67 days until graduation, but it’s still snowing here in Chicago and I’ve still got an awful lot of a BA to write, so that two-month-away-impending-reality isn’t hitting me hard just yet.
I decided to start this 100 days of productivity thing, if for no other reason than a bit of an excuse to document my last days of this epic adventure of college. Not sure what the last 33 days will look like, but I am sure there will be ample opportunity with many ~productive~ things to keep me occupied in the transition to the real world.
I never realized how awkward it is to stand up and take this picture in a filled coffee shop. I did it anyway! I’m studying for my chemistry placement test, so I took out my past prep book and started from the beginning (because I forgot everything). My plan is just to make flashcards to review for the plane rides to and back from China!
For the most part, the regular decision deadlines have passed. Now, it’s time to think about the final aspect of your application: the alumni or current student interview.
A lot of the very selective and ‘elite’ schools use alumni interviews as part of their application review process but alumni interviews are not only limited to the Ivy League and schools like Stanford, MIT, UChicago etc. There’s somewhat of a myth floating around that alumni interviews aren’t worth much and don’t help your application. That is not true. A former Harvard interviewer helped me prep for my interviews and he said that interviews are actually an important part of the application process. Yes, it is a way to keep alumni connected to their alma mater but interviews help determine fit and personality and can do a lot in terms of admit or deny. An excellent interview can very well be the thing that puts your application in the admit pile and a horrible interview can have a detrimental effect on your application. Well, you might be thinking ‘If the interview can hurt my application, why would I want one?’ The interview will only hurt your application if you don’t prep for it, and that doesn’t mean hiring an overpriced coach but doing your research and coming prepared. So without further ado, here’s how to have a stellar college interview:
1) IF THE INTERVIEW IS OPTIONAL, TAKE IT ANYWAY
Most schools do alumni interviews by invitation only so in that case, if you’re offered an interview, you’re pretty much obliged to take it. However, if you’re applying to a school like UChicago that does optional interviews, take it. When the interview is optional, having vs. not having one is a good way to measure interest in the school. If you really want to get in, you’ll do everything possible to show the admissions office why the should accept you. The interview is one way to do that. Again, interviews asses fit and personality and it adds another dimension to your application; it shows that you’re human, more so than your essays and a ton more than your transcript and test scores.
2) PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE
This means actually spending time going over possible questions and coming up with ideas. Going to an interview unprepared is the worst thing you can possibly do unless you are 1000% sure you can wing it successfully.
Take the time at least a week before the interview and gather a list of possible questions. Go on google and look up possible college interview questions. Set up a google doc and paste as many as you can until you start seeing duplicates. It will look scary at first because there can be upwards of 30 questions but fear not, it’s much easier than it seems.
Once you’ve compiled a list of possible questions, start preparing answers for them. This doesn’t mean having a detailed response for each one and memorizing it. That looks super fake and no one will take you seriously. Instead, look over the questions and see which ones kind of overlap and break them up into groups. After you’ve done that, find an anecdote or story from your life that can help answer those questions. For example, if you have community service or volunteering questions, tie it in to that story you have about the organization you volunteer at. People remember stories, not vague statements and you’ll be helping your interviewer out by giving them a funny or interesting story to write about in their evaluation. Who’s your interviewer more likely to remember and write a favorable review, that one kid who listed all their accomplishments and sounded fake or you who told them a funny story about your first debate tournament and how you got over your fear of public speaking. You’ll sound down to earth, relatable, and friendly which is what you want to go for.
An important question is the ‘Why School X’ question. This is an important one and you need to be prepared. Have some concrete reasons why and show your interest. Be dedicated and passionate and it will show.
Anecdotes will also help you prepare for unusual questions that you might not expect such as the one I got for UChicago: “If you were a desert, what desert would you be?”. Use the anecdote to shape your answer to the question.
Have a list of questions to ask your interviewer about the school. These should be more than just basic, found on the school’s website, I didn’t do my research questions. Ask questions you can’t find online and that only someone who went to the school could tell you.
After you’ve got your anecdotes and stories done, have your parents, siblings, friends, or teachers ask you mock interview questions and see how you do. Remember, the goal is not to have everything memorized but to have a bank of stories you can draw on to inspire your responses.
3) COMMUNICATION IS KEY
A small but trivial part of the interview process is how you communicate with your interviewer before and after the interview.
Before: Respond politely to the initial interview offer but show your enthusiasm for the school. You might even give a little background about yourself to the interviewer so they’ll know a little bit about you before the actual thing. Set a date, time, and place, and stick with it. Don’t reschedule unless it’s an emergency. It looks like your not serious and unprepared if you switch the date two days before the interview. If you need clarifications about anything, don’t be afraid to ask.
