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The college interview used to be a standard component of a student's application file, but that was when students were applying to one or two colleges. Today, more and more students are applying to five, 10 and frequently 12 or more colleges. Admissions offices simply don't have the manpower to conduct that many interviews. Some colleges, such as Wake Forest University, require an interview -- either on campus or via Skype. Many of the more selective colleges and universities offer an optional alumni interview in a student's hometown or nearby.

Alumni interviews don't generally carry much weight in the final admissions decision, but students should take advantage of any opportunity to set themselves apart and a face-to-face interview is a great way to do that.

Alumni interviewers prepare a write-up on the interview and submit it to the admissions office.

>Preparation tips

Here are some tips on how to prepare for the interview:

*Do your homework. Demonstrate how well you know the college. Research the website thoroughly, including possible majors of interest, study abroad programs, extracurricular activities, etc.

*Be yourself, but don't be shy. Allow your personality to shine, but if you are a natural introvert, use this as an exercise to try coming out of your shell.

*Make it a conversation and not an interrogation. Change up the pace and rhythm of your responses. The more you can make it a two-way street discussion with questions for the interviewer, the better off you'll be.

*Share new information but not too much information. Don't restate your application, don't blame teachers and don't talk about boyfriends/girlfriends or conflicts with your parents.

*Don't sound rehearsed. You want your responses to be fresh and not sound as if you're reading off a teleprompter.

*Come prepared with questions. You can count on the interviewer leaving time for your questions. Make sure your questions are ones that can't be answered on the college website.

*Dress for success. Use your common sense. Boys don't need to wear a suit, but everyone should look neat and professional.

*Remember the basics. Arrive early, bring a copy of your resume, thank the interviewer and go it alone. Parents should not be seen or heard from in alumni interviews.

*Be prepared for a variety of questions. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes alumni want to "test" applicants and will ask questions such as "If you were a color, which one would you be and why?" Practice thinking on your feet in a mock-interview with your parents.

*Stay in touch. Be sure to send a thank-you note. Handwritten and delivered via postal mail is the best, but email will suffice.

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Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.