Looking to differentiate your candidacy? I’m a college counselor with 15-years experience. AMA!

This topic has been tossed around by college counselors and applicants a lot lately. The consensus is that the financial aid forms are almost never needed for merit aid. That’s usually an admissions office decision rather than a decision made by the office of financial aid. Apparently, Virginia Tech is an exception.

My students who’ve received merit aid often didn’t consider filing any forms; they were just strong students, often with strong standardized test scores.

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There are no rules here. Colleges are always looking for students who they’d see as contributing to their communities. They can use essays, interviews and the dynamics that might be noticed in such an event to see who they may want on campus. Candidates need to be themselves but always display kindness and intellectual curiosity.

I wrote a piece recently for CC in which I shared some ideas for questions: College Interview Questions | College Confidential

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Do interviews actually make a difference in admission? I’ve read so many times that it’s just something to keep the alumni busy, and means nothing (unless it was a really, really bad interview) to the admissions office. Is this true? Thank you.

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Do you have any advice on how to gracefully redirect an interview that feels like it’s heading into an awkward or dead zone? I think this tends to be more a danger with student interviewers as adults tend to be more experienced in guiding a conversation, but I remember when my D17 was doing her interview rounds, the ones with students were significantly more difficult, and with my D23 getting ready to begin the process, it’d be nice to have some suggestions to jump things in the right direction again.

That can be the case, but not always. Every college has a different policy and priorities. I suggest you look at the website and see whether the interview is evaluative or informational. But even if it’s an informational interview, the ability to interview is a tremendous life skill.

I did many years of alumni interviewing for Brown prior to counseling. We had to file a formal report and could usually tell whether a candidate was sincere and what type of community member they would be. All candidates should accept interview opportunities when contacted by alums - and learn from them.

To clarify, because I have not found clear information on any college website as to whether interviews are informational or evaluative, what did Brown tell interviewers? Was the interview feedback used in the admissions process? At what point and to what extent was an interviewer’s report used?

Thanks for being specific in your expertise :slight_smile:

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As I’ve mentioned, interviewing is a life skill. That goes for interviewers, too, as applicants learn and their parents know from their own job interviewers with younger staff. I challenge all my students to have questions at the ready for their interviewers - a minimum of three. They usually know who will be conducting the interview, so they can tailor their questions appropriately. The easiest way is to have interviewers talk about their own experiences, so for students that’s their academic journey and social experiences on campus along with goals for after they graduate. Students should practice these questions but not be surprised if a student-led interview is much different from that with an admissions officer or alum.

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Brown did not convey those details to the alumni interviewers. They were good about sending admissions reps to gatherings to talk about what was going on at campus or admissions initiatives, however. If you’re not aware, Brown and other highly selective institutions (e.g., UChicago, Bowdoin) have moved to student-made videos instead.

What institution were you wondering about?

Thanks, I’m not interested in Brown in particular, but rather, I’m curious if you understand how admissions handles feedback from interviewers?

From the interviewer’s side, as I’ve seen from one highly selective school, there is a definite evaluation taking place. I wonder about the weight it carries once it’s submitted to admissions.

The best I can tell you from what I hear - and that’s not for places that really value the interview such as Georgetown - is that it can confirm a read of a candidate. If a candidate turns down an interview, now that’s a problem.

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So what can a sophomore or junior do now to shape his candidacy?
My kid is taking as much rigor as he can pull off. Doing as many ECs as he can fit in. Working weekends. Happy to get tips on how to shape all that so it looks somewhat different from the 99% of others applying next year :slight_smile:

Good for you thinking about that now!

Let me comment on a few things. There’s nothing better than having a job - if the student’s schedule permits it. They show a sense of responsibility and work ethic, not to mention that jobs are the source of the best essays!

If your student is aiming high, of course the single most important thing is rigor in the transcript (as opposed to GPA, which is an internal measure). If your student knows their gifts and direction now, try to tie it all together through course selection and a clever activity, not an abundance of activities. I’d rather have a student create a blog or podcast about her passion any day than have a resume full of things that “look good for college.”


Thank you. I should’ve mentioned that by “doing as many ECs as he can fit in,” he’s in theater.
Which, as anyone in theater knows, means one EC, hahaha.
Appreciate the insights!


Theater kids are amazing! They can really showcase their candidacy.

How much is geographic diversity worth - and should it be highlighted in an essay? I think my daughter has a unique perspective to offer NE schools having grown up in the deep south.

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Certainly, geographic diversity could be among an institution’s priorities in a given year, but we’ll never really know. While highly desirable public research universities welcome different perspectives, there are caps on enrollment from outside the home state. Alternatively, a student in the Northeast who applies to private colleges in a different area, especially where their classmates don’t apply, could be interesting to admissions.

Geographic diversity can play into essay responses in different ways. For example, a student from the Northeast who moves down South might use it in sharing their story, i.e., the Common App Personal Essay Prompt 1. Alternatively, many colleges ask what students will bring to their campus community or what community a student is part of on supplemental essays. So their ability to adapt or bring a different perspective may work very well.

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If I applied EA to a university with a Nov 1 deadline and a mid-Dec notification date, when is it too late to send an update regarding my application? (Specifically, I have two new awards to report, but I’m still waiting to hear results for another major award, and those results might not be released until the first few days of Dec.)

Congratulations on your awards! Send a very brief email to the admissions rep the week after Thanksgiving.


Thank you all for participating and thank you @uncommonapps! I’m going to close down this thread now since the AMA is over but thanks all for a lively discussion.