Getting accepted into a study abroad program is certainly a great accomplishment, especially one as prestigious as BASIS.ed’s International Student Program (ISP). Not only is it a great opportunity to receive a challenging and enriching American educational experience, but it also gives you great insight into what daily life in America is like. However, we also know that getting accepted into an international student program is not easy. One part of the application process that causes students the most anxiety is the formal interview. Although interviews— whether in-person or digital—can seem daunting, they are actually just as beneficial for you as they are for the interviewer. With the right amount of preparation, interviews can greatly improve your chances of getting accepted into a top international student program.
Below, is a detailed list of the best practices for school-related interviews to make you more comfortable with the process and confident in your skills.
Do your homework
There’s a reason why you chose to apply to this particular program, right? Here’s your chance to express it. Think about all the aspects of it that appeal to you most, then connect them with your own values, goals, and interests.
It is also a good idea to do research on your program to find out basic information. This lets the interviewer know that you put time and consideration into the program and that you are serious about enrolling and participating in it. Remember, the interviewer is trying to figure out if you are going to be a good fit for the program, and you can’t demonstrate that unless you know some specifics.
At the end of the interview, you will inevitably be asked: “Do you have any questions for me?” It is essential that you answer yes, and have at least two or three thoughtful questions on hand. If you followed our first tip and did some preliminary research, coming up with a few questions should be pretty painless. Try to refrain from asking simple questions that could easily be answered on the website. Instead, come up with some creative, robust questions about elements of the program that genuinely interest you.
Prepare in advance
A great way to get ready for your interview is by practicing some potential questions that could be asked. Below is a short list of common interview questions to start you off:
- Why are you interested in this program?
- How will you contribute to your exchange school’s community?
- What are your academic interests?
- What extracurricular activities are you involved in?
- Why should we accept you over other students?
- What do you expect to be doing 10 years from now?
- How do you define success?
- What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?
- What three adjectives describe you best?
- What is an obstacle you have faced? How did you overcome it?
Practice makes perfect
Acquiring a new skill can be challenging. It often requires that you step out of your comfort zone and learn from making mistakes a few times before you finally become proficient. Doing well on interviews is no exception to this—it is a learned skill that requires practice; and the more you practice, the easier it will become and the more successful you will be.
The best way to practice for an interview is to take your sample questions— jotting down a few notes and talking points—and practice saying your answers out loud in front of a mirror, or using a recording device to play them back. Better yet, sit down with a parent, teacher, or friend and have them ask you the questions. After you finish, have them give you their honest feedback and go from there.
Dress for success
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Showing up for an interview in sneakers, tattered jeans, and a wrinkled shirt with some of yesterday’s lunch smeared on it does not make a good impression. So when selecting an outfit for your interview, try to go with something simple, classic, and sensible—and be sure to maintain proper hygiene and grooming. In general, business casual attire is your safest option.
For men, business casual attire typically consists of pairing slacks or dress pants with a clean-pressed collared shirt and dress shoes—a jacket and tie are optional.
For women, business casual attire follows the same basic guidelines as men, with the addition of skirts and dresses. Skirts should go at least to your knees and sleeveless dresses should be worn with a cardigan or blazer. Above all, make sure you feel comfortable in what you are wearing.
It is essential to be on time, if not early, for your interview. To ensure this, you should double-check your interview time, location, and directions the night before. On the day of the interview, leave early and plan to arrive at least fifteen minutes prior to your scheduled time, just in case there is traffic or you get lost.
Punctuality also applies to digital interviews. Ensure you’ll be on time for your video interview by taking care of some logistics beforehand. Once you decide what video application to use, do a trial run of your interview—make sure your location has internet access, your microphone, speakers, and web cam are working properly, all programs are installed correctly, and the interview time is confirmed for your time zone. Also, be aware of your surroundings. Try to secure a well-lit room with a relatively plain backdrop—please, no band posters or puppy calendars, however cute they may be—and eliminate all distractions and background noises.
Watch your language: verbal skills
Once the interview has started, everything rests upon how you represent yourself. To convey your thoughts, ideas, and qualifications in the best possible way, it is necessary to have proper speaking skills. The interviewer is looking to get to know you as a person, to determine if you would be a good fit for the program, so treat the interview like a conversation. Be conscious of your pace (we all tend to talk a little faster when we’re nervous), adopt a tone that is relaxed yet professional, and make sure you sound natural while answering questions.
Also, remember to listen carefully to the questions, and whenever the interviewer is speaking. That way, if the interviewer shares something you relate to, you can be receptive and add in your own experience or insights.
Be posture-perfect: body language
Your body language can say just as much as your words. That’s why it is important to be aware of your nonverbal cues during an interview.
Upon entering the room, greet your interviewer with a firm handshake and sit down with your back straight and shoulders relaxed—exhibiting good posture so you appear alert. Now comes the tough part: not letting your nerves get the best of you. Although it might be intimidating at first, always try to make eye contact with your interviewer—it’s how people communicate most effectively. It is also important to be aware of how you act when you get nervous. Do you fidget? Tap your feet? Bounce your knees? Try to notice these habits while you are practicing so you can catch and stop them during the interview. In general, having a relaxed, personable demeanor will make for a better experience for everyone.
Leave a final note
Of course, interviewers appreciate being thanked for their time. Sending a thank you note or email is a great way to reaffirm your interest in the program and make a lasting impression. The note doesn’t need to be long—start by thanking them, mention a couple of new things you learned or found interesting, comment on something you connected with or ask another question, and add a simple closing. After that, proofread your email to make sure it is free of any spelling or grammatical errors, and you’re ready to hit “send.”
Above all, remember to be yourself—you’ve worked hard to get to this point, so feel good about your accomplishments and let your natural talent shine through!