american university admissions

The University Admissions Interview

The admissions interview is an extremely important part of the application process to American universities.  Besides the application essay, the interview is probably the only way to get the university admission office to get a sense of your character, personality, passions and concerns.  Most elite universities make an enormous effort to interview every undergraduate applicant to their school regardless of where the applicant lives.  In Singapore, as in almost every country, applicant interviews to American universities are facilitated through school visits, education fairs and alumni volunteers.  Since competition for top university places is, in general, more fierce in Singapore than in the U.S., applicants located outside the U.S. must place a high importance on making the best impression possible in order to separate themselves positively from their peers.  Here, we highlight a few of many suggestions to make that winning impression and get the most out of your interview.

Know the school:

A university interviewer is aware that applicants apply to many other schools.  However, he or she wants to see that the applicant is particularly interested in attending the university, and for the “right” reasons.  Stating that a school is prestigious is NOT a good enough reason.  Explain why: research the website and hardcopy brochures.  Know the types of majors and courses offered and what departments (faculties) and professors are famous for their research and teaching.  Find out what qualities of the school sets it apart from others.  Even more important, through questions and comments, you should make it clear that you have done the research.

Know thyself:

Hopefully you did a written self-assessment before you even started the application process.  With your self-assessment, researching schools becomes more tailored and less exhaustive.  Do you know which teaching style, academic and extracurricular activities interest you.  Have you thrived in small sized classes?  Enjoyed doing volunteer work? If so, what kind of work?  Do you thrive in situations when surrounded by students with similar or differing backgrounds and perspectives?  See whether the school website and brochures (or third-party analysis of the school) answers these questions.  If not, be sure to raise them during the interview.

Set an agenda:

You should have a list of questions that you want answered, but are not easily found on the school website. All interviewers are closely involved with the school, either as an employee of the school, or as an alumnus or alumna, or both.  They serve as a rich resource of information about the school and can often answer the not-frequently-asked questions you compiled while doing your research.  Most importantly, market yourself as best as you can.  Have a list of core aspects about you that you want the interviewer to know before the interview ends.  Prove to the university that you and your interests are a fit for the school and it’s environment while showing your academic and non-academic uniqueness.  These attributes contribute to the diversity that is sought for and cherished by American universities.  Diversity, a somewhat misunderstood concept, does not refer solely to racial and ethnic identity, but to what you, as a student, can uniquely contribute to the school community.

Be professional:

The interview is casual, but the interaction with the interviewer before and after the interview should not be.  Play it safe and treat the admissions interview process similar to that of a job interview (that means you should groom yourself and dress business casual). Emails written in all lowercase lettering with SMS-style language leave a poor impression.  Any emails to the interviewer should be written with the principles of standard written English.  Check for grammar and spelling mistakes (especially the interviewer’s name!) before sending your message.  Defer to the interviewer as to the place and time of the interview, unless you have a compelling reason. Sending a follow-up message thanking the interviewer after the meeting sets you apart from the others.

From Study in America: University Admissions Timeline – 2014 Edition

Note that this timeline serves as a general guide for Grade 11 students with June IB exams, Grade 12 students with November IB exams or for students beginning JC2. Circumstances vary, so always consult your university advisor first and foremost if questions and issues arise, especially about when you should take the SAT:

Admissions Timeline

Admissions Timeline

Behind-the-Scenes University Research on the Interwebs

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When students decide to start looking for information about universities in the USA, most begin by visiting the schools’ websites, or by emailing requests for hard copy brochures and other marketing materials (many receive unsolicited information way beforehand once they take the PSAT/NMSQT).  Note the term “marketing materials”, for although they will provide some basic information about school culture, they are largely bland, indistinct, and serve to position the school in the most positive and unblemished light possible. As was mentioned in previous issues of Study In America, students and parent should view such brochures and particular elements of schools’ websites with a degree of skepticism, for universities are essentially businesses seeking to increase application numbers for financial security purposes, or to gain higher rankings from popular media publications like US News and World Report.

We often advise students to tap into as many networks as possible in order to find recent graduates from their current schools who are currently studying in the USA. These students generally do not have a particular agenda and are usually happy to speak to prospective students about their university and student life (the success of the SPH/Experiences Education fair each July proves testimony to this fact). However, for some, finding such students may be difficult, or some students may be too busy or shy to approach them.  For those who fit such descriptions (or for anyone, really), they may find social media as a valuable tool for getting their information needs.

Most people are aware of popular forms of social media like YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.  There are, in fact resources available within these portals that provide useful information on universities.  U.S. schools are increasingly wise to this form of media, however, and have created YouTube video clips, Facebook Pages and Twitter feeds from faculty and administrators for marketing purposes, ultimately in order to access and win over prospective students.  Moreover, much like the content found within universities’ websites and brochures, such content is often deceptively rosy in nature, and may provide little insight as to what the school environment and culture are truly like.

For those who desire such behind‐the‐scene views, they should source sites created by independent contributors that feature views from students who are either currently going to or have graduated from schools of interest.

The following sites provide potentially valuable information (Note: Study In America maintains a neutral stance regarding these sites.  We leave such judgments to the viewer):

Visitor Beware!

Although much of the information provided is valuable and truthful, some information may be of questionable value: students may have transitory and oft‐shifting opinions and axes to grind/personal vendettas against their schools (or rival schools, especially those that rejected them for admission).

Also, a great many of the contributors are American, and they will offer views and opinions that may not reflect the international and cultural diversity that the universities possess, and which may appeal to your needs.