An alumni interview is an offering that not all schools have. But if they do, you should take advantage of the opportunity. You’ll meet with the interviewer and have an opportunity to highlight your accomplishments, ask questions, and find out more about the school. More than anything, though, it’s an opportunity to get some face-to-face time with someone who has direct contact with the school. It’s your job to give a positive impression. It’s important to demonstrate your knowledge and enthusiasm about the school, but it’s also a balancing act.
We recently spoke to several Stanford alums to get some additional insight into the process--what they look for, what makes a good impression, and perhaps, most importantly, what puts them off when interviewing potential future students.
So let’s talk about how to best prepare. The Stanford Alumni interviewer, we’ll call her Alex, said:
"The best interviewees are confident and calm. They come in prepared, but not over-prepared. Eye contact and a meaningful back-and-forth is crucial. A lot of what this interview is, is figuring out if the student would contribute positively to the community. What we look for is an ability to interact dynamically and let the conversation evolve. We don’t want people who are super rigid or stiff.”
There is a lot to unpack there in terms of tangible things you can do. What we took from that is that it’s better to focus on a couple of things and be able to talk about them in detail, and then relate them to your current interests. And it’s important that you’re present, ask questions, pay attention, and be yourself.
With this in mind you need to do a lot of research. Log onto the school’s website and click around. Write down classes that you’d take. This year one of our students was interested in English and Computer Science, so her research was a combination of these interests and looked like this:
Stanford Alumni Interview Preparation
“Contemporary Science Fictions and Technofutures” -- “How does science fiction interrogate technological and scientific innovations as a versatile pop culture medium?”
“Passions, Emotions, Moods” class -- “An examination of theories, representations, and enactments of these three genres in western literature, philosophy, and social theory”
“The Ethical Gangster” class, aimed at “understanding human moral psychology using mafia movies to explore the differences between Kantian and Utilitarian moral theory.” -- film is a hobby of mine as well
Study with Paula Moya, Professor of English
Stanford Vision Lab -- research lab focused on vision research and interpretation of the world: computer vision and human vision--both semantically meaningful interpretations of the visual world.”
“Using Tech for Good” class.
“Social and Information Network Analysis” class.
Study with Fei Fei Ling, Professor of CS
Get involved with community service activities that help teach young women to code.
Women in Computer Science (student organization: http://web.stanford.edu/group/wics/)
Women’s Coalition (tie to how I founded a feminism club at my school)
Next, write down questions for the interviewer. At the end of the interview, the interviewer will always ask if you have any questions. You need to be prepared. If possible, ask questions throughout the interview. Get specific depending on how the conversation goes and what you learn about your interviewer, but here are some to spark your imagination:
What did you major in?
How did you find your professors in terms of approachability?
What was your least favorite/favorite aspect of Stanford?
Did you meet any of your best friends at Stanford?
What was the most rewarding aspect of your undergraduate experience?
Be prepared for some potential questions that they might ask you, such as:
If you had a day completely free of obligations, how would you fill the time?
What is the most rewarding project you’ve worked on in high school?
What would you change about your high school experience?
What do you want your college experience to be like?
What do you want to major in and why?
Overall, breathe. Alex said the biggest pitfall students get trapped in is being anxious. And when you’re anxious you can’t get anything accomplished. Try to not think about the 4.8% acceptance rate. Rehearse some answers to the above questions, but only for the sake of getting comfortable with the topics, discussing your interests, and speaking succinctly. Less is more. You know your history and you know what you’re interested in. Don’t overthink. Print out your resume to give them -- it will come in handy when they’re doing their write-up and can use it to take notes on.
If you need any additional help preparing, please feel free to give us a call or email us. We’d be happy to help! And PS: the student referenced in this article did end up getting admitted to Stanford.