So the interview date is set. The driving directions are printed out, and no wardrobe malfunctions are anticipated. But how do you prepare to impress?
Practice your handshake and eye contact: No need to go overboard here and crush your interviewer's hand, but a firm handshake, a solid introduction and consistent eye contact will serve you well.
Prepare for common interview questions: You can count on being asked questions such as: "Why are you interested in attending our school?" or "How did you spend your time in high school?"
Rehearse, but not too much: It's important to be comfortable with your responses but not sound like a robotic applicant.
Review your essay: You may have submitted your application months ago, and it could be very embarrassing if you're asked about your essay and you don't remember what you wrote.
Keep up with current events: Many interviewers will ask your opinions on our social, political or economic landscape. Read the newspaper at least for a week or so prior to the interview to understand issues related to our economy, our domestic or international policies and the environment.
Research questions to ask the interviewer about the college: Ask questions that demonstrate you've spent some time on the school's website and have a solid grasp of what a good college fit is for you. Ask questions that can't easily be answered in a college guidebook or from their brochures. As a fallback, you can always ask, "What do you think attracts students here?" or "Do you have any advice for me regarding the college admissions process?"
Communicate your passion and your intellectual curiosity: It's OK to be a little quirky -- not weird, but mildly offbeat is fine. Share your interests. If you collect Civil War memorabilia and participate in re-enactments, let them know. If your hobby is video games, keep it to yourself.
Bring backup materials: It's not a bad idea to bring copies of your application essays as well as your brag sheet/resume. You will need to make a judgment call as to whether to hand it over if it's not specifically requested. The brag sheet can be an ideal icebreaker, providing them with questions you're sure to feel comfortable answering.
Write the note: Yes, listen to your parents here. Writing the thank-you note is always a good idea. But capitalize on the opportunity to have their attention. Don't just say, "thanks for interviewing me." Follow up on a specific item covered during the interview -- the study abroad, for example, or an update on one of your extracurricular activities. Use the thank-you note as a way to provide more information on who you are and what makes you a strong candidate.
Here's a question I'm often asked: Is the interview a good time to explain problems in the transcript?
If there are any issues regarding your academic performance that you didn't touch on in your application, the interview can be a good time to share this information. This covers questions about learning disabilities, illnesses, family issues or any personal circumstances that may have impacted your grades.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.