Advice for the college interview

As the next crop of University of Kentucky freshmen settle in on campus, many high-school seniors in Lexington are beginning their own rite of passage, the search for the college or university they will attend next year.

Many college applications will include an alumni interview. As an alumna of Yale College, I have interviewed applicants to Yale since 2006, first in Shanghai, then in Boston, and now here in Lexington.

Since I graduated from Yale in 2000, I have been both a high school teacher and a college counselor in China. I taught and mentored students at Harvard and MIT, and now am a professor at the University of Kentucky. It has been both my job and my passion to think about what education means and how to help students get the most out of it.

As an interviewer, I am supposed to assess how the student compares to others in the applicant pool, and to explain how they would contribute to the Yale community. Because I think about and work with college students every day, it is likely that an interview with me is different from an interview with a retiree who went to Yale before there were women students.

The interview is a conversation with a peer. They want to see you as a mature and intellectual adult. Treat the interviewer's time as important; they are taking the time out of a busy schedule to see you.

You might look up your interviewer to see what he or she does; this is a chance to show that you are curious and can engage a professional in a field which may be unfamiliar to you. Proper address is important, and formal is better to start with. Finally, you should research your major and be able to explain it to someone who doesn't know what it is (and explain it in a way that would be recognized by a student of that discipline).

An interviewer needs to know that the student is curious about something and resourceful enough to learn on their own. Whether your passion is computer animation or agricultural economics, I want to know if you've pursued it beyond your classroom walls.

Almost every student I see is at the top of his or her class in high school. I want to know that some issue or problem sets your mind on fire, and I want to see how you've chased answers to these problems. I want to see you educating yourself.

Finally, it is not enough to know and to learn; I want to know that you can teach me something. Since college is a place where you're going to learn as much from your classmates as you will from your professors, I want to see you break down that passion, explain it to me and make me believe that it matters.

As an alumni interviewer, my job is to envision you at my college, and serve as your advocate to the admissions committee. It is your job to give me the story to do so, and you could start by deciding what you have to teach those around you.