How to Prepare for an Alumni Interview

An alumni interview is a meeting between a college applicant and a graduate of the college that he or she is applying to — a member of the institution’s alumni network. Usually, it’s an optional part of the general admissions process, although some competitive programs may require applicants to undergo it.

Usually, alumni interviews are done by private colleges and universities, including selective ones such as Bryn Mawr College, Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Optional or not, it’s always a good idea for any college applicant to ace an alumni interview to make a positive impression on both the alumni interviewer and the college’s admissions officers.

In this post, we will talk about what to do before your alumni interview as well as those that you should avoid doing during the time you spend with your alumni interviewer. Read on if you got asked to undergo one or just want to be ready just in case.

But before that, let’s answer some of the most pressing questions many college-bound students have about alumni interviews.

What is an Alumni Interview?

An alumni interview is a college admissions interview conducted by a college graduate who is now a part of the institution’s alumni network. Its purpose is for the alumni interviewer to provide college admissions officers additional information about the applicant and allow the applicant to learn more about the institution.

Agreeing to an alumni interview allows you to showcase your talents and interests as well as emphasize your academic and career goals, which the alumni interviewer will relay to the admissions officers at your top-choice college.

It’s also a great way to demonstrate your interest by asking questions about the college and your intended major.

And now, l will provide some quick answers to a couple of pressing questions…

How Long Does an Alumni Interview Last?

Typically, alumni interviews last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. However, it will depend on the policy of the college. Georgetown University, for instance, instructs alumni interviewers to spend at least 30 minutes with the applicants so that they can create a report that is relevant and helpful enough.

How Does a College Choose an Alumni Interviewer?

Colleges and universities that conduct interviews during the admissions process select interviewers based on various factors. They include the location and availability of alumni members as well as their willingness to interview college applicants. In some instances, alumni interviewers are chosen based on their expertise.

Can an Alumni Interview Help You Get Into College?

Whether or not an alumni interview can impact admissions chances will depend on the institution conducting it. According to a 2019 National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) report, small private colleges tend to put more weight on alumni interviews in the admissions process than their larger counterparts.

Refrain from thinking that alumni interviews are conducted to weed out applicants in the admissions process.

They are neither given to provide weak applicants an opportunity to redeem themselves nor allow strong applicants to prove to college admissions officers that they are indeed worthy of an offer to matriculate.

Colleges and universities choose which applicants to undergo an alumni interview based on the availability of alumni members in their areas and not according to the competitiveness of their applications. Besides, based on the same NACAC report mentioned before, only 6% of colleges see alumni interviews as of considerable importance in the admissions process.

Let’s answer some questions you may have in mind but feel too shy to ask…

Will Declining an Alumni Interview Hurt Your Admissions Chances?

Turning down an alumni interview is unlikely to hurt your chances of getting into your dream college. However, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your designated alumni interviewer as soon as you have decided to decline the interview so that he or she can inform the college and schedule another applicant who is also located in your area.

Can Acing the Alumni Interview Get You Into Harvard?

According to a blog posted by Harvard University itself, an alumni interview will never make or break your application to the Ivy League school. It added that, if anything, showing up to your alumni interview is an opportunity for you to learn more about Harvard and show the institution that you are indeed the person your application may have painted you to be.

Where Does an Alumni Interview Take Place?

Because an alumni interview is conducted by an alumni member and not an admissions officer, it’s not held on campus. Instead, an alumni interview is conducted in the local area of the college applicant, in a public space such as a library or coffee shop. An alumni interview can also take place virtually.

Fret not if you are asked by the college of your choosing for an alumni interview and you are cities or states away — an alumni interview is not an on-campus affair, so you will not be asked to fly.

When it comes to where the alumni interview will take place, you and your interviewer will have to agree to meet at a mutually comfortable location in the area. As a matter of fact, at times it can be conducted in the applicant’s high school.

And now, I will answer a couple of questions related to this matter…

Can Alumni Interviews be Held Over the Phone?

Other than in person and via video call, many colleges and universities also conduct alumni interviews through phone calls. Some examples include Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Middlebury College and the University of Pennsylvania. Both the alumni interviewer and college applicant are prohibited from recording the phone call.

Can an Alumni Interview Take Place in My Home?

