Know yourself, be yourself, and believe in yourself.
College interviews can be a key piece that helps both students and schools determine if they are the right match for one another. So what can students do to help ensure a successful college interview?
Fortunately, we have advice from someone who conducts those interviews himself. Benigno Salazar is an analytic consultant with the Wells Fargo Consumer Lending finance group. He is also a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and volunteers for his alma mater to conduct one-on-one admissions interviews. He gave us an inside look at what college interviewers are looking for.
Looking for a good fit
So what are colleges really looking for when they interview students?
“The bottom line is that I’m looking for a good fit with MIT,” said Salazar. He said that during the interview, he’s trying to find out about the student’s character, their experiences and their interests, and that they’ll contribute to the objective of the school.
“It’s a dialogue,” he said. “I’m trying to get to know them.”
While interviewing potential students, Salazar said he asks questions that allow students to share life experiences and demonstrate their determination. He also offers opportunities for students to ask questions, which he encourages.
“It’s important to ask questions,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for both parties to get to know one another. We expect students to ask questions to be able to make decisions for themselves.”
Students: know yourself
One of the most important ways to prepare for a college interview is to know yourself, Salazar said.
Students should take the time to really understand what they’ve done to prepare for college, and how they’ve made their interests into a tangible action. Salazar recommends that students have concrete examples of what they’ve done as an illustration.
“Students should be themselves during an interview,” he added. “They should understand what’s important to them, what they’ve done, and be able to talk about that.”
Practicing with a mock interview can help, he noted. It allows students to figure out how to word things well, to help them with poise and posture, and get more comfortable talking about themselves and telling their story.
“The trap they should avoid is having prepared speeches of things they think the institute wants to hear,” he added. “It will be a red flag and will not impress the interviewer.”
College interviews are really all about the students, and their motivation.
“I can’t emphasize enough that it needs to be about students: their interests, what they’ve done–not what parents want them to do or say,” Salazar said. “They need to show that they’re self-driven, versus mom or dad pushing them along. At the university level you have to have the drive to do the work on your own. I can detect when the student isn’t as animated about it.”
Be on time; be engaged
Doing two simple things will help students make a good impression during their college interview: be on time for the interview, and be engaged during the interview. Fail to do either of these, and it may be a deal breaker.
Showing up late to an interview? It should never happen, but if it does—call the interviewer. “The interview is an opportunity and if you show up late and don’t call, that tells me what I need to know,” Salazar said.
It’s also critical for students to be mindful of the impression they’re giving and to stay engaged during the interview. “How you conduct yourself will show if you’re a good fit, and whether you have the attention span to handle rigorous work,” Salazar noted.
“Believe in yourself”
There’s one additional message Salazar has for students as they head into college interviews: believe in yourself.
“I’ve had students who seem to have low self-esteem despite their accomplishments,” he said. “It can be a concern, especially in a highly competitive environment.”
As an alumni volunteer interviewing students, Salazar doesn’t focus as much on academic achievement as others might; he looks for character, motivation, skills and interests. And he encourages students to at least explore a college, rather than assume it’s not for them.
“There are students who could do well here who either don’t know about MIT, or wrongly think it’s not for them,” he said. “The answer is awareness. Students should at least look into it if the college’s mission is in their interest area. Give yourself a chance, let the institution decide.”
More about Benigno Salazar
Benigno Salazar is one of 11 children to parents who were farm workers in Salinas, California.
Benigno was first in his family to graduate from college, and was the first Latino in his community to attend MIT–but he didn’t want to be the last. His goal was to do well enough in college for others, including his brother, to attend as well—which he did. Benigno was awarded the Albert G. Hill Prize for academic excellence and continued contributions to the MIT community. And Benigno didn’t stop there; he has continued to be an advocate for higher education, most notably, actively volunteering to recruit students to MIT from the Salinas Valley community. All recruited students have gone on to graduate and have become successful professionals.