What is Lisa Bernard’s view on the college admissions interview?

It’s not critical unless any of the below describe you.  Then an interview is important and possibly pivotal.

1.  You are a musician auditioning for a music program or conservatory. If you are a youth musician applying to conservatories or music programs realize that you will be studying your instrument with one faculty member one-on-one for your entire time at school. That requires that you and s/he get on well interpersonally.  Unlike other areas of study for which you take courses limited to one semester and which are taught by many members of the faculty, your in-depth study of your instrument will be conducted, supervised and monitored by one member of the teaching faculty at your music program or conservatory.  In most cases, s/he is the decision-maker for your acceptance into her or his studio with the authority and responsibility to over-ride others involved in the department’s selection process.  This interview is conducted alongside your audition with him or her and the music program faculty and is the place to reveal who you are as an individual compared to those applying to study the same instrument. If you are a violinist, your competition is every other violinist with the same achievements, skills and promise.  

Additionally, the faculty member who will be your individual teacher will be the person who advises the music department’s chair as to whether you show the skills necessary for growth and achievement vis-à-vis your primary instrument.  Only a professional musician can make such an assessment and therefore, his or her opinion weighs in heavily with both the chairperson of music department as well as at the Office of Admissions.  Musical skills and a humble, realistic and positive attitude are necessary for admission to conservatory.  Neither alone is sufficient, hence your audition and department interview are held together.  The audition is the place to demonstrate your musical skills, aptitude and accomplishments.  The interview is the place to display your professional persona, passion and commitment to study at the college level.  The audition is what you can do.  The interview is who you are as a youth musician transitioning to a professional adult musician in the bosom of the faculty and program.  Your essay is who you are as a person and what kind of citizen of the campus you will be.

A special concern for prospective music majors is being certain that the broader campus community is one in which you will be comfortable when you are not with your music department “family.”  There are colleges and universities that are home to conservatories with distinct and even disparate personalities.  Do your research and tour the campus at large before deciding to commit to the rigors and expense of an audition and interview at a college or university-based music program or conservatory housed on a campus that cannot meet your social, spiritual or intellectual needs outside of your pursuit of music.  The four years of exploration, discovery, influence, maturation and commitment are likely to follow you for the rest of your life.  They are inimitable and irreplaceable.  While careers, spouses, addresses and roles may change in your lives, your alma mater will always be you as a defining force with a cadre of fellow alumnae.  Let it be a place whose indelible mark is for the better.  There is no shortage of music programs or conservatories.  Select those that are associated with colleges and universities that will also serve you well intellectually and socially and talk about that candidly during your interview.  No music program wants an unhappy or dislocated player.  They are as invested in a good fit for you on campus as you and your parents. 


2. Your objective credentials (standardized tests, grades, high school) are comparable to the majority of other applicants and/or slightly below them. Whether it is the relative ease of the common application form, the home environment and expectations from parents who are both college-educated, or the globalization of college admissions, in the United States the numbers of students applying to college and the numbers of colleges to which student are applying are still increasing each year.  Simply put, that means you have more students competing for the same bed in every the dormitory at each college.  More to the point, more students with the same objective credentials for admission are applying to your top choice colleges.  And, when you go in well-prepared for this exchange of information and views, you can reveal what is unique about you that is reliably consistent with the interests, goals and identity of their campus community–especially compared to the other applicants with the same or better objective credentials.  Students who apply to target schools may not be personally well-suited for that campus community and a student who is just below the range but fits in well in all other respects is regarded as a stronger candidate by many colleges. The interview is the place to illustrate that fit.  In this sense, a college admissions interview can be pivotal. It can turn heads on an application and convert a “waitlist” or a “no” into a “welcome to the Class of 2018.” 

An interview with an admissions officer can also make all the difference in you understanding whether this is really the school for you for four years.  A well-conducted interview is a genuine exchange of views, information and expectations between applicant and representative. It can be pivotal in helping you decide if this environment can nurture your personal talents and academic interests, enable you to discover others, and provide the necessary kinds of support for both.  If you are applying to a college for which your SAT or ACT, GPA, and extra-curricular activities are squarely a match or just below the stated target zone, do schedule, prepare for and participate in an admissions interview.  First, learn all you can about the school.  Tour the campus.  Speak to students as well as the tour guide.   Know its history, reputation, offerings and identity.  Then interview and make known your ability and eagerness to make meaningful contributions to the campus community. 


3.  Your parent(s), sibling(s) or other close family member(s) are alumnae and it is your first-choice college or university.  If you are applying in any manner–early decision, early action or rolling enrollment–and you are seriously interested in attending that school, be certain to schedule an interview with an admissions officer to make clear that it is your desire and not your parent(s), sibling(s), grandparent(s) or other alumnae pressuring you to apply.  In short, the interview is the place to make clear that the college or university is one you are genuinely considering attending because of your talents, skills and goals–and not to fulfill the legacy dreams and nostalgia of your family member(s). 

I know from experience that when your child is interested in your alma mater it engenders a huge swell of pride.  But, that pride is useful in his or her application if and only if the school would be right for them anyway. If that college or university is the right place for that applicant regardless of alumnae who are family, then the college or university will likely respect the legacy status as an inimitable and endearing bonus. And only an interview conducted absent the related alumnae will provide a forum for your credibility as a sincere applicant who is worthy on your own terms of a seat in the freshman class. When my daughter applied to the sister college of my alma mater I stayed away from the touring, interview and application process to be sure she had a fair shot at being considered on her own merits and in her own stead.  She was accepted early-decision irrespective of my history with the university. Her application and interview left no room for any doubt about her own fitness and enthusiasm for that community.  Colleges and universities like happy and thriving students.  Only a student who knows him or herself well and skilled admissions personnel can determine reasonably reliably who will likely flourish academically and socially over four years–regardless of where family members attended college during their formative years. The interview is the forum at which this is assessment is evaluated and often sealed.


Need a college admissions interview?  Need guidance on preparing for it?  Schedule a prep session with Lisa Bernard, veteran oral communications coach and alumnae interviewer. Lisa can be reached at WordofMouthInc@optonline.net or (203) 846-6115.