Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I am a senior in high school preparing for my college interviews. Harvard will interview me next week and I am nervous about what to say or the best way to answer questions. Do you have any advice that might help?
Having interviewed applicants to Harvard College for 15 years before starting Bradshaw College Consulting, I do know a thing or two about what top colleges are looking for.
Your concerns and anxieties are quite normal because the interview can make or break a student’s chances for admission. It will not, however, overcome a weak application.
While interviews can be stressful they need not be overly punishing if you understand the dynamics. The purpose of the interview is to get to know something about you that is not reflected in your application.
The thing to remember is that there is no fixed formula to follow that will guarantee a successful interview. That is because these sessions may be conducted by variety of people associated with the university — alumni, university officials or even students at the college.
My advice is to follow these tips. At least a week before your interview start organizing. Have an appropriate wardrobe ready and in good repair. Get a haircut, shine your shoes and make sure your homework or school activities are under control so that there are no loose ends to distract from the task ahead.
The best way to ward off the demons of a high-pressure interview is to make sure you get plenty of sleep the night before. The same goes for taking the SAT/ACT. Rest is the best energizer and I go so far as to recommend that my clients take the day off school before the interview to relax. A student gunning for a slot at a top university needs a stress-free day to do nothing in particular.
Be sure to eat a hearty breakfast the day of the interview. You will be nervous enough without adding hunger pains. Arrive early at the interview site and try to relax!
As I said, the interview will be focused on learning something about you that is not reflected in your application. So forget about regurgitating grades and school activities, which are essentially the same for most top applicants. They already have that information and now want to get to know about you as a person — your goals after college, personal interests and why Harvard is your choice.
Do not tell them Harvard is a place to grow up and mature. The biggest differentiator among the students who are accepted at Harvard and the ones who are rejected is their maturity level. Harvard is not a place to find yourself.
Alexander the Great was 19 years old when he conquered the world. That is the type of young man or woman top colleges are looking for. They are looking for students who can participate in high-level intellectual activities from their first day in class.
One last bit of advice. After the interview make sure you send a thank-you note to the interviewer as soon as possible. Sending it by email is acceptable. This is your last opportunity to confirm your interest in Harvard and to bond with the interviewer.
Make it short. Just a few sentences will do. Remind him or her of one aspect of the interview that was memorable.