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Let’s talk about interviews by Melissa Cao '20

The ultimate guide

In light of interviews quickly approaching, I thought I’d do a post about interviews, especially as an admissions officer on the EC team and someone who has experienced the EC interview both as an applicant and an EC. Here we go!


A bit of background information before we dive in

In our holistic application process, the interview is one aspect where you can add some context and details to your application. It’s a chance to tell your story and for us to get to know you as a three-dimensional person, which is what we strive to do with all the other parts of the application as well. At MIT, our alumni conduct the interviews, and alumni who volunteer to help with these interviews are called ECs (Educational Counselors). After you submit your application, you may be contacted for an interview based on the availability of alumni in your region of the world. 

It is more of a conversation than an interview, so don’t stress out too much about it (I will talk more about this later); it’s one way for us to get to know you. Though the interview is optional, it is a great chance not only to show a different side of yourself but also to get to know us, and talk to someone who has gone to school at MIT. 


Past blogs about interviews

Below are some of the past blog posts about interviews gathered in one place. While a few of the MIT interview logistics may have changed since these posts were written, the insights offered in these posts are still very relevant today. 


EC takes on the interview:


People talking about their own interview experience: 


General helpful posts: 



1. Process and Timeline

In some of the posts above, you may have noticed that the authors mention contacting your EC for an interview. Our current process does not require you to do this. After you submit your application, if there is an available EC in your area, they will reach out to you using the contact information provided on your application. However, even though you do not need to initiate the email with your EC, please respond promptly. Otherwise, they are left wondering what happened, and your EC likely has other interviews they need to schedule as well (and is volunteering to do this in their free time). It’s also a good idea to check your spam inbox to ensure it didn’t end up there by mistake.

The only things an EC knows about you when they contact you are your name, school, and contact information – we do this on purpose! The EC does not see what you submitted in your application because we want the conversation to be organic. The interview is a chance to talk more deeply about the things you’re interested in and why, and to tell your story to a real live person. It’s much more of a conversation than an “interview.”

Regarding timeline, most EA interviews usually happen in November, and RA interviews in January and February. If we are not able to offer you an interview, your interview will be waived and will not negatively impact your application.


1a. Are interviews required?

They are not, because it is based on the availability of ECs in your area. However, if you are offered an interview, I would recommend you take it. Not just so we can learn more about you personally, but also because it’s another way for you to learn more about us and gauge whether there’s a right fit. You get to hear about MIT from someone who actually went here and hear about their MIT experience. Plus, it’s good practice, and a lot of these alums are doing cool things out in the world! 



2. What to expect

Every interview will be different because there isn’t a list of standard questions that an EC is required to ask. Again, this is because we want it to be a conversation. And like any conversation, it is a two-way effort. Feel free to ask your EC (thoughtful) questions about their time at MIT; I know many of them are more than happy to talk to you about their experiences, life after MIT, etc. which is why they volunteer their time to do this. Of course, the interview is mostly about you, so the majority of the conversation will be focused on you, but do take advantage of the time at the end to ask about their experiences. And while you don’t have to know every detail about MIT, maybe don’t ask something like, “Are there any opportunities to study abroad?” because that is on our website here.

I remember my own MIT interview was one of the most chill interviews out of all my college interviews – we talked about my interests, my school, my community, etc. and I got to ask my interviewer about her experiences. It was a relaxing conversation. Just be yourself! That’s the whole point of the interview after all.

On average, you can expect a length of around 30-60 minutes. However, the length is not an indication of how well you did. I want to stress again that this is just a conversation to get to know you better. It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t stress out about it too much :)



3. How to prepare

It really helps if you have things in mind to talk about and can elaborate on your answers with details or examples. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) prepare a whole speech about each of your activities and interests, but even spending just 10 minutes beforehand reflecting on your activities helps. Which activities mean the most to you? What projects did you work on? Which experiences within those activities stand out to you? What do you do outside of school and why? Allow the answers to flow genuinely.

Also, don’t feel like you need to only talk about STEM-related things the whole time. Yes, if you’re applying to MIT, you are probably interested in STEM, but it’s normal to have other interests too. The EC is trying to get to know you as a person and learn what makes you excited. It’s because we are all passionate about different things that the community is as cool and awesome as it is, so just be sincere. There’s no right or wrong answer.


3a. But how do I talk about myself and what if I’m not interesting enough?

I don’t think you should worry too much about trying to sound interesting. Everyone is interesting in their own way – you might think that something you do is “boring”, but it’s actually super interesting to someone else because they know nothing about it. If you talk about things that interest you, they will shine through in your own way and that makes it interesting. (The same could be said for the application process in general.)

Reflecting on yourself beforehand helps a lot. It gets you in the mindset of thinking about what things matter most to you and what anecdotes within your life experiences you would like to share. You might also want to think about questions that are likely to come up, such as a brief introduction about yourself, why you’re interested in MIT, etc.


3b. Okay I hear you, but I am still really stressed and what if I completely fail it??

We are looking at everything in the context of your application so even if you feel like you bombed it, we will understand if you just had a bad day, particularly if the rest of your application says otherwise. Actual humans are reading your application, so we get it01 I've definitely had my share of bad interviews... . As mentioned in this post (which I also linked above), we sometimes tend to be our own worst critics, so the EC probably didn’t think it went as badly as you think it did. They’re rooting for you too. As long as you’re being respectful and are trying to add to the conversation, it’ll be alright. Take some deep breaths and watch some bunny flops to destress.


Concluding thoughts

To put your mind to ease, I wanted to share something that a current MIT student said about his own interview:

“I really enjoyed my interview, and I found my interview to be the most influential part of the admissions process…I remember loving the opportunity to talk to someone from the school I wanted to attend, in essentially a very informal way. I was scared out of my mind going into the interview, but probably within 10 minutes I was completely comfortable. The interview lasted for 2 hours and I left it disappointed it had to end. I say again and again how to me MIT is all about the people, and the interview is the one opportunity applicants have to experience that first hand. That’s why I consider them so so important to the application. Not just because it gives us the chance to see an applicant’s personality and views and get to know THEM on a more personal level, but also because it gives the applicants the chance to see who we are as MIT.”

Now go forth with all this knowledge as you embark on interviews this week, month, or in the near future. A big thank you as well to all the ECs for conducting these interviews, and to you all for being your awesome selves whose stories we get to read.

  1. I've definitely had my share of bad interviews... back to text