Prep Talk Blog > May 2010

College Interviews and the Admissions ProcessI received a slew of questions about the Chronicle of Higher Education’s article on the use of college interviews in the admissions process. The main points of the VERY long article are:

  1. Most college interviews are really a sales pitch, a chance for the college or university to improve its chances of getting you to enroll.
  2. Some interviews do have an impact on the decision, but usually only at the margins.
  3. There’s no way to know which kind of interview you are getting -- the sales pitch or the one with impact -- so you should assume the latter even though it’s likely the former.

Today, I’m torn between blasting the whole college admissions process and offering advice on college interviews.  Since it’s my column, I’ll do both.

Blasting College Admissions

The whole admissions process is pretty subjective. I’ve found very few offices that have any idea of how to use writing samples, recommendations and extracurricular involvement in a way that correlates to student success.  As the article explains in some excruciating detail, college interviews, as part of the admissions process, tend to be even less useful than other factors. You can trace that to all the research from hiring in the business world that proves how even experienced interviewers aren’t likely to learn much about how a prospective employee will perform.  Fortunately, MOST of the college admissions decisions are made MOSTLY on academic records, so college interviews, essays and the rest count a lot less in the process.

Advice for the College Admission Interview

Basic Advice: Dress nicely. That means no flip-flops (I don’t care if they’re Manolos -- the admissions officer won’t know that!), and please try not to wear clothing with the logo or name of some OTHER university.  Speak clearly, be nice and play well with others.

Advanced Advice: Get to know the university or college by reading its propaganda (also known as the website and brochures), and be ready to explain all the reasons it’s your FIRST CHOICE with great enthusiasm.  Be specific -- you’ll get extra points for obscure details on faculty and academic programs of interest.  Practice interviewing skills, such as looking interested and laughing at the interviewer’s jokes.

Expert Advice: The schools that really do know how to use college interviews in the admissions process are looking for self-awareness, motivation and leadership.  Hone your public speaking skills as you would if you were auditioning for a guest spot on “Glee.”

Have you had a good (or really lousy) experience at a college interview? Any advice you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments below.

Be seeing you.

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If you think the ship has sailed on landing free money for college, you still might have a chance. Here are some scholarships you can still apply for before summer runs out, taken from a U.S. News & World Report list:  

Scholarship Deadline: June 1, 2010 

Journyx Excellence in Productivity Philosophy Essay Scholarship 

Award: $500

Requirements: Must be 18. Need to submit an essay on one of the outlined time-management related concepts. Scholarship 

Award: $1,500

Requirements: 3.5 GPA. Must submit a minimum 1,500-word essay on a specific topic. This year it is related to GM and Chrysler’s bankruptcy in 2009. 

Scholarship Deadline: June 7, 2010 

Duck Tape® Brand Duct Tape Stuck at Prom® Scholarship Contest 

Award: $3,000

Requirements: Must be at least 14 and need to enter as a couple. Need to submit a high-resolution color photograph of the couple in their originally designed duct tape prom outfits. 

Scholarship Deadline: June 24, 2010 

Jamison Award

Award: $2,500

Requirements: Must be a high school senior and submit a 1,000-word essay on energy. 

Scholarship Deadline: July 2, 2010 

Joe Foss Institute Independence Day Scholarship

Award: $5,000

Requirements: Submit a minimum 1,500-word essay on the theme: Freedom Isn’t Free. 

Scholarship Deadline: July 31, 2010 

Gen and Kelly Tanabe Scholarship 

Award: $1,000

Requirements: Must be a high school, college or graduate student. Need to include a short essay on the application. 

Castle Ink’s Green Scholarship

Award: $2,500

Requirements: 2.5 GPA. Must write a short essay on how you’re green. 

Scholarship Deadline: August 25, 2010 

American Fire Sprinkler Association Second Chance Scholarship

Award: $1,000

Requirements: Must complete a 10-question, multiple-choice test about fire sprinklers to be eligible. 

If you want more information about how to make college affordable, check out our Paying for College section and our Scholarship Search.  

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College Admissions Officers Want You (and the Trends They’ll Employ to Prove It)Time for the rest of Trendy Marketing Efforts from Colleges and Universities for 2010-2011 (That Probably Won’t Work).

Videos I

Mason and three other schools led the way by introducing videos into the application process.  Look for other schools to join in, followed by lengthy, silly debates about whether this changes the whole admission process. It doesn’t.

Videos II

Colleges and universities try to make their own versions of “High School Musical” so you’ll notice them.  Yes, Yale managed to create one video that got some media attention, but that was Yale.  Will I-Never-Heard-of University be able to go viral with similarly lame efforts?  “Glee” has nothing to fear.


