Alumni Interviewer Here: At Minimum, Please Read The Website

Hi -

I am was a first-gen student and am now serving on alumni interviews for ED and RD students applying to my alma mater, since I believe it’s important to really give back to the community and school that have opened a ton of doors for me than I could’ve ever imagined.

That said, I have done upwards of 50+ interviews and there are some feedback I think would really help everyone…

  1. Please read the website for the school and major you are applying to - I have had students not being able to say anything about why they want to attend the school, other than “This is a very prestigious school”, “This is a diverse school”, etc and other generalizations that can be said of any school in the world. The funniest answer I’ve gotten for why they want to attend the school: “My parents have told me SchoolABC students are very smart, so I will be great here”. I also had students tell me they are interested in a certain major because of specific classes that aren’t even taught under the major… Those very same students also come to realize that the major was nothing like what they had in mind during the interview and after they already submitted the application. It’s very easy to tell someone is not a right fit for the school, and especially a clear waste of my time when they don’t even know what the major actually is.
  2. Please be mindful of our time, especially we are volunteering our time to really help give you a picture of the college experience and answer any questions you guys have. I had multiple students reply to my emails >2 weeks later and speak to me as if I’m their assistant. Better yet, I had no-shows to interviews that were rescheduled twice, only to email 3 weeks later about a sob story of how they hope they had not ruined their chances. Other emails include apologizing for responding to interview request a month later (a few days before ED decisions are out), saying that they have too many emails on a daily basis (uhm, welcome to adult life?)… (at that point, I’ve already marked them as no-response, and no, they did not end up being accepted)
  3. If you don’t know something, then don’t pretend you’re an expert at it just because you think it will impress me, or worse yet, you think you can pull a fast one on me. All we want to do is to get to know the genuine you. It’s very easy to tell when students are bullsh*tting the 50 extra-curricular activities they claim to have, and a surprise to some, it’s very easy to tell when someone is reading off the screen over a zoom call.

Happy to provide any advice and guidance as well. Most importantly, good luck in the process and enjoy the senior year-


adding on —

  1. Please be aware that the life that you have from birth through high school is very limited. Meaning, there are over 7 billion people in the world. One thing I am realizing that certain students (ones that believe they are Einsteins / God’s gift to mankind) think and speak as if the sample size of 200/300/400/500/600/700 people in their graduating class is what the world revolves around. It is important and pertinent of a life skill to always show humility and understand from early on that you will always be surrounded by people that are 100x smarter than you (I know, it’s hard to believe in your 200 person graduating class), and that it is a privilege to be in a situation where you always get to learn from people around you.

I think that a number of these “elite” students don’t seek out their guidance counselors, and consider themselves as superstars who already are shoo-ins.

I get that the guidance counselors are overrun with students, but I know, at our children’s high school, they make time by going into the English classes, weekly, in Senior year (beginning in October) about college issues. They beg the students to make appointments for specific questions.

My eldest was nervous about her interview (at a local coffee shop) and had me drive her there an hour early while I went to the grocery store. The counselors had explained that the students needed to know their “schools”. She had her note cards with her, regarding questions about student life, the local community, part time jobs, etc.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the students don’t know anything about the schools, given that they apply to a bowl full of schools (like eating M & M’s) and are disrespectful with their interviews.
Just saddened by how unintelligent and immature they sound.


OP- long time interviewer here and I am nodding my head up and down at your post!

I would just add- if you DO take the OP’s advice and read the website, don’t think you’re scoring points with me by parroting back- word for word- what the website says. It’s no great insight on the future of the liberal arts to quote the President of the university and what SHE said about the future of the liberal arts. I was in the room when she said it (along with 499 other alums) and yes, I remember that talk. And don’t lecture me on the importance of integrating primary healthcare and behavioral economics, using VERBATIM the speech the head of the econ department gave four years ago when a new interdisciplinary center was launched. I wasn’t in the room- but have read the speech multiple times, and when someone quotes Socrates, Robert Aumann and Yogi Berra in the same paragraph, folks are bound to recognize it!


For starters, thank you to everyone here who has taken the time to do interviews. As a former area coordinator, my life revolved around trying to dig such people up… and then pick up whatever the slack was – 46 in one season being my personal best (worst?).

A few stories of my own from the trenches:

  • The interviewee who didn’t know what state Brown is located in (though as a first-year at Brown, I did come across an Applied Math major who thought San Diego was in Nevada…
    Surf’s (not) up!).

  • The potential South Asia Studies major who was interested in China (wrong part of Asia, but they hadn’t figured that out).

  • As the OP metioned, any number of applicants who want to major in something my college doesn’t offer (Damn you, Common App!)

  • Meet-up interviews where the teenageer didn’t really focus on the directions, ending up between 45 minutes and 3 hours late (I always take things to work on, should there be down time).

  • A guy who seemed to have no discernable interest in learning, but was greatly concerned as to whether there would be four hours or more available in each school day to practice his “beats”. Once in a while they are so disengaged, you wonder if there’s some sort of coupon giveaway in connection with the interview day, and that’s the only reason they showed up (and if only because it bears repeating, “Damn you, Common App!”).