It’s not uncommon for many postsecondary institutions to advise their alumni interviewers against conducting interviews in the homes of college applicants for liability reasons. The location of an in-person alumni interview should be comfortable and agreeable enough for both the student applying to the college and his or her designated alumni interviewer.

Which Colleges Offer Alumni Interviews?

Not all colleges and universities in the US conduct alumni interviews. The vast majority of those that do are private institutions, in particular selective ones. While there are also some public schools that conduct alumni interviews, too, they are less common than private ones due to a usually larger pool of applicants.

Applied to mostly private competitive schools such as the Ivy Leagues and those with Ivy-like statuses?

Then chances are that someone will get in touch with you via email or phone call to invite you for an alumni interview. Still, it will depend on whether or not you are in an area where there are volunteer alumni members.

While there are some institutions that decide which applicants should be subjected to alumni interviews, others allow applicants to request an interview, although it will depend on factors such as their location as well as if there are interviewers available in the vicinity. But then there are also colleges and universities that do not entertain alumni interview requests.

Here are some institutions known to offer alumni interviews:

  • Bowdoin College
  • Bryn Mawr College
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Dartmouth College
  • Georgetown University
  • Harvard University
  • Harvey Mudd College
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Princeton University
  • Skidmore College
  • Stanford University
  • Tulane University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Rochester
  • Washington and Lee University
  • Wesleyan University
  • Western Governors University
  • Yale University

Let’s end this particular topic by answering the following related questions…

What’s the Difference Between Alumni Interviews and On-Campus Interviews?

Alumni interviews, as the name suggests, are conducted by alumni members, and they are offered to applicants in areas where there are volunteer alumni interviewers available. On the other hand, on-campus interviews are conducted by college admissions officers themselves, and they are usually offered to applicants who are valued in the admissions process.

When Do Alumni Interviews Take Place?

Most alumni interviews are conducted in the summer or fall of junior year of high school. However, an alumni interview can also occur earlier, particularly among early decision and early action applicants. When it comes to the time of day or day of week alumni interviews take place, they are usually scheduled late in the afternoon or early evening or over the weekend.

Tips for a Great Alumni Interview

And now, we have arrived at the core of this post: some tips on how to prepare for your alumni interview!

It all starts with gearing up for such an important moment in the life of someone who is about to transition from secondary school to postsecondary school, which can happen several days or a few weeks in advance, depending on when you receive your email from a volunteer alumni member inviting you to participate in an interview.

Below, you will come across some of the steps to take before the alumni interview happens.

Respond ASAP

Making a good first impression matters a lot, and it starts not when you arrive at the venue but at the time that you agree to undergo the alumni interview process.

As soon as you receive an invitation via email, respond.

Let the alumni member who is designated by your dream college to conduct the interview know right away whether or not you will be able to participate. Either way, remember to thank the alumni member for the opportunity for the college’s admissions officers to know you more on his or her behalf as well as for you to know more about the institution you wish to attend.


Don’t wait for the alumni interview itself before you figure out what it’s like to be interviewed by an alumni member.

Practicing for one of the most important parts of the college application process days in advance is a great way to make the entire experience not only memorable but also work to your advantage as a college applicant.

Start by practicing your communication skills in front of a mirror or even a video recorder — in the process, check which facial expressions and body language look nice and not so nice. Polish how you greet your interviewer and the way you introduce yourself as well as the way you answer some common alumni interview questions.

And speaking of which, here are some common questions asked during an alumni interview:

  • Tell me something about yourself.
  • What do you like to do outside of school?
  • Which extracurricular activity in high school is particularly meaningful to you?
  • Tell me about a challenge you’ve had to overcome in high school.
  • What is your biggest strength?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • Who is your role model?
  • How do you think your friends would describe you?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Why do you want to attend this university?
  • Why do you want to major in this particular discipline?
  • What can you bring to the campus?

It’s also a great idea to practice with a family member or friend who will serve as your alumni interviewer. To make everything as realistic as possible, let the other person pick random questions that are likely for an actual alumni interviewer to ask.

Prepare Some Questions

You can rest assured that the alumni interviewer will show up at the venue with a list of questions.

Don’t let him or her be the only one to have questions to ask — also take with you some questions to ask the volunteer alumni member. No, the goal is not to test the interviewer on how much he or she knows the college or your intended major.

