiting multiple high schools each day, then returning to campus to read hundreds of applications.

Seniors may have the opportunity to interview with these admissions representatives while they are traveling or interview with alumni representatives in their hometown. Many students who have applied for scholarships will find an interview is part of the scholarship selection process.

Colleges want you to like them, even if they don’t accept you. So the interview is not a test, and the interviewer is not there to grill you or intimidate you. Many interviewers will err on the side of being too gentle and not probing enough to understand the applicants.

Tips for students

Control the conversation. The more the student can make the interview a conversation, not a question-answer session, the more success they are likely to have. The best way to do that is to be accessible, genuine, honest and share your personality.

Prepare, but don’t be rehearsed. You can anticipate a variety of questions, including: “Tell us about yourself.” “What do you think has been your biggest accomplishment, achievement or contribution to your high school or your community?” “Why do you want to attend our school?” “What questions do you have for me?” Think about these questions, practice responding and get feedback from someone you trust.

Be respectful. Seems a little silly to even mention this, but students unknowingly eliminate themselves from contention for reasons including: not turning off their cellphones, arriving late, dressing inappropriately, behaving rudely to the administrative staff, making a lousy first impression by slouching, chewing gum, acting disinterested, etc.

Follow up. Send a handwritten thank-you note to the interviewer. Be sure to reference something discussed in the interview and make it substantive. If you are still interested in attending, communicate your enthusiasm in the note.

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website at www.CollegeAdmissionsStrategies.com.