Denison interviewer: Do deeper research and visit fewer schools

As an admissions interviewer for Northwestern, I’ve met countless high school seniors with unique backgrounds and personalities vying for a seat in Northwestern’s newest freshman class. As we sit down to talk in local coffee shops or schools, many would show me their shining resumes and transcripts, boasting straight As and impressive leadership involvement. I knew they were proud of their accomplishments and they should be. But as an interviewer, those weren’t the most memorable candidates. The ones I remembered the most clearly — sometimes the students for whom I wrote the strongest recommendations — often were those who didn’t do what they were “supposed” to.

  1. They “dominated” the conversation. I say they “geeked out” about their passion. One interviewee gushed about an astronomy project he worked on. He got more and more excited and because my astronomy knowledge was certainly nowhere near his, I listened enthusiastically. I tried to learn from this enthusiastic individual many years my junior. He didn’t try to temper his love for the subject and tone himself down, which earned my strong recommendation.
  2. They discussed “unprofessional” topics. I say they were real. At some point during these conversations, we start talking about personal experiences, moving away from just extracurricular involvement and school subjects. Personal challenges, family and friends, and teachers. The few memorable candidates shed away the pretense of being a perfect person. They shared stories of struggle and sometimes stress. Sometimes it got emotional. They were real. Remember, this is not a job interview. This is an interview for me to understand the human side — not just the student side — of you.
  3. They “knew too much.” I say they were resourceful and curious. Some of them would tell me they did some research on me after being assigned to be my interviewee. Some students asked specifically about my work or university experiences. They did their research, prepared engaging questions, and showed their desire to learn and make the best of the interview. Information on most people is readily available online. Those who access it are just the most curious and proactive.

After a couple years of interviewing NU applicants, I realized that most students had the wrong impression of the admissions interview. Radhika Joshi, a former senior admissions interviewer at one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, tells us this week what most applicants misunderstand about the college admissions process. If you missed the first part of the interview, read it here.

Exclusive Insider Interview: Former Senior Admissions Interviewer, Denison University Pt. 2

SocratesPost: “What aspects of the college admissions process are least understood by applicants and their families?”
Radhika at Denison: “That is actually a really good question. In my experience a lot of people think that senior year and the summer before senior year is when you start the process. That’s when you start going and visiting and interviewing and all of that, but I think a lot of important research beforehand is what really makes the difference. If you’re going to interview with a school, make sure you do your research. First of all, make sure that’s somewhere that you’re actually really interested in. Also just to understand what the little basic facts about the place are. It shows a greater level of interest in the school itself if you already know just the little things like “Oh, yeah. I know this is a small school.” I’ve had conversations with people — not in an interview sense — but just general conversations where they didn’t know Denison was a liberal arts school, which is obviously really important. So, doing that research beforehand really makes the difference.

I think the biggest mistake that a student can make without doing their research is just wasting time — more importantly, wasting their own time. Obviously Denison is in quite a rural area, just college tours and in-person interviews and visiting all these schools is really time consuming. What I sometimes see is a student who instead of doing their research well and going to see maybe 4 or 5 schools, instead just does no research and visits 15, 16, 17. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the process might be just a lot easier if they knew a little bit more about what they wanted before stepping into the visiting process.”

SocratesPost: “What have you noticed about the changing landscape on college admissions?”
Radhika at Denison: “I think what I’ve noticed is, in my personal experience, that college admission is getting more personalized, so there’s no longer a formula. It’s not like you do one sport, you do one service activity and you have the GPA and you’re guaranteed to get in. That kind of formula doesn’t exist anymore. Very few schools in my experience these days have a list on their admissions page that have minimum requirements for your high school GPA and things like that. So, I think it’s just about looking at your last years of high school more holistically and, like I said, doing things that you’re passionate about. Because at the end of the day, colleges want students who are going to make an impact.

How do we show we will make an impact on a campus without sounding like all of competition?

Continue to read how to avoid packaging yourself like other students, straight from the admissions interviewer →

SocratesPost: “How do students avoid packaging themselves like other students in a way that makes them less unique?”
SocratesPost: “What were a few things that you were surprised to learn about college admissions, now looking back after having been on the other side as an interviewer?”
SocratesPost: “In terms of the actual admissions interview itself, what should applicants know about it?”
SocratesPost: “What is your best piece of advice for high school applicants vying first thought in their elite college of choice?”

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