After: Hopefully you had a great interview but even if you didn’t, send the interviewer a thank you card or email that thanks them for spending time with you and telling you more about the school. It would be good if you could indicate a specific thing you talked about with the interviewer because it will remind them as well and give them something to write about on the evaluation. Remember, any interview is a good interview as long as you did your part correctly. Sometimes the interviewer doesn’t click with the interviewee and that’s fine. As long as you were polite and talked about yourself, it shouldn’t negatively affect you. EDIT: Here’s a post about writing the thank you email.
Mentality is a big one because it dictates your behavior during the interview. You don’t want to go in scared or hesitant because the interviewer can sense it and it might not be favorable. It’s ok to be a bit nervous but not overly so, or at least if you are, don’t show it. Think about it this way, if the interviewer had to pick only one of the people he or she interviewed to get in to the school, they would pick you. Go in with that mentality and you’ll own the interview. You have to be certain of the above statement when leaving the interview.
5) THE ACTUAL INTERVIEW
Some points about the interview itself. The goal of the interview is an informal way for you to learn more about the school and for the school to learn more about you.
Dress appropriately. This means business casual. No tennis shoes, any jeans that aren’t black, no over the top make up, no too short skirts/dresses, no super tall heels etc. But at the same time, don’t be overly formal. No tuxedos, gowns, or other extravagant clothing. A skirt with a nice shirt and flats/heels would work for girls and dress pants with a button up shirt would work for guys.
Be punctual: A good rule of thumb is to plan to arrive 15 minutes before the interview starts. This will give you a buffer so if you get lost, there’s traffic or an accident, or something else happens, you’ll still have sufficient time to get there and not be late. I would also suggest to scout out the interview location before the interview. See where it is and how long it will take you to get there so you aren’t scrambling on the day of. If you really are late, send your interviewer an email or text to let them know.
Bring a resume: Some interviewers are prohibited by the college from looking at resumes but bring one anyway. It will help remind you of your talking points and if the interviewer does look at resumes, it will make it easier for them to ask questions and it will help them write the review after the interview.
Make eye contact and don’t fidget too much: Get rid of your nerves and jitters and be calm and prepared.
If you don’t know how to answer a question, don’t panic: Take a few seconds and use an anecdote. Once you start telling the story, it will give you time to think and answer the question properly. It’s ok if you miss a question or two because the interviewer will be expecting it and you’re human after all. Just don’t miss all of them.
If you’re asked an opinion question, try not to be offensive or overly opinionated: You don’t know your interviewer’s views on certain situations and you don’t want to accidentally offend them. Be polite and express your opinions without acting superior or trying to impose your opinions on them. Don’t make up stuff if you have no idea what they’re talking about. It could backfire on you.
Don’t live inside your head. Don’t spend too much time thinking and stare off into space. Articulate your thoughts in a clear and concise manner.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not.
Don’t zone off, no matter how boring your interviewer is.
It’s not recommended to bring a notebook to the interview to take notes. Remember, it’s informal.
Don’t worry about the length of the interview.
Turn off your cell phone.
If the interviewer offers to buy you a drink or snack, don’t say no but don’t go extravagant. Get something small and something that won’t make a mess.
Don’t put on too much perfume or cologne.
With that being said, don’t worry too much. You’ll do great! Go and ace that college interview! My ask is open if you have any questions.
Today I got rejected from every Ivy League school I applied to… and it’s okay! I told myself so frequently throughout the process that the odds were just against me and it’s nothing I had done or could do. I’m still a straight, middle class, white female who wants to go into humanities. And that’s okay! So that’s rejection from: Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, and UPenn (in addition to my previous rejections at Georgetown, UChicago, and USC, and waitlist at Northwestern).
More excitingly… Accepted to George Washington University in the Honors Program and with a presidential scholarship of $25000/year! AND accepted to UC Berkeley! Which is spectacular and actually totally affordable with in-state tuition. Plus, the Bay Area is far enough away from SoCal for me to feel like I’m out of state :)
Now I’m just waiting on Stanford tomorrow (expecting rejection, but fingers crossed!), then I’ll be done with the whole process and onto deciding!
