College Admission Interview Do’s and Don’ts


In the previous post, I outlined college interview basics— the things every student should do before scheduling a college admissions interview.  Today I’m adding a list of college admission interview do’s and don’ts.  These are intended for students preparing for an admissions interview, but many apply for job or scholarship interviews as well.

Parents, some of these tips may seem so obvious that you question why I’ve included them.  Most students have had limited opportunities to speak about their strengths in an interview situation.  I coached high school speech and debate for seven years and have been helping students with admission interviews for years; I’ve seen otherwise confident and articulate students do incredibly stupid things in interviews.  Don’t discount the basic and obvious guidelines for interviewing.  Don’t assume all bright students will have or use common sense when under pressure.

DO dress nicely.  Khaki pants, skirts, or slacks are appropriate for an interview.

DON’T be afraid to show your personal sense of style.  Your friends and teachers should be able to recognize you!

DO arrive ten minutes early.  Nothing starts an interview off worse than running late and having to apologize.

DON’T chew gum, swear, or use slang.

DO leave your parents behind.  The school wants to hear from you not mom or dad.  Parents can visit the financial aid office while you interview.

DO accept a glass of water if offered one.  You can take a sip if you need a moment to collect your thoughts.

DON’T bring your cell phone in to the interview.  Leave it in the car.

DO your research ahead of time.  Check some of specifics you should know as you prepare for an interview here.

DON’T act as if you are bored, in a hurry to leave, or disinterested in the university or interview.

DO sit up straight, look the interviewer directly in the eye, offer a firm handshake, and speak with confidence.

DO know the two or three main qualities, achievements, or talents you want the interviewer to know about you.  Look for opportunities to work those stories into your responses.

DON’T go to an important interview without practicing first.  Be ready to answer standard questions about your academic strengths and plans for the future.

DO bring your list of questions and extra copies of your resume.  Try to have your questions memorized, so you can speak casually to the person interviewing you.

DON’T ignore your interviewer.  Make sure you get his or her name; write it down if you might forget it.  Ask what he or does for a living and what he or she studied in college.

DO take turns asking and answering questions.  You should find out as much about the school as they learn about you.

DO remain calm and confident.  It is ok to feel nervous, but be yourself.

DON’T talk too fast.  Many people speak quickly when they feel nervous.

DO offer honest answers.  You can take a moment to think about a question before you respond.

DO have substantive reasons why THAT university is the best choice for YOU.  Location, attractiveness of the campus, and prestigious reputation are the WRONG answer to this essential question.

DON’T ramble.  Explain your answers, but know when to stop.

DO convey clearly why YOU are right for this particular university.

DON’T forget eye contact.  It was already mentioned, but too many applicants look at the table or around the room and never look the interviewer in the eye.

DO ask for a business card at the end of your interview and see if it would be ok if you contact them with any further questions.  Thank your interviewer for their time.

DO write a thank you note – a hand written card you mail.



College Admission: Getting In Doesn’t Matter If They Can’t Stay In

Rice University

It can seem like getting into college is the biggest challenge these days.  Unfortunately, getting in is only the beginning.  The real challenge is staying in and graduating.

Years ago, I had a student, J.P., who graduated in the top quarter of his high school class.  He was thrilled to be accepted by a number of colleges and he selected a small liberal arts school about three hours away from home.  At graduation, everything looked perfect.  His future was just as he imagined.  But when I saw J.P. in October, things were different.

After sitting down in my office, J.P. began explaining that he had been expelled from college for drug problems and he would be enrolling in community college for the winter term.  J.P. wasn’t involved with drugs in high school and his father was a prominent doctor in the community.  How could this happen to a good student?

J.P. admitted that he wasn’t ready for the sudden freedom and responsibility he had in college.  He also wasn’t prepared for the extremely liberal and permissive culture he found at his college.  He quickly fell in with a drug-using crowd, justifying to himself that “everyone is doing it” and “this is just part of college.”  Within the first month of school he had a few encounters with campus security.  And by mid-October he had been arrested, charged with drug offenses, and asked to leave the college.

I know students can have trouble adjusting to college life.  I understand sudden freedom can be too much for some students.  I just never expected a good student like J.P. to be one of the first of his graduating class to have to drop out.

As the excitement of high school graduation is behind us and students are enjoying the summer before heading off to school, it is essential to plan ahead for the challenges of college life.

J.P.’s situation stands out in my mind because it was so unexpected.  I’ve had a number of former students with more predictable college problems.  As you are in the college planning process, watch for these foreseeable issues:

