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Take a seat

An interview with a foreign university can push your application up

education Updated: Dec 14, 2011 10:37 IST
Pooja Biraia

If you are planning to pursue an undergraduate or an MBA degree from a foreign university next year, you ought to be smack in the middle of your application procedure (or perhaps you have sent off your application, already). Once the universities process your documents, you can expect an interview call as part of the selection process. Interviews generally begin once the application deadline is reached, which is mostly, in February. (However, certain American universities conduct interviews as early as November if a candidate applies through the early action process.) Rohini Ajmera (name changed), 18, says, “I applied for an undergraduate programme in liberal arts at Yale University in October, and got an interview call in the last week of November.” Ranjan Pal, a Princeton University alumnus who conducts admission interviews for entry to his alma mater, clarifies, “The final deadline for applications to most top-rung US universities is December 31. Interviews begin in January and go on till March.”

The significance of interviews: Universities conduct interviews to gauge your full potential and look for traits that go beyond your application, including leadership qualities, integrity, maturity, creativity and passion. “Interviews are designed to evaluate a candidate’s communication and thinking skills. Often, this can be a key factor of evaluation, especially when most candidates rank highly on all other parameters such as academics, test scores and extra-curricular activities. An interview accounts for 10% to 15% of the overall application,” says Naveen Chopra of The Chopras education consultancy.

Experts differ when it comes to the link between the interview and the likelihood of securing admission. For instance, according to Mitul Gada, an international exams trainer and overseas education counsellor, interviews are likely to be the deciding factor for applicants, since those who perform badly, lose their chance of making it to Ivy League and other top-notch universities, despite having an excellent academic record. However, Pal says, “The interview is important, but not a determining factor.

The admissions committee considers the interview as one part of the selection process.” Akshay Sethi, a University of Chicago alumnus, agrees. “Most schools consider the interview to be just one more data point in the whole application.”

Tip: Don’t depend solely on a great application; brush up on your interview skills because poor communication does not reflect well on you. Interviews aren’t mandatory: Interviewing as a tool of selection varies from university to university as well as from programme to programme. “While interviews are compulsory for all undergraduate programmes at Oxbridge universities, the same is not true at the master’s level in these schools. Also, besides the Ivy Leagues and top-rung universities, many second-rung ones also interview candidates depending upon the programme,” says Chopra. Education consultant Karan Gupta says, that if a university asks for an interview, it is mandatory in most cases.

Tip: Although some universities offer students a choice, it is recommended that you attend the interview if you have been called for it, says Pal.
Modes of interviews: Each university has a different way of conducting an interview. While some have their alumni in different countries interviewing students, others offer the option of online interviews. Some schools also invite students to visit the campus for interviews in person. “When I was interviewed by the alumnus of Yale University
in Delhi, I was asked to come to Café Coffee Day. This gave it a very informal feel,” says Sharma.

“While a one-on-one interview gives you a chance to charm your interviewer with your wit and confidence, a telephonic interview tends to be more structured and keeps you from directing the interview in a way that’s favourable to you,” says Gupta.

Frequently asked questions: The admissions office is interested in an interviewer’s impressions of an applicant independent of the student’s grades and test scores, say experts.

“How did you get interested in the university; what is it about the university that appeals to you the most; which of your high school courses interest you; how would your friends describe you, are some of the questions we most typically ask students during interviews,” says Pal.

Tips for mba students
* Before the interview, analyse your strengths and weaknesses, your career progression and reasons for pursuing an MBA degree
* Write down your personality traits and introspect on your life. This exercise will not only help in your interview but will also confirm whether you are making the right career decision by taking an MBA
* Don’t get perplexed by questions like, ‘Tell me a joke’ or, ‘Tell me some bad things about your boss’. These questions are designed to test your spontaneity. The interviewer uses these questions to see how you would react in certain situations
* Be frank and if you need time to think about an appropriate answer to these questions, feel free to say that to the interviewer.
Karan Gupta, education consultant

My interview was conducted by a Princeton University alumnus at a café. He asked me questions about my extra- curricular activities and the challenges I faced as the editor of the school magazine Mallika Pal, 17, Class 12, Vasant Valley School