The off-campus interview, sometimes called the alumnus interview or session, is done off the campus of the college you are thinking of applying to. It is often done in the applicant’s hometown or in a nearby city. Held in a coffee shop or library or some other neutral venue, this interview is a bit more casual and conversational than an on-campus interview done with an admissions staff person from the college. The reason some students do an off-campus interview is because time, distance, and/or money prevent them from going to the actual campus. Still, whether the interview is required or optional, most colleges enlist alumni to do interviews with a prospective applicant to make personal contact possible.
Alumnus interviewers both promote and recruit prospective students to a college campus. But, the question is, when the interview is optional, whether or not it is a good strategy to go through with an interview with an alumnus.
There are some drawbacks to doing an alumnus interview.
- Alumni are not admissions staff nor are they trained to do an interview.
- They may be asked to recommend an applicant after the interview takes place, but their recommendation may be skewed because they do not see the whole applicant pool.
- The alumnus may be a recent graduate or an older person, but either way they may be harder to talk to than a trained interviewer. Alumni can be out-of-date and not know what‘s happening on campus any longer. They may have certain specific biases in candidates who share their inertest in majors, studies, or activities; or younger alumni might just be too laid back and not interested in academic accomplishments.
- A final drawback to doing an alumnus interview is that often, for the very reason alumni are not trained interviewers, their recommendations may not be weighed heavily in the admission process.
There are also some good reasons for doing an alumnus interview.
- An alumnus interview provides you a chance to ask a person who has been to this college, has enjoyed the campus, and who has been successful there some questions about the school from a student’s perspective. This is a chance to find out some nitty-gritty about this college that is not packaged in a campus tour.
- An alumnus interview does provide you a chance to inject some personal information and personal qualities to admissions, even if you can not go to that campus yourself.
- Many alumni interviewers know admission staff personally and can become real advocates on a informal level for your admission.
- This interview, which may not tip the scales either way for your admission, can not hurt you. Therefore, it provides a great opportunity for you to practice your interviewing skills.
- To deny any chance the college provides you for doing an interview may demonstrate that you are indifferent about the school, which could affect your admission negatively.
If you decide to do an alumnus interview, you should know what colleges ask their alumni to evaluate. Here are some aspects of applicants that colleges ask their alumni interviewers to rate:
- Preparation for the interview,
- Intellectual promise or academic preparation,
- Conversational ability,
- Attitude or motivation,
- Strengths and weaknesses,
- Involvement in activities, and
- Personal qualities.
Most alumni also have to give either a Strongly Recommend or Do Not Recommend final say.
Here are some tips for making a strong impression on an alumnus interviewer:
- Know about the college! Do some real research about the college and dig deep into the website. An alumnus is likely loyal to his or her college. They want to know you care enough about going to their alma mater to know something about it. They may even be looking for information about new programs or things they don’t know about the school since they left.
- Be yourself. If you have over-practiced, memorized answers, or are trying to be what you think the interviewer wants you to be, it’s obvious. They are there to get to know YOU on a more personal level.
- Make sure to reveal yourself. Never give yes or no answers. Err on the side of saying too much and not enough. Especially try to talk about things that did not find their way onto your application so you can think of this interview as a supplementary essay.
- Ask questions. Have three or four questions prepared to ask about being at this college that interest you and are not obviously on the website where you could look them up yourself.
- Be polite. Make sure you practice the basic civilities. Be on time, say “thank you” to the interviewer, do not dress sloppily but neatly, and have a pleasant-but-serious attitude.
- Follow up with the interviewer with a thank-you note, and call or email to ask questions about your application or about the college. The more contact you have with an alumnus, especially if you hit it off with the person, the more likely that person will advocate for you.