By Steve Lipman, former Director of Admissions at Berklee College of Music & Founder of Inside Music Schools
Top musicians know thoughtful preparation is the best way to succeed on their next big performance.
The same holds true for students planning for college admissions interviews. You can think of this interview as perhaps one of your most important performances, so treat it like a professional – prepare to your fullest extent to make sure you knock it out of the park.
During my decades as a director and dean of admissions at a leading music institution, I found that 15- or 20-minute interviews were not always optimal settings for judging an
applicant’s viability for success in college. That means the odds are stacked against you.
Applicants are sometimes nervous, jet-lagged, or perhaps didn’t sleep well the night before the interview. Additionally, most high school students have had little experience interviewing.
This stressful environment is not ideal, but it’s often all the admissions interviewer and the applicant have to determine if they are a good fit for each other.
The interviewer is trying to discern whether the candidate will enhance the student body, and is likely to persevere and graduate. Another factor that many applicants don’t think about is whether they are likable.
You can achieve “likability” by being confident, thoughtful, and – perhaps above all – prepared. So, read more on my thoughts on how to best present yourself in an admissions interview.
Arriving a few minutes early will indicate to an interviewer that you take this meeting
seriously and are respectful of their busy schedule.
Use the time you’ve gained by arriving early to observe your surroundings – do students look stressed out as they go to class? Are there people creating music around you? Do you feel you would be comfortable integrating into the overall fabric of the student body?
Most times there is a receptionist to lead you in to your interview when the admissions person is ready. If there is no receptionist to escort you and the interviewer’s office door is closed, knock right at your appointed time.
Enter the room confidently with a smile and your head held high. Offer a warm greeting such as, “Thank you for offering me this time today.”
These first steps are crucial because – as we all know – first impressions are everything. A great entrance sets the course for a productive and insightful interview.
As you speak, be aware of the interviewer’s body language as well as your own. Take your cue from the interviewer whether to offer a handshake. Keep your focus, and don’t fidget with your résumé, phone, or anything else that could become a distraction during the interview.
Make eye contact and be sure you express conviction in your responses. Your answers should be concise but detailed, and include specifics. Be as articulate as you can, minimizing extraneous words such as “um” or “ah” – speak naturally, clearly, and confidently.
Consider the entire school as your audience. Since you want to attend this institution, you should be familiar with some of its unique qualities or programs.
Referring to these particular characteristics at appropriate times in the conversation will show that you are serious about the school. Offer honest thoughts on what you feel are your unique and interesting qualities and abilities while sounding humble. Avoid clichés and generic responses at all costs!
Additionally, observe the facial expressions of the interviewer to assess whether your answers are resonating with your audience. If you find the admissions person is unenthused with your responses, don’t worry – speak with more energy, or begin to ask questions. Continual engagement is absolutely crucial.
Interviewers will have a list of questions for you. Most importantly, be ready for questions about your long-term career goals.
Be able to express why you are interested in enrolling at their school. Mention particular aspects of the curriculum, specific faculty members you wish to study under, or the types of people that make up their student body.
You may also be queried on how you feel you could contribute to the student experience there. This is a chance to share thoughts on any cross-cultural experiences you’ve had and your potential to be a positive team player or leader on campus.
In the course of the conversation, take the opportunity to share thoughts about your creativity and your willingness to step out of your comfort zone. You might be asked about the process you undertook in selecting the repertoire for your audition or the contents of your portfolio.
Engaging dialog is crucial to a successful interview. Come prepared with at least two insightful and relevant questions to ask your interviewer. If a given school has great study-abroad or internship programs, or a cross-registration policy with other schools, ask questions that make it apparent that you have done your homework.
Asking questions is a great way to get more information about the school that can’t be found on the website, and it shows a genuine interest in attending. Many interviewers look upon genuine curiosity positively – it shows initiative, passion, and a true interest in the programs their particular institution offer.
Also, interviewers are always willing to share thoughts about their school’s strong points. Expect this ahead of time, and think of these strengths in terms of your desires and future career goals.
Music school interviews are a perfect opportunity to exchange ideas and information, and in the end you want to make sure the school is a good fit for you. Engaging the interviewers in conversation – through asking questions and listening intently to what they have to say – will only make your candidacy a more serious consideration for the interviewers.
In a musical performance, many people will remember how it began and how it ended.
You’ve put your best foot forward to start your interview, so be ready to end on a positive
Giving a sincere thank you to the interviewer for his or her time and attention will
leave them with a favorable final impression.
And don’t forget to breathe – this will keep your nerves in check while you undertake one of the most important performances of your life.
Further – perhaps above all – these interviews are meant to show who you are to the admissions person. That means one of the most important things you can do is to be you!
Best of luck!
If you’re seriously considering applying to music school, you don’t have to be alone. Along with expert coaching and benefits such as my
“Simulated Admissions Interview,” my guidance can give you a leg up – placing you a head above the rest.
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