One of the most important aspects of any university admissions process is the interview, and the Ivy League is no different. The interview itself, however, varies dramatically from the academic questioning experienced by most UK university applicants and the Ivy League interview is quite different from the Oxbridge experience. As so many UK students are offered so little support in making applications to US universities, we have put together these top tips on performing outstandingly in an Ivy League Interview…
Think Personal, Not Academic
While the Oxbridge interview process is ferociously academic, with students interrogated on A-level subject material or topics mentioned in their UCAS statement and even cross examined on submitted essays, the Ivy League interview is much more concerned with the individual and their personality.
Not every candidate for the Ivy League is interviewed, but many of those applying from the UK are, with interviews for Harvard, for example, organised by the Harvard Club of the United Kingdom. Applicants contact them to arrange an interview, which will not necessarily take place in a formal location and may take the form of a comfortable chat rather than an academic inquisition. Interviewers are trying to get the most rounded possible impression of who you are as a person and want to be able to champion you as an ideal candidate for university life when they report back to the admissions department.
See them as on your side –they aren’t testing you or trying to catch you out – indeed, in many cases they are unlikely to quiz you on subject knowledge at all. The Ivy League universities take much greater interest in the personalities and extra-curricular activities of prospective students than Oxbridge interviewers do, so be prepared to talk about your personality, interests, hobbies and free time as vivaciously and interestingly as possible.
Prepare an Extra-Curricular Agenda
Many Ivy League universities make it clear that they are looking for well-rounded students who will contribute widely to student life in all its forms, so it is important to think well ahead of the interview and start to compile an impressive roster of arts, sport, charitable and local activities to show your diverse interests and hobbies. Try to take some of them to an even higher level, whether it is volunteering to organise local fundraising events, taking a position of responsibility at school or competing at national level in sports or debating championships.
It is useful in preparation for the interview to think about what you have learned from each of these activities and how they may have changed you as a person or prepared you for university life. As with the admissions essay, the most successful applicants will be those who are able to analyse and consider the impact of events rather than simply recount them.
Don’t be afraid to bring a portfolio of your extra-curricular activities, with any relevant pictures, certificates and newspaper clippings. Unlike at a UK university, where this might be seen as over-the-top or showing off, Ivy League interviewers will appreciate the opportunity to explore your experiences and successes with you.
Research Your College
Since the Ivy League interview is so much more about seeing how you would fit into the student body than at UK institutions, it is extremely important to have a firm knowledge of the college you have applied to and the reasons why you feel it is a good fit for you. If at all possible you should try to visit the college before applying, or get in touch with current students so you can get a feeling for the atmosphere of the place. There is plenty of information available online and the excellent Fulbright Commission provides specific details for UK applicants. If costs are prohibitive, you can take advantage of excellent free Summer schools run by the Sutton Trust, which include week long visits to Ivy League colleges in the US.
Try to prepare a pitch that explains why you would be a perfect candidate for the specific university you are applying for – which extra-curricular areas you could contribute to and would love to be involved in, why the course setup and academic teaching would suit you and how your personality would make you a great addition to the student body. It might feel a bit clichéd, but it’s what they’re looking for!
It is also important to research the interview process of the college you are applying to as carefully as possible, as each may have different requirements and focus on different aspects of the candidate. It is often possible to get in touch with current students to pick their brains and ask for their advice and personal experiences too!
The Ivy League application process is much more open-minded and open-ended than the Oxbridge interview and this often means allowing the applicant to dictate the direction the interview takes. Many Ivy League universities invite you to bring extra items to the interview to prompt discussion – these could include recent paintings, poems or pieces of writing you have completed or even ideas of interesting topics and thoughts you would like to discuss.
Take advantage of this opportunity to show your creative side and don’t be afraid to come up with some gutsy and interesting questions to debate. Remember that the interview is all about showing your personality, so specific and unusual issues that are particularly relevant and interesting to you will be much more successful topics for discussion than more generic, traditionally ‘controversial’ subjects.