The success of a few college admissions blogs leads many college admissions officers to believe that if only they created their own, suddenly their schools would catapult to the top of the rankings.  You’ll see blogs continue to proliferate -- mostly college admissions officers whining two or three times a year about how many applications they receive and bragging ineffectively about how perfect their schools are.  Warning: These tend to be sickly sweet and should be avoided by anyone with a strong gag reflex.

Sad to say, all of the cool, flashy technology in the world won’t make much a difference in the college admissions process. Schools are not successful because of blogs, including videos in the application process or Twitter.

What Counts in College Admissions

Here is what successful college admissions comes down to:

  1. The Institution: Students are looking for schools that meet their needs, from location to programs, to faculty, the campus and the student body. When you find a college or university that matches what you want, then you’ll like it.
  2. The Story: Sharing the above information through e-mail, visiting your schools, postal mailings and websites.  At the core, the most important part of this process is giving prospective students a chance to check out the information about schools to see which are the best fit.

However, this answer is boring.  Most schools still hope they can get around giving you good information by giving you information in some new, creative and cutting-edge way.

So prepare yourselves for brochures, college fairs, phone calls, postcards and text messages along with new blogs, apps, friend requests and videos with virtually no entertainment value whatsoever.  Maybe I’m wrong about what you want to see, in which case I’d love to hear from you.

In any case, my advice is to ignore all the propaganda and gimmicks and just try to find some great schools -- there are plenty out there, whether they tweet or not.

Be seeing you.

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College Admissions Officers Want You (and the Trends They’ll Employ to Prove It), Part 1For those of you nearing the end of your junior year in high school, it may be hard to imagine, but just a year from now you will have more than likely finished the college admissions process and decided what school you’ll attend.

Between now and then, college admissions officers will be reaching out to you -- a lot -- to suggest your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are only possible at <insert school name here>.

I get a lot of calls from other institutions trying to figure out how Mason breaks through all of that noise. These generally take two forms:

  1. Tell us what really cool marketing trick/gimmick/fad is working for you, or
  2. Please come work for us, as clearly it’s your brilliance and innovation that make the difference.

As you’ll soon see, most college admissions offices haphazardly lurch from trend to trend in the belief there is a technology out there that will move them ahead of the other admissions offices in the race for your attention. In an attempt to prepare you, my next couple of posts will be my list of Trendy Marketing Efforts from Colleges and Universities for 2010-2011 (That Probably Won’t Work).

And the list begins:


It seems as if everyone who is anyone has started tweeting, and college admissions officers are jumping on this bandwagon with gusto. Never mind that the data indicates that your parents are more likely to use Twitter than anyone your age, or that if you do use Twitter, you’re more likely following Justin Bieber than any admissions officer. Will you really pick a school, or even look at one, based on a tweet?


Of course, Facebook isn’t really new, but in an all-time high for creepiness, college admissions officers will seek to friend you in ever greater numbers. If you maintain good privacy on your site (including policing your friends’ habits of tagging you in unflattering photos) and you want to friend an admissions dean or two, by all means feel free. When they friend you, however, it just seems kinda ewwwww.


For the parents who periodically read these posts, “apps” means applications. Not applications to college, but applications for technology platforms and products. Watch for some colleges to introduce their own Facebook and iPad/iPhone apps this year in an attempt to be ultra-cool. But will a college app ever compete with FarmVille? Nah.

iPhone Tours

I have had at least three companies bugging me to create a campus tour you can download to your iPhone to use when you visit campus. Really? Really? You fly across the country to visit the campus, and instead of an actual student as a tour guide I should have you follow your phone? Maybe…

Stay tuned -- the second part of my list, with even more obnoxious efforts colleges and universities are investing in to woo you, is still to come.

Be seeing you.

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A number of students want to take their love of horses with them to college and beyond into an equestrian career of some sort. But as more and more colleges offer equine courses and equine degrees, how can perspective college students get over the hurdle of finding the right programs and schools for them? 

For example, we list more than 80 equine studies colleges and universities in our college search. How do you narrow it down to fewer than 10 to apply to or even the one you really want to go to? 

Of course, as you research the schools, you can consider items like location and cost, and what would make the most sense for you and your family in those areas. But there are some subject matter-specific considerations to keep in mind when looking at equine colleges. 

According to an article by Ron Meredith, president of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre, “the single most important factor for the serious horseman to consider in comparing programs is total number of hours spent on horseback.” The contact and experience with the animal cannot be matched. 

He also says to consider:
Teacher-to-student ratio
Theory classes to support the time riding
Stable space (especially if the student will be bringing a horse to school)
The school’s accreditation
Career records of graduates
So giddyup and get moving on your college search!

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Do you think it's fair if college admissions professionals "google" you or look at your Facebook profile during the admissions process?
Yes. If it's out there, it's fair game.
No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
I don't know.
The poll is closed.


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Don Munce