The goal, instead, is to have a much better idea of things such as what it’s like to be a student at the institution — how’s the campus life, dorm, the food, professors, classes, hangouts and activities outside the campus, etc. — as well as how the college prepared the alumni interviewer for his or her current career.

Here are some examples of questions that you may ask your alumni interviewer:

  • What advice would you give me if I decided to attend this school?
  • Did you enter college knowing what you wanted to focus on academically?
  • Did the curriculum prepare you enough for your first job?
  • How did campus life help shape your career path?
  • How did the school’s location affect your college experience?
  • How much time per week did you spend studying?
  • What do you know now that you wish you knew during your time at this school?
  • Is there something you didn’t like that much about your college experience?

Research the College

Most questions you have about the college of your choosing are best answered by someone who actually attended the institution such as the alumni member who is designated to administer the interview.

However, some questions can be answered by visiting the school’s website or taking advantage of Google.

Before you head to the venue of your alumni interview, research your college. Of course, it’s something that you must have already done prior to putting it at the top of your college list. Still, it’s good practice to brush up on your knowledge of the postsecondary institution by rereading your notes about it and revisiting bookmarked sites and pages.

Researching your top-choice college all over again will not only allow you to ask your alumni interviewer some smart and relevant questions but also enable you to answer his or her college-related questions with confidence and ease.

Bring Your Resume

Prior to heading to the venue of your alumni interview, print 2 copies of your resume — for you and your interviewer.

Showing up to the interview with a couple of your resume is not a requirement unless the email sent to you by the volunteer alumni member specifically instructs you to do so. However, having them around can help facilitate the interview session for both your interviewer and you, the interviewee.

The alumni interviewer may or may not want your resume. Either way, it’s perfectly fine for you to look at it at any given time during the interview just in case you can’t remember something and your resume has it.

Pick the Right Attire

No matter if the alumni interview is in-person or virtual through a video call, dress for the part.

Wearing formal clothes is not a requirement, but you should not underdress or look unkempt either. You can put on something that aligns with your personality, although see to it that you will not look like someone who should not be taken seriously. Of course, dressing presentably and comfortably can help you feel less anxious and more confident during the interview.

Harvard University, for instance, says that applicants who are scheduled to undergo an alumni interview need not dress in formal attire — they can wear something that they would wear to school.

The only time you can skip dressing nicely is if the alumni interview will be done through a phone call.

What Not to Do On an Alumni Interview

There are things that you need to do before your scheduled alumni interview if you want it to go well, and there are also things that you have to do during your alumni interview.

In this post, instead of talking about them, we’ll talk about those that you need to avoid doing at all costs!

Check that you go through the following don’ts during an alumni interview to keep it from being a nightmarish experience for both you and your alumni interviewer and risk your admissions chances in the process:

Don’t be Late

College admissions officers are looking for professional and committed applicants, the kinds who will show up to their classes and internship programs on time, and being late for your alumni interview can put you in a bad light.

Don’t Bring Your Parents With You

Policy on whether or not parents are allowed during an alumni interview can vary from college to college. At MIT, for instance, parents are off-limits during interviews, based on a report by US News. Generally speaking, though, it’s a good idea to leave your folks at home since the interview is all about you anyway.

Don’t be Vague

Your alumni interviewer is not a mind reader. As such, you should always elaborate on your answers, especially since the goal of the college is to get to know you better — being vague defeats that purpose altogether.

Don’t be Too Shy to Ask Questions

Earlier, we mentioned that an alumni interview is an opportunity for a college applicant like you to learn more about the college beyond what its website is telling you. Your alumni interviewer is one of the most reputable people to answer college-specific questions given his or her firsthand experience in attending the college.

Don’t Pretend to be Someone You’re Not

Again, the college wants to know you better through the eyes of a volunteer alumni member — being genuine and honest throughout your interview can help make some of your application’s components make even more sense.

Don’t Ask If You Could Go

As mentioned before, an alumni interview can last anywhere from half an hour to an hour. Refrain from showing signs that you want to cut the interview short such as by looking at the time or asking outright how long the entire session will be.

Don’t Forget to Thank the Interviewer

Alumni interviewers are not paid by colleges — they are volunteers who agree to conduct an interview of college-bound teens they were once like years ago. Remember to thank them for their time as well as passion and dedication. Who knows? Someday, you could be a volunteer alumni interviewer yourself, too!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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