The Personal Interview and Tour
Having been through the application process myself, and being a student tour guide at my school, I argue that the campus visit is one of the most nerve wracking and exciting parts of a student’s application. Often schools require an interview and highly recommend a campus tour. As long as you prepare for the visit, it can be a wonderful and thrilling experience!
The interview is the student’s chance to attach a face to their application and make a memorable impression on the admissions board. While this is a fantastic opportunity, it can be a challenge for many students. Most applicants do not have formal interview experience and may not know what to expect. It goes without saying that students should arrive fifteen minutes early for their appointment—and should call the admissions office if they are going to be late as common courtesy, as it will be noted in your file. This is both for your own benefit—so you are calm and relaxed before your tour and interview—and ensures that the admissions office can stay on schedule. If you are late for your interview or tour, there is no guarantee that the admissions office will be able to reschedule you for that day, so plan ahead. In terms of appearance, students should dress to impress, but also be ready to walk around for about 30 to 40 minutes, meaning suitable shoes and outwear. Schools will vary in conservativeness, so use your judgment in balancing your own personal style and appropriate business casual attire—whatever you wear, you should feel comfortable.
While there is no way to be sure in advance what questions an interviewer will ask, you should practice responses for likely topics. For example, applicants should feel comfortable talking about their favorite classes, books and authors they like, the extracurricular activities they enjoy, a challenge they’ve overcome, things they want to do in high school, etc. Applicants should work with a family member or friend to hold mock interviews. This is especially useful for applicants who may be shy or are nervous about the interview. When practicing responses, you should remember that it is okay to ‘toot your own horn’—this is not the time to be modest! Students should also have at least two or three good questions prepared, and note that a ‘good question’ is not “What is the student teacher ratio?” These should be questions on topics important to you, and that you sincerely want to know the answer to. Often you will tour the campus first, so a great way to warm up is to talk about something your tour guide mentioned. A good interview will be more like a conversation, so students should not wait to be asked the next question, and instead should end their answer with a question of their own:
Interviewer: Can you tell me about your favorite class?
Applicant: I really enjoy my French class. My teacher is wonderful because she brings the culture and language alive. For example, last week she brought in crepes and we practiced ordering food at restaurants. I’d like to continue studying French in high school, and hopefully will be fluent one day. Are language classes at _______ taught entirely in the target language? Are there language tables in the dining hall?
After the interview, be sure to send a thank you note—remember the interviewer’s name! Do not send a thank you email, send an actual hand written card via snail mail, and be specific about what you enjoyed discussing during your interview. Your interviewer will appreciate the time taken to write and mail a card, and it will make you stand out in their memory. And yes, this card will likely be placed in your file with the rest of your application. Students should not feel daunted by the interview, as the only thing you will be asked about is yourself!
If you have a serious interest in and are an accomplished athlete, musician, or artist, you should reach out to the admissions office about meeting with a coach or related faculty member. Be aware that you will likely be required to send supplemental materials to exhibit your qualifications to the coach or faculty head. Highly competitive schools will officially recruit for sports and unofficially recruit for the arts—but note that these spots are reserved for students who are highly gifted in their fields. Schools may not always be able to accommodate your request, but if they are interested in recruiting you, they will likely respond to your inquiry. It never hurts to reach out, even if it is simply sending an email with your background and asking for more information.
While the interview is all about selling yourself, the tour is the opposite; it is their turn to convince you that their school is a wonderful place. Your tour guide will likely be a current student, so this is your chance to learn about student life and get a personal account of the school. Ask your tour guide about the classes they take, the clubs they are a part of, sports they play, what they like about dorm life and social activities, etc. The tour guides will have a spiel prepared, but don’t feel awkward about interrupting to ask your own questions. On the contrary, tour guides love it when applicants are talkative, as it takes off the pressure for the guide to fill the silence.
Tour guides are happy to answer questions that you may not feel comfortable asking your interviewer, like “Are boys allowed in the girls’ dorms?” But there are some topics that are always inappropriate—asking about your guide’s grades or test scores is never okay, nor is it appropriate to ask their opinions on whether you’ll be admitted or not. It is also rude to try to goad your tour guide into bad mouthing their school. Student tour guides volunteer because they love their school and enjoy sharing it prospective applicants. Sometimes the difference between an acceptable question and an inappropriate one is the phrasing. For example, concerned parents may ask, “Is the school very strict on alcohol and drug use?” This is a valid question, but saying, “Tell me the truth, a lot of students drink on campus, right? Do you drink?” is inappropriate. Asking about financial aid is fine, as long as you do not make it personal to your tour guide. In short, it is okay to ask for generic information, but it is better to address these questions to an admissions officer. Lastly, while not a requirement, it is nice to send a thank you email to your tour guide to tell them what a great job they did, and it gives you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have forgotten.
The tour should be fun and informative for the student, and help applicants decide on whether they truly want to attend the school. If you’re visiting several schools, take notes on each one and write down pros and cons. Be specific about what you liked and did not like, even if it is something simple, such as I liked that many students were sitting and studying outside. Also write a few sentences on your overall impression, and whether or not you could picture yourself on campus. These small details will make a difference when it comes to deciding which school you want to attend!
Phillips Academy Andover ‘10
Andover Tour Guide, 4 years