College interviews are making a comeback. While many schools never abandoned the one-on-one interview, others are beginning to see the value in meeting with a student to gather additional information for an application process now missing one key component—test scores.
As over 1665 or more than 70% of four-year colleges and universities have implemented test-optional policies, institutions previously dependent on scores for evaluating students are looking for ways to evaluate students using other metrics—those more aligned with assessing character. And what better way to probe character issues than by actually meeting and interviewing a student?
In addition to supporting assessment, the interview can be another marketing opportunity for colleges anxious to replace campus visits as occasions to sell the institution and all it has to offer. And the feedback gathered from a student can be yet another tool for assessing interest or perceived “fit.”
But just as COVID-19 has pushed colleges into adopting test-optional policies, the virus has also made it all but impossible for them to conduct in-person interviews. And for better or worse, the virtual interview has its own quirks and subtleties. While students are largely accustomed to interacting in a classroom environment over the internet, the interpersonal element in an interview requires the student to be more attentive to communication details.
To start, the virtual interview may be conducted over any one of several popular video chat or conferencing platforms—each with its own advantages or disadvantages. The most popular are Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout. But be aware that the interviewer decides the format, and it’s up to you to familiarize yourself with the platform making sure you have any required software on your computer, tablet or phone.
Once that’s established, it’s time to drill down into details. And here are some tips for acing your virtual college interview:
- Find a quiet, appropriate space where you can have the call.
Be aware of your background—plain and uncluttered is ideal.
Make sure your computer is charged-up if you’re using a laptop—better yet, plug it in!
- Check your lighting and try to position the camera so that you are facing a light source and not the other way around.
- Test the technology. Before the interview, schedule a test call with a friend, family member or anyone who has been working with you throughout the application process.
- Ensure your microphone and speakers are working on the day of the interview and that your internet connection is stable and supports high-quality live video.
- Secure your device if using a phone or tablet—shaky or wobbly video is annoying.
- Be sure to use a professional screen name (first and last) that will be easy for the interviewer to recognize.
- Eliminate background noise and distractions—barking dogs, while sometimes unavoidable, distract you as much as your interviewer. Keep Fido out of the interview, if possible. Close windows and turn off the TV.
- Silence personal devices.
- Choose a small, comfortable and upright chair. Slouching on a couch isn’t engaging and sprawled out on a bed is disrespectful.
- Dress appropriately—top and bottom (you never know). Logo gear is not advisable, especially when it’s from another college. Avoid clothing featuring small patterns or colors that might not come across well on the screen.
- Try to make eye contact by looking directly into the camera. Nodding will show the interviewer that you are involved and listening attentively. Feel free to use your hands if it comes naturally to you.
- Have a backup plan in case of glitches. Transitioning to a phone or rescheduling for an alternate time are both possible solutions for technical difficulties. Try not to panic if your software experiences an issue. If the problem is outside of your control, the interviewer will understand.
- Follow-up with a thank-you note.
- Schedule an appointment without noting it on your calendar.
- Assume the interview will be in your time zone. Verify with the interviewer the time zone of the interview and be ready to begin at the agreed-upon time.
- Have your parent(s) sit in on the meeting. There’s nothing worse than having someone lurking off camera prompting responses. And don’t let them hover anxiously outside the room. Hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign outside your door if necessary.
- Neglect to introduce yourself.
- Come to the interview unprepared. An interviewer can tell in a minute if you have absolutely no knowledge of the college for which you are interviewing.
- Get too cute with virtual backgrounds or screen names. If you must use a virtual background, choose something professional—not a picture of a closet filled with toilet paper as one student recently used.
- Turn off or disable your webcam. Part of the purpose of the face-to-face interview is for the interviewer to see how you interact as well as how you respond to specific questions.
- Try to record the interview.
- Forget to smile. Speaking into a computer is a little unnatural, but it’s important to try not to act like a robot.
- Sit in a dark room—it’s a little creepy.
- Watch yourself instead of the interviewer.
- Talk over your interviewer. Zoom has a built-in lag and it’s sometimes easy to jump in too soon. Practice your timing and use the pause to your advantage as a moment to consider your answer.
- Check email/phone/web while on the call as others can easily tell when you are distracted. And it’s a clear signal that you’re disinterested.
- Eat or chew gum or wear a hat unless there is a religious reason to do so.
- Fail to say thank you and follow-up with a note.
Nancy Griesemer is an independent college consultant practicing in Oakton, Virginia. She has two children who survived the college admissions process and a very large tabby cat who sits in on many of my counseling sessions. Her credentials include degrees from Penn and Harvard, professional membership in the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) as well as the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), and a Certificate in College Counseling from UCLA. As a professional college consultant, she support students and families navigating their own personal college explorations. Check her blog out at http://collegeexplorations.blogspot.com/