  • In over their heads.  Some students are thrilled to be accepted at one of their “reach” schools only to find themselves struggling to keep up academically.  Other schools can put students in over their heads socially.  Look for a good fit in all areas.
  • Not ready to live independently.  Some students just aren’t ready for the responsibility of living on their own.  Other students, especially those who finished high school early, aren’t ready for some of the social dynamics on campus. In these situations a year or two at a community college may help.  Some students do better living at home and attending a university within driving distance.
  • Academically unprepared.  Unfortunately, a high school diploma doesn’t indicate readiness for college-level work.  Some students skated by in high school without learning foundational material and they need remedial classes before they are ready for university work.
  • Financially unable to finish.  Too often I’ve had parents tell me, “If he gets into ____, we will find a way to pay for it.”  The family that can barely afford the first year of college is often unable to keep up with tuition increases.  I’ve seen too many students who had to leave their dream schools after one year because they were unable to afford it.
  • Lack of motivation or purpose.  Yes, some unmotivated high school students find their purpose and passion in college.  Others seem to drag out the process – changing majors, dropping classes mid-semester, and making excuses for lack of performance.
  • All fun; no work.  I think we all have heard of some kid who partied his way out of college.  It happens more frequently than parents like to admit.  Sometimes good kids fall into a party crowd at college; other students are a party waiting to happen no matter where they attend.
  • Bad fit.  I’ve worked with students who insisted on applying to schools that didn’t fit — academically, socially, politically, geographically, financially, etc.  As much as these students tried to make these schools work, a bad fit in any area makes it very difficult to stay.  A great student at the wrong school will be unhappy and unproductive.

Try to identify potential problems and avoid them in your college search process.  Keep in mind “fit” isn’t just about finding a school that will admit you based on your scores and grades; it is about finding the college where you will be most successful.

J.P. had to struggle through the resulting legal troubles related to his drug arrest, but he was fortunate that he learned his lesson early and was able to get back on track academically.  After finishing his freshman year at community college, he was able to transfer to a state university where he finished his degree.

Remember, getting into college doesn’t matter if you can’t stay in.




Would you risk college admission on your English essay?

I’m just curious. Why would a student want to work with you on their college essay? I don’t mean this in a negative way, but our high school has students do their essays in Senior English class. Isn’t that enough? I just don’t understand why the application would be that difficult.

For those of us who applied to school way back when –  when you could have typed your essay on a typewriter instead of a computer – things were different.  When I applied to college, there was no SAT prep in my area, application deadlines were February or later, few schools required essays, and most colleges admitted almost everyone who applied.  Today things are different.

College admission is more competitive.  Applications aren’t impossible, but more is riding on those essays, short answers, activity lists, and letters of recommendation.

So why would a student work with me rather than just work with an English teacher at school? While English teachers are very knowledgeable about writing essays, they are not necessarily well informed on what colleges are looking for and the types of writing beneficial in the admissions process.

I’ve seen good suggestions backfire when the entire senior class works to write college essays en masse.  I had one young man come to me and say: Mrs. Dorsey, my English teacher says we need to have to have two instances of dialogue in each of our essays. Dialogue can work well in a college essay if it’s done well, but effective dialogue is difficult to write.  Two pieces of dialogue in each essay from every student from that entire school!  What used to be unique now is commonplace and all essays begin to sound alike!

Why would a student want to work with me? I spend a lot of my time specializing in college admissions, attending professional conferences, and speaking with admissions officers. I know what colleges do and don’t want to see in an essay.

  • I get students to tell their unique stories in the most effective way.  Colleges don’t want to hear essays that sound like I wrote them. They also don’t want to hear the same formulaic essay from every student at a particular school. They want to hear the unique, educated voice of a teenager.
  • I understand that the college essay is a student’s best opportunity to show-off abilities, talents, and strengths. The essay is so much more than the question presented and if students provide a direct and literal answer, they often overlook an essential opportunity.
  • I can help a student step back, put the essay in the context of the entire application, and formulate a response that answers the question while promoting key factors that highlight strengths not mentioned elsewhere in the application.

Yes, it’s good to have someone proofread essays and English teachers are good at doing this.  But if you know your essay might be the difference between an admission or rejection letter, you may want specialized application coaching.  I know it is a cliché, but when students submit college applications, they only get one opportunity to make a good first impression.


To learn more about Megan’s College Application Success Camp program visit:

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Dream School + Debt = Nightmare

cap w dollar questions

Should students go to the best school they were accepted to,

even if they will graduate with more debt?

What is the “best college”?  I emphasize “fit” when counseling students and families on college choice.  The best college for you may be different than the best college for me because our interests, majors, learning styles, families, personal and social goals are different.

I do not believe rankings determine which school is best, but I’m afraid this may be what the question is asking.  Rankings evaluate criteria which may not be significant to you.  (To learn more about how rankings are calculated:  Believing a higher ranked school is best often results in disappointment.

Putting the discussion of ranking aside, is it worth it to attend a higher ranked, better-known, or more prestigious school?  Not if it means graduating with a pile of debt.

Attending a prestigious university does not guarantee you a job—in today’s competitive market, you are more likely to find employment via your internships and networking efforts. Having a well-recognized name on your diploma will not get you a better starting salary or more offers of admission for graduate school. (Ask all the unemployed Ivy League graduates.)

My undergraduate degree is from Rice University, which consistently ranks in the top 20 nationwide.  It is nice to have that name recognition and prestige, but I was fortunate and my parents were able to pay for it (my two public school teacher parents).  I can’t say the education I got from Rice would be worth 20 years of student loan payments, equivalent to a home mortgage.

Nationally, student loan debt now dwarfs credit card debt. Countless news reports feature stories about graduates struggling to repay college loans, and these graduates agree that their dream educations turned into financial nightmares. I simply cannot advise students to borrow huge sums of money for their undergraduate education.

Your “best” school should be a matter of fit rather than ranking, and it should be a school you can actually afford.