I’m also writing a post of what I wish I knew before this whole process, so that’ll be coming soon. Ah I’m so happy that I have options I love!! Thank you all for your love and support through the whole thing. ❤️
EDIT: I had this queued to post on May 1st, but for whatever reason it never did. I’m posting this now because a few of you have asked me about some of my essays. These are all from 2014-2015. These are mostly opening lines btw
“Like most moments in my life, my first impression of academia can be summarized by Stephen Sondheim lyrics: bizarre; fixed; cold.” (Stanford)
“I think eighth-grade-me would hate myself for painting.” (Columbia)
“For as long as I can remember I’ve concocted elaborate assassination plots against myself” (Stanford)
“Ever since I draped an executioner’s hood over my face, shredded bundles of lettuce, and sent the resulting “Veganism” PSA to my entire school on April Fool’s Day, people told me I’m overly dramatic.” (Brown)
“From the age of eleven I’ve lusted for revolution.” (Brown)
“Dear Brown: You’re not like the other colleges.”
“In her grand Act I finale (“Take-A,Take-A,Take Me/Spooky College Wait Dream”), the candidate anxiously envisions her UChicago dream while encouraged by visions of Steven Levitt and Carl Sagan, whilst dancing cups of Ramen Noodles surround her.” (UChicago-I wrote the whole thing like a summary of a musical)
UChicago alum Jay Berwanger was the first recipient of the Heisman Trophy, the first player ever drafted into the NFL, and the only Heisman Trophy recipient to ever be tackled by a future president of the United States (Gerald Ford, in a 1934 game between UChicago and Michigan).
Example College Application Essay: “Rock, Paper, Scissors”
Essay written for the University of Chicago prompt which asks you to create your own prompt.
Dear Christian, the admissions staff at the University of Chicago would like to inform you that your application has been “put on the line.” We have one spot left and can’t decide if we should admit you or another equally qualified applicant. To resolve the matter, please choose one of the following:
Rock, paper, or scissors.
You will be notified of our decision shortly.
Rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock. Wait… paper beats rock? Since when has a sheet of loose leaf paper ever defeated a solid block of granite? Do we assume that the paper wraps around the rock, smothering the rock into submission? When exposed to paper, is rock somehow immobilized, unable to fulfill its primary function of smashing scissors? What constitutes defeat between two inanimate objects?
Maybe it’s all a metaphor for larger ideals. Perhaps paper is rooted in the symbolism of diplomacy while rock suggests coercion. But does compromise necessarily trump brute force? And where do scissors lie in this chain of symbolism?
I guess the reasoning behind this game has a lot to do with context. If we are to rationalize the logic behind this game, we have to assume some kind of narrative, an instance in which paper might beat rock. Unfortunately, I can’t argue for a convincing one.
As with rock-paper-scissors, we often cut our narratives short to make the games we play easier, ignoring the intricate assumptions that keep the game running smoothly. Like rock-paper-scissors, we tend to accept something not because it’s true, but because it’s the convenient route to getting things accomplished. We accept incomplete narratives when they serve us well, overlooking their logical gaps. Other times, we exaggerate even the smallest defects and uncertainties in narratives we don’t want to deal with. In a world where we know very little about the nature of “Truth,” it’s very easy—and tempting—to construct stories around truth claims that unfairly legitimize or delegitimize the games we play.
Or maybe I’m just making a big deal out of nothing…
Fine. I’ll stop with the semantics and play your game.
But who actually wants to play a game of rock-paper-scissors? After all, isn’t it just a game of random luck, requiring zero skill and talent? That’s no way to admit someone!
Studies have shown that there are winning strategies to rock-paper-scissors by making critical assumptions about those we play against before the round has even started. Douglas Walker, host of the Rock-Paper-Scissors World Championships (didn’t know that existed either), conducted research indicating that males will use rock as their opening move 50% of the time, a gesture Walker believes is due to rock’s symbolic association with strength and force. In this sense, the seemingly innocuous game of rock-paper-scissors has revealed something quite discomforting about gender-related dispositions in our society. Why did so many males think that brute strength was the best option? If social standards have subliminally influenced the way males and females play rock-paper-scissors, than what is to prevent such biases from skewing more important decisions? Should your decision to go to war or to feed the hungry depend on your gender, race, creed, etc?
Perhaps the narratives I spoke of earlier, the stories I mistakenly labeled as “semantics,” carry real weight in our everyday decisions. In the case of Walker’s study, men unconsciously created an irrational narrative around an abstract rock. We all tell slightly different narratives when we independently consider notions ranging from rocks to war to existence. It is ultimately the unconscious gaps in these narratives that are responsible for many of the man-made problems this world faces. In order for the “life of the mind” to be a worthwhile endeavor, we must challenge the unconscious narratives we attach to the larger games we play—the truths we tell (or don’t tell), the lessons we learn (or haven’t really learned), the people we meet (or haven’t truly met).
But even after all of this, we still don’t completely understand the narrative behind rock-paper-scissors.
I guess it all comes down to who actually made this silly game in the first place … I’d like to think it was some snotty 3rd grader, but then again, that’s just another incomplete narrative.