Interviews may be a bit of a foreign concept for many veteran applicants. That's why in this section we cover why you should interview, what interviews are like, and how to interview successfully.
Many people ask us, “What about an interview?” We say, “If they offer interviews, take one.” Here’s why: for some schools, the interview is provided solely to inform the student about the college, and it is an excellent opportunity for the student to ask questions. For other schools, the interview provides admissions officers with personal information about you that is not always readily apparent in the application process. The interview plays a marginal role in the college admissions process, so it is never the most important part of an admissions decision. But it almost always helps the student slightly by giving the admissions staff a more personal impression of you.
The college interview is the portion of the application process that may seem to be the most alien to a veteran. How many of us had to interview for a job in the military? Most of us did not, but you may have been through something much more arduous: any NCO promotion board, soldier of the month board, or meeting your unit for the first time are all far more demanding than a college interview.
Interviews are meant to be a conversation, not an interrogation. Think of the exchange as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to contribute in a classroom setting. Most likely, the college interviewer will not try to trip you up or dig into you for an imprecise or hesitant answer. Your interviewer is not looking for the "right" answer. The point of the college interview is to get to know you, learn why you want to attend their institution, and understand how you will contribute to the community they’re building. They will most likely want to gauge your curiosity, so make sure you speak up when you have questions. Interviewers are also looking to see if you are a savant with a killer application, but the interpersonal skills of a brick and limited ability to engage in meaningful discourse.
Believe it or not, admissions officers want to like you. Your job with the both the application and the interview is to help them build a case for admitting you.
The interview represents an opportunity for veterans to score some major points. Your record of service immediately distinguishes you, but you can also share critical information about who you are. There are many successful approaches to using the interview effectively, including sharing details about your background and interests outside of your application or taking the opportunity to explain any irregularities in your educational background. The most important guiding principles are to be authentic, be prepared, and follow some basic ground rules.
Often the interviewers are alums, but they could also be an admissions officer or current student. It’s important that you make the effort to know at least the name and position of the person with whom you will be speaking. Treat everyone you interact with in the process respectfully.
While it is impossible to predict exactly what you will be asked, you can expect that most questions will revolve around your academic interests, activities outside the classroom, your personal traits, and why you want to attend that specific college. Some prompts to prepare for:
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
What interests you about our school?
What do you plan to study?
What programs or campus events do you hope to involve yourself?
What have you learned in the military that will be useful in a college setting?
What do you want to do with a college degree once you graduate?
Ahead of time, reflect on what is important to you, your motivations for applying to school, and what makes you unique, and prepare how you would like to talk about those things. In the interview, look for opportunities to talk about these aspects of your experience—ideally think about what stories you can share that bring out these points, as they will be more memorable than just stating them as facts. (Also, think about how to tell military stories in a way that a person without military experience can relate to, and practice telling your stories with friends or family who can give you feedback.) Usually, at the conclusion of the interview, your interviewer will ask if there’s anything else you’d like to share. Don’t be shy about saying, “Yes."
Preparing thoughtful questions may be one of the easiest ways to distinguish yourself in an applicant pool. The interview also offers an opportunity to learn more about a major you are interested in, a specific program or activity, and/or campus culture. This is not a good time to demonstrate that you haven’t done any independent research though, so don’t ask questions you can answer yourself by doing some quick research on the school's website. Some questions you might want to ask are:
What have been the big campus-wide discussions in the past year?
What is the one event or tradition on campus that I should not miss during the year?
Is the veteran community on campus active?
Don't forget the basics from your military experience. Plan properly before your interview.
Right time: Make sure it is on your calendar
Right place: Know where you are going and give yourself enough time to get there. If it is a phone or video interview, make sure you prepare a quiet and professional setting with a strong signal.
Right uniform: Dress casually smart. For example, a button-down and slacks would be appropriate. (Please don’t wear an Affliction shirt or any other graphic anything.)
Be sure to say thank you when the interview is complete, and secure contact information to send a thank you email or letter. In your follow-up email, you may want to mention something specific from your conversation to make your note more personal. Also, the interviewer took time to meet with you; show respect for the time they offered you. Finally, keep in mind that alumni interviewers are all volunteers—they do it out of loyalty to the school, and they like being good ambassadors. They can be great resources.