I had my Princeton interview a few days ago, and here's what I learned from this experience so far.
What would an interview be like
First of all, always say yes if you get invited to an interview. The interview usually lasts for an hour or under an hour, around 30 to 60mins.
The interview is designed to get to know your personality. It should be like an engaging conversation for you to talk about yourself; what makes you a worthy applicant. There will be an open Q&A section at the end for you to ask any questions you want, do not just end the call once the interviewer finishes all his/her questions, have a few things that you want to ask.
Things to prepare for
- Know Someone Before you meet them
Research your interviewer through LinkedIn or other social media; what program she was doing during her time in school?
- Know yourself & the university
Let the interviewer get a sense of your passion; what you're interested in. Ask yourself, "why should the admissions committee take me and not somebody else?" What can I bring to the mix that no one else brings?
Besides, know the basics of the university words to words. The year it was established, the 'representative' for athletic teams (for Princeton is tigers, for Duke is Blue Devils, for Yale is bulldogs...).
The Interview Process
After the short introduction, the interviewer is very likely to ask you to "tell me about yourself." This is where you can prepare a story and build a personal connection with the interviewer.
Every time, the question that gets asked is, "why did you decide to apply to xxx?" The interviewer wants to know how you are most attracted to this particular school; what resources do they have that you want? For example, you may want to talk about their liberal arts curriculum; entering the freshman undecided can help me figure out where my strengths are.
Here are some frequently asked questions for you to have a look at:
· Why XXX?
This question comes up all the time!!! After doing my research, I decided to focus on 2 things. The James Madison Program and the Program in Entrepreneurship.
James Madison Program is to "foster intellectual environment for students to seek a better understanding of constitutional politics and the moral and philosophic dimensions of political life. It is committed to intellectual engagement - private meetings with notable guests such as cabinet secretaries of Supreme Court justices, policy leaders, and scholars." I said this program would act as a channel for me to funnel my political thoughts towards modern social problems, such as affirmative action (I see it as a seriously flawed constitutional law). Also, the program is associated with other departments; Religion, Philosophy, History, Woodrow Wilson School...
For the program in Entrepreneurship, I said it would be a social venture for me to develop my leadership ability; to change the world by starting small. I said that what fascinates me the most is the Core Course of Business Ethics, Succeeding Without Selling Your Soul. Basically, the general populace owns at least a college diploma, so in order to stand out in front of billions of people, we have to challenge our status quo and learn things practically because you only know something when you apply the knowledge to the real world. Without hands-on experience, the rocket becomes unlaunchable.
· What extracurriculars have you taken part in high school?
For EAs, I mainly talked about rowing. What types of boats I am proficient at (single, double scull, quad, and eight), and what position do I row in eight. She isn't very familiar with the differences between the 8 seats, so I talked her through.
· What is your proudest achievement?
Display your achievement. I mentioned Henley Royal Regatta 2020, our squad was scheduled to attend, but it was unfortunately canceled due to COVID. The hardship we underwent in training sessions; trying to stay motivated without any outside competitions due to all the restrictions...
· What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
You need to show how you are a good fit for that school. Do you embody the characteristics of a good leader?
· What do you want to study on-campus? And How have you developed this academic interest in and outside the classroom?
This is an academic question for you to talk about why you have chosen this particular major. Luckily we all decided to major (at least I intend to) in the same degree, Economics. When I said preferably I will do a minor in Political Science, she said she's into politics too! So we spent like 30 minutes discussing politics, the problem with freedom of speech, what's wrong with authoritarianism, etc. Just say whatever you are most interested in, and ideally, the interviewer will follow up on that.
· How do you hope to be involved in the student body at xxx if you are admitted? What new perspectives and experiences could you contribute to your future classmates/roommates?
Universities LOVE diversity. They want people with diversified interests to fulfill all their resources. The Dance Club, engineering school, basketball team, or entrepreneur program in which the participants can get out the school and make a lot of money and give back to the university, so they can fund new facilities and give financial aid to those who need to go to the school. If you are an Asian like me, don't overthink about being unique in terms of ethnicity or gender preferences, there are much more than that.
· What are your favorite books/movies/tv shows and why?
This one didn't come up, but I'd be talking about the book I am reading now, called Essays on Love by Alain de Botton (my book review is coming out later). It is a brilliant book in which the author explores the perceptions of love based on his relationship with Chole, a girl he met on the plane, traveling from Paris back to London.
· If you became president today, what are 3 issues you would address?
Unfair access in healthcare insurance, recognizing global warming, and equality in the education system.
· If you could meet one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
An essay prompt from Yale asked for this. I talked about Deng Xiaoping, who initiated the policy of 'reform and opening-up, the start of China's flourishing economy.
What does the interviewer want?
The interviewers want to see kids ready to be in college, who embody the characteristics of intellectual curiosity, willingness to work hard, the capability of steering your way who do not get overwhelmed by the multiplicity of things that exist for you to do. You want to demonstrate a detailed interest in their school, related to a specific department, a particular event they hold annually, and the distinctive courses they provide.
For me, I talked about the best thing I am looking forward to at Princeton—the people. I briefly showed my excitement for the beautiful community, well-qualified professors, engaging campus, and the opportunities for community service I will get. There are, of course, much more than this; research opportunities, internship interests, on-campus events; it really depends on what YOU like.
Questions that you can ask:
· "If you were a freshman again, what's the one piece of advice you wish somebody had given you that could make your undergraduate life better?
· As international students, we will treat the campus as our home, especially during holidays when most people are away. Do you feel like you always had a lot to do on holidays apart from additional studies and sports? What did you discover?
· Did you see the school as one cohesive community? Or is that people from the same country, with the same ethnicty, are still only hanging out with the people within their inner circle, like Chinese only go out with Chinese, Americans only go to the party with their people...?
· XXX is obviously known for its academic rigor. When you faced the course load, the number of classes you needed to attend, and the stress, especially when you needed to do your thesis starting in the junior year, what kept you going under the challenges?
· I am very into research; what opportunities did you have to work with the professors?
· The transition between high school and college, what was that like? Was there a culture shock or some aspects in life that were hard for you to adapt to?
- "RANK" Do not ever say that! Don't give your interview reason to see you as a superficial needy applicant.
2. Do not say that I am applying to XXX "because it's prestigious."
Again, be specific about the university. There are so many with a long history and many Nobel-price winners, why do you want to come here?!
3. Don't fall back on talking about your resume! E.g., the classes you take, what your favorite subjects were, and what's on your transcript… It makes you sound boring as a person.
4. Do not dress up; the interview is supposed to be informal.
5. When presenting yourself, don't cross the line as if you already know everything. It's a bad bet for you to project yourself, a 17 years old kid, as if you know what you are going to be like at 21. You are talking about the next four years of your life where you're most susceptible to radical change! You might come into the college acting pretty sure to major in computer engineering. For example, during the freshman year, you decide to take a course in sociology to fill in the distributional requirement… And then everything changes!
6. Don't overly prepare for the interview. Talking like a coached politician kills it! "I am glad that you asked that question." I mean, who would say that in an informal chat...
Many people ask 'Will they have seen my application?" Most schools don't look at your application and your test scores… Perhaps it varies for Harvard, but don't worry, it won't matter a great deal. Getting an invitation for an interview does not mean that you are a promising applicant. Usually, colleges try to give everyone an interview depending on the available alumni in your region. Overall, don't over-stress about the interview. Be willing to be flexible, just go with the flow, have fun and relax. Try to make your voice sound genuine, make a real story; the more personal you are, the better.