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Making the Most of the College Interview

By Robert LeVine

We always urge our seniors to take advantage of opportunities to interview with colleges. Admissions interviews are particularly important because they occur at a time when the colleges have already started sorting applicants. When the interview report is received by the admissions office, it’s new information. This new information often separates the students who are accepted from those who are not. Good interviewing skills are critical to admissions success.

The key to a great interview is understanding the interview process, purpose and goal. First, recognize who is conducting the interview. Most college interviews are conducted by alumni volunteers, not by admissions representatives. Alumni choose to interview because they love their colleges and want to see good students attend their schools. While applicants might think of the interview as an interrogation, interviewers are really hoping to meet a great candidate. In fact, the most common complaint of interviewers is that they do not meet enough good candidates and, when they do, the colleges don’t offer admission to “their kids.” Interviewers don’t want to spend their time filtering out bad candidates; they want to find great candidates and advocate for them.

The purpose of the interview is to understand the candidate’s interpersonal qualities, not judge academics or extracurricular performance. A 45-minute interview cannot contribute significantly to the evaluation of a candidate’s academic prowess or achievements in activities; that information is already available in the application itself. However, because it is usually the only opportunity for a college to meet applicants, an interview is valuable to the admissions office for learning more about a candidate’s personality.

For the applicant (and the interviewer), the goal is simply to have a pleasant, positive conversation. Make a connection. Just talk to the interviewer. Consider the interviewer as someone who wants to help you go to their school, not someone who wants to keep you out. It’s a selection process, not a rejection process.

Interviews typically take place at a neutral location, like a Starbucks, though occasionally the interviewer will invite an applicant to his or her office. Parents should NOT accompany their children to college interviews. This is the time for the students to show themselves to be mature, and adults do not come to interviews with mommy or daddy in tow. If your child is not driving yet, please wait in the car during the interview or go run an errand.

Candidates should dress neatly and professionally, though not formally. Business casual attire is preferred. That means a casual skirt or pants and a blouse for girls, and casual pants (like khakis) and a collared shirt for boys. Please, no athletic shoes, jeans or dress suits. Also, avoid perfume and cologne. Your personality, and not your appearance, should be what’s noticed.

Students should come to the interview armed with a few stories that illustrate who they are. Your stories are the “new information” that is not included in your application file. The cross-country runner should be ready to tell her story about the funny thing that happened at practice last week. The avid reader should be prepared to discuss the characters in his favorite novel. The thespian might want to talk about that embarrassing misstep or missed note on stage. Interesting moments lead to good conversation. It’s not all serious. Interviewers are impressed with your demeanor, not your resume.

With some strategy and practice, college applicants can transform interviews from something scary into something powerful. A great interview lifts a candidate from the “possible” pile into the “likely” pile in the admissions office. The starting point, however, is to place emphasis on your personality and ability to converse. Interviewers – and colleges – simply want a good conversation. That allows them to predict you as someone who will contribute in their campus community.

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email [email protected] or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com 


Why Bad Language isn’t always a bad thing

By Anu Varma Panchal

After years in the bubble of elementary school where “stupid” is referred to in hushed tones as the “the s-word,” newly minted sixth-graders often come back from their first day at middle school horrified at the language they’ve just heard from the older kids. Not my daughter, however. “Nothing I haven’t heard before,” she shrugged.

My husband is pragmatic, reliable, fun, serves as our expert GPS and broken-stuff-fixer, is as much at home on a dance floor as a basketball court and makes an excellent Moscow Mule. But he is the possessor of an inveterate (and bilingual) potty mouth. The f-bombs fly cheerfully out of his mouth with abandon, serving as a convenient adjective, adverb or unnecessary filler word in just about any non-work/ non-elderly-family-member situation or around people with whom he feels comfortable. “Language!” I snap.

But is preventing a bad word from landing on innocent ears worthy of strenuous parental watchfulness, or is it just another form of overprotection, especially now that the ears in question belong to fourth and seventh graders? Lenore Skenazy and Jonathan Haidt, founders of the Let Grow Foundation, argue in an article entitled “The Fragile Generation” (reason.com) that we have removed so many physical, emotional and even verbal “dangers” from our children’s lives that we have left them without the means to cultivate the resiliency they need to survive. Swings, see-saws and monkey bars have been deemed too dangerous for playgrounds and removed, the ground now carpeted with soft rubber mulch. A guidance counselor friend tells me she constantly has to explain to outraged children that every hostile interaction is not an incidence of bullying; sometimes, it’s just someone being kind of mean to you and it happens once in a while, even to grownups. At the other end of the spectrum, the college campus has become a contentious battle zone where free speech is pitched against protecting students’ feelings.

The standards certainly have see-sawed to a more sanitized approach when it comes to what’s acceptable on screen. I watched “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” with my children a year or so ago and while they enjoyed the movie and adored E.T. (my younger one even dressed as E.T. for Halloween that year), they were pretty surprised by the language Eliot was allowed to use in a kid movie, and by scenes involving kids and alcohol. Now if the “clean” new media was an accurate reflection of how the world has changed around us, this may not be surprising. But if anything, it’s an inverse ratio.

Emma Byrne, British scientist and writer of “Swearing is Good for You,” writes in The Guardian that shielding children from “bad” language is actually a disservice. “Whether they use it often or rarely, they will need it as part of their emotional lexicon,” Byrne writes. “There are some feelings that ordinary words just can’t do justice to.” Byrne isn’t the only one to tackle the topic; writers Benjamin K Bergen (“What the F”) and Michael Adams (“In Praise of Profanity”) released books on both sides of the pond in 2016, arguing that swearing encourages camaraderie, fosters creativity, and allows for deeper expression, as long as it doesn’t degenerate into slurs. That might be true — one of the most delightful contributors to our book club discussions is my friend Jasdeep, whose witty insights are liberally laced with well-placed and thoughtfully inserted expletives. One study Bergen referenced even showed that participants who swore while doing so were able keep their hands in freezing water an average of 40 seconds longer than those who didn’t.

I can’t say I’m a 100 percent convinced, but then again, I’m the kind of person who still says, “oh dear.” While a well-placed curse while driving on Interstate 4 may work for me, gratuitous swearing will probably never be my thing. Still, rigidity in parenting has never done anyone favors. While I certainly wouldn’t advocate cooing expletives into a toddler’s ears at bedtime, after a certain age we have to accept that if something is out there in the world, children will become aware of its existence sooner or later, whether or not it has a direct bearing on their life. Demonizing the innocuous merely shifts attention from the truly complex matters of how we really treat each other — and for those lessons, daddy is probably the best teacher after all.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of www.YourEditingSolutions.com

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