  • A would-be pre-med who wanted a career in a particular surgical specialty. “Why that specific one, as opposed to something more general?” “I have expensive tastes.”

I’ve noticed that sometimes I spend as much or even more time trying to make an interview happen as the interview itself takes. I’ve also concluded that in-person interviews rarely yield better information for my write-up than phone ones. That’s based in part on a couple of times when I’ve phone-interviewed someone and subsequently interviewed them in person as well (one was when a prior phone interviewee wrongly showed up at an interview day and I happened to draw them, having only been given a first name by the assignment desk. Gee, it feels like I’ve had this conversation before…).

What the above adds up to is I’ve found I can get good results by cold calling roughly mid-afternoon or on the weekend – not too close to potential homework deadlines – and asking if it’s an ok time to talk for thirty minutes or so. Make it clear that I know it’s without any notice, so if they want to set up another time that’s perfectly fine. It usually works out, and my throughput increases markedly compared to a lot of back and forth. Plus they seem to become relaxed/talkative sooner into the interview, not having spent days getting more and more nervous as a scheduled interview time draws closer. Instead, they are already having a fun conversation with an alum before they even know what’s hit 'em.


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You win. Thanks for the laugh!


What does an interviewer think of a student who wants to major in a subject but doesn’t have much to say in the conversation about it? What if it is clear that an LAC education would suit a student who is still figuring things out, despite what they say their intention is? Is it really necessary to have a mapped out plan and complete focus, or is it acceptable to being open to options and able to adapt? How do the interviewers interpret what they are hearing?

We all know we are talking to kids. Perfectly OK for a student to being open to options and still figuring things out. The important thing is for a student to be themselves!


If a kid wants to major in Renaissance Studies but doesn’t have much to say about it specifically- I’m fine with that. Kid reads historical fiction and is fascinated by art, wants to learn Italian? I’m good. But the kid does need to be able to talk about other interests- maybe aligned? which show some understanding of what studying history, art, language, culture, literature, is all about. Kid loves politics but maybe will major in econ or possibly sociology because she’s really interested in the origins of poverty and how it can be addressed by government, industry, etc? That’s more than sufficient! Kid loves literature but he’s also a talented graphic designer? But his chem teacher thinks he should give the sciences a chance-- that’s fine.


Great examples!

“wants to major in a subject but doesn’t have much to say in the conversation about it?”

Beyond the two insightful answers already offered, I will add that for me it’s mostly about the quality of their thinking and enthusiasm rather than what the particulars are. Having a specific cohesive academic plan (which will probably change anyway) is fine. Being interested in Lit but planning on Econ, because that will hopefully pay the bills post-college? Fine too.

My overriding interest is the extent to which the candidate might or might not benefit from what my college has to offer, and likewise how my college might benefit. There are numerous possible “trajectories” to an interview which can allow figuring that out.


I used to do alumni interviews for Duke. So I’ll add my thoughts:

  1. Please reply promptly to emails. Write sentences in proper form full english. Don’t write in text message lingo “LOL, hey bro, whats ur sched like? can’t w8 to meet up F2f. Haha”.

  2. My name is unique and easily doxxed. While I don’t mind people looking me up ahead of time, don’t get creepy about it. I’ve had students ask me about an obscure paper I wrote 15 years ago.

  3. Have some intelligent questions lined up for the end of the interviews.

  4. Do not bring any gifts. I’ve had international students from a nearby boarding school, where it is common to give gifts (chocolates, scarves, pens, etc).

  5. Don’t bring your parents. I typically meet in a public place like a coffee shop. Its pretty easy to figure out when a stealth parent tries to sit at the table next to us. Very distracting.


Yes, please don’t bring parents!

I usually offered to be available by phone or email to answer parent questions but thankfully no one ever took me up on that.

Note to applicants: Check your Inbox regularly during admissions season, even if you live off of texting + social media messaging platforms, and to you email is just that thing your grandparents do. You gave the college(s) an email address, and you are expected to monitor it (the Spam folder would be a good idea as well).

I send emails to hundreds of local applicants regarding time-sensitive things like interviewing or admitted student receptions, and there are always some who only find out through friends – often too late to advantage of the opportunity. So make Inbox checking yet another to-do item for the admissions season.


Seasoned interviewer here.

Let’s begin unless the interviewer is on the admissions committee (unlikely) it’s difficult to explain the importance of the interview other than a fact finding mission ( more so for students than universities). Sure glaring personality issues may come out but even in this case I have had students get admitted who I thought should not be admitted and visa versa. Maybe admissions committee take the interviewers report into consideration in borderline cases (up or down) but as many schools say (in this pandemic period) interviews are not manditory. Ok maybe required in special cases/programs/scholarships.

That being said if you get an interview use it to you advantage to learn more about a school - turning it down gives a clear indication of disinterest.

Common courtesy if you get an interview - respond to set it up quickly ( or decline it). As a prior post said scheduling the interview often takes more effort than the interview itself. Interviewers know seniors are busy but so are the interviewers. A brief response short and courteous is fine. As most are now virtual ( guessing this will be the future to reach more students) there is more flexibility to scheduling. I’ve had to chase ( figuratively) students down with multiple emails that are not responded to (and calls). We are told after a certain number of non responses from multiple methods to move on ( I double check emails, phone numbers etc with the school if I dont get a response after 3 tries).

