Our son interviewed with an alum at a local Starbucks, and it was a wonderful, insightful exchange. If alum interviews didn't carry any weight and were worthless to the school, why would they bother? The admissions office has enough to do without wasting everyone's time. Schools realize that not every applicant can make it to campus, and they realize that they may be bypassing some stellar contributors by not making the effort to reach them in some alternate way, so they will Skype, phone, and use their alumni network to make sure everyone has an opportunity to interview.
Is it "better" to interview on campus? I would say yes, but not because I believe your admission chances are substantially better. There is no better way for YOU to get to know the school than to put your feet on the ground, talk to students, tour the facilities, talk to teachers/coaches, etc. Remember, the interview goes both ways. The school is trying to get a sense of you, and you are trying to get a sense of the school. There is no better way for you to do that than to be on campus.
Also, I dislike how CCers try to second-guess what is ultimately a very transparent process. There is nothing “magic” about the interview. Important, yes; magic, no. The school just wants to get a sense of how the real kid relates to the kid on paper, and they are very good at getting what they want through all the avenues they offer. I think too much is made of that dream connection with that one ad-com who will go to bat for a kid around the decision table and change a “no” to a “yes”. Does that happen? Sure. But kids are able to shine through any connection; all is not lost if you can’t make it to campus. I don’t want any student here to think that their application is second-rate due to a necessary off-campus interview (emphasis on “necessary”).
I wish revisit days had not been our first visit to Choate, but it couldn’t be helped. I am also grateful that even in the face of the school’s “mandatory” on-campus tour/interview:
Applicants are required to visit campus for a tour and interview when school is in session… If a campus visit is not possible, off campus interviews are available with our Volunteer Admission Network of alumni and parents.
there was flexibility and, obviously, the off-campus interview was respected.
What I object to @Jersey386 is deflating the hopes of candidates who absolutely cannot do an on-campus interview. If you CAN get to campus, then I think you MUST--for your own sake. If you can’t, you do the next best thing and stop worrying. Yes, admissions is a very competitive game, but the interview is only one component, and applicants who necessarily interview in some alternate way are not put in a separate consideration pile.