Do not be late ( especially in the virtual world).

Dress casual (nothing formal, but show a little dignity even on Zoom)

As others have said do your research but simply don’t regurgitate printed/electronic material that is available.

I do not ask for resumes ( my school discourages soliciting resumes - we are only given a name, school and state, and a possible area of study). While they may enhance conversation if the conversation is dragging they can also backfire if you are asked about something you simply listed but had little involvement in - this has happened to me on an unsolicited application where I questioned a student on one activity and he said with the pandemic he had little involvement in the activity (Resume padding).

Have questions ready (and not the standard generic ones ones you can find in a interview workshop video that would fit well with any college) and be specific (this is similar to the advice used when writing the why school A essay or the standard why school A question - it will be asked). Its possible the interviewer will have no clue of the answer but they will tell you this and might be able to give advice on who can answer the question.

Try to expand your answers to questions without being too verbose or pretentious while also trying to avoid one word responses.

Stay calm ( easy to say).

Remember interviewers are volunteers who presumably have some pride in their school so take advantage of that.

*Final word know the name of the school (seriously, I’ve interviewed for a school that also has a state school with the same name). A student (who applied to both) started asking me about details for the other school not knowing the difference…then again this student declined an interview then desperately called back near end if interview season wanting the interview ( he disclosed his parents had said it would be a good thing to do). I said fine. In addition to generic questions of me he asked about bathrooms, dorm room details and other things that seemed odd. Needless to say he didn’t give me the best impression and probably having nothing to do with my report you can guess the admissions committee’s decision.


It’s great that you are doing these interviews, and your insights are well-taken. But, cold-calling?

That’s not done in the employment screening process, so it seems a bit much to do it to teenagers. I appreciate that you offer to do it another time, but, if I could cycle back to my college admissions era, which thankfully I cannot, that would have freaked me out.


Certainly valid points that you raise. About all I can say is that in my experience, applicants seemed to lose their nervousness (what I could percieve of it, anyway) more quickly in phone interviews, whether pre-arranged or cold-called, than in-person. By far the most nervous ones I have interacted with involved in-person interviews, the stress building for however many days ahead of The Big Life-Changing and/or Life-Crushing Event.

Another thing is that I typically don’t use the “interview” word when calling – I simply tell them I’m and alum, and do they have about thirty minutes or so to talk about Brown… or would another time be better for them?

I’ve had plenty of interviews under those circumstances where over the next 20-120 minutes I got all the info I needed, they got all of their points made/questions answered – everything very relaxed – and as we’re saying goodbye they ask about getting an interview. “You just had one.”

I’m not saying my approach is a good idea for every interviewer. Newer/less experienced ones in particular might have trouble directing the applicant towards areas they would cover if they had planning-ahead time and had their brain fully in interview mode. But at least for what my college is after from the interview, it seems to work well.

FWIW I once got an email response to my interview day solicitation from an applicant saying they really wanted an interview, but the thought of it was making them so anxious they didn’t know if they could go through with it. I replied:

Now what’s this I hear about anxiety? Brown is FUN. Ipso facto*, an application to Brown is like applying to FUN, and where’s the anxiety in that? Do you start trembling when you contemplate a trip to Disneyland? Of course not! Well, I’m glad we got that straightened out : )


  • BTW, I don’t actually speak or know any Latin, so ipso facto might not be the right Latin word.

and their reply:

You’re absolutely right. I will walk into that interview like I would walk into Disneyland. Anxiety gone!

Thank you for your help : )

[I happened to draw them at the interview day, and it went fine.]


Man, how I wish you had been my interviewer!

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My daughter hasn’t done any interviews. My son did one or two informal phone interview a few years ago.

That said, it sounds like the OP is a bit distanced from what it is like being a high school senior in this day and age. For example, you should see my daughter’s email in box. Even with filters, it is way worse than my adult in box. With the pivot to online school last year, many things moved to email and students have bulging school in boxes in addition to deluge of college emails.

In addition, the class of 2022 has had very little opportunity to visit campuses, meet with college reps on campus, or even talk with others in person for 18 months. Now that my daughter has a semester of in person of school under her belt, much of the awkwardness has slipped away although she is still masked for school except for lunch outdoors. Remember, this may the first interview this kid has ever had. They didn’t get to interview for being a life guard at the pool. They went to school for 3 semesters in their bedroom and have not been giving in person presentations at school or even answering live questions. They haven’t even been answering awkward questions from their grandparents.

Agreed that students shouldn’t be late or reschedule.

However, if you are this critical of students and feel cranky enough to make this post, maybe it is time to take a break from conducting the interviews.


FWIW, much of what the OP posted resonated with me and the same gripes were often discussed amongst my alumni group. I think this is a helpful post for others reading.

We do give students a lot of grace and know that this is often their first interview experience but we are volunteering our time and some of the basics discussed here are really not too much to ask.