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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

The Interview: 10/20 Approaches by Matt McGann '00

Some thoughts on the interview, as the EA deadline nears.

About the interview

For students applying for early action, the deadline to contact your alumni interviewer (Educational Counselor, or EC) is Friday (October 20). So, if you haven’t yet, go on to MyMIT, get your EC’s contact info, and make the call today!

Now, what if you’re applying for regular action? Well, the deadline isn’t until December 1, but I recommend that if you’re reading this now, you might as well contact your EC now, while you’re thinking of it. And I certainly recommend contacting your EC in the next month, because once Thanksgiving hits, things start to get a little crazy.

If you have already contacted your EC but haven’t yet heard back from them, don’t worry. Give your EC at least a few days to respond. If you’ve given your EC reasonable time and haven’t heard back, you can either give us a call at 617.253.4791 or drop us an email at [email protected]

What can you expect from your interview? Well, it should be like a conversation, not like a quiz. You won’t get any calculus or Jeopardy-style questions. It will be more along the lines of Tell me about yourself. What do you like to do for fun? Why are you interested in applying to MIT? What might you be interested in studying? Those kinds of questions.

My MIT interview was with an elderly alum, known to me as Mr. Neighbours. He had retired to the town next to mine. I don’t remember much from the interview except that it was at his house, which was quite dark, and seemed kinda scary to me. Nevertheless, he was nice if not particularly dynamic. He entered MIT just before the onset of World War II, and his MIT, while having the same values, was quite different from the MIT I would come to know (for example, there were many fewer humanities courses, student activities, and female students).

I don’t remember anything about the interview itself. It was interview season, and I was doing one every week or so. But with the 20-20 hindsight of an admissions officer, I suspect that interview helped me quite a bit. At MIT, the interview is an important part of the admissions process. The interview report is often one of the most helpful pieces of the application, since our interviewers ask the questions that we wish we could ask you. It supplies depth to your application, and often serves to amplify the strongest parts of your file.

I remember several of my other interviews. My Dartmouth interviewer was so cool as to make it one of my new top choices (that, combined with a major in geography!). As you know, I ultimately didn’t choose Dartmouth, but a nice alumna did make me consider it strongly. An alumnus of another Ivy League institution, on the other hand, asked me what made me special enough to attend his school. That was certainly a turn-off, though really the school is a fine place. So perhaps the lesson for this paragraph is, don’t necessarily judge a school by its interviewer.

I did keep up with Mr. Neighbours for a few years after I came to MIT. He was a great resource for me during the college selection process, and ultimately turned out to be a pretty good guy. I hope that you’ll also use your EC as a resource during the process and beyond.

The best advice I can give you for the interview is to be yourself. Treat the interview as a conversation, and as an opportunity for MIT to get to know the real you. Also, I recommend Mitra’s interview advice and Stu’s Advice On How To Approach Your Interview.

21 responses to “The Interview: 10/20 Approaches”

  1. Basant says:

    Hi Matt,

    Regular action international student. Got interviewed by my MIT EC last week itself. It was a great experience. And got a first hand account of how the punched card machines of the 60s were tamed…. Things have changed… grin

  2. Abhinav says:

    Hi Matt,

    I had my interview quite a while ago… on September 17th! Irony is that I’m applying Regular Action as an International Student, so… that was really early! But my EC really told me a lot… especially that time in January where there are no classes in MIT and anyone can start a class! That was very cool… I found out stuff that I never knew… even the website doesn’t cover it!

  3. Thank you, this is a very helpful post. I was wondering if it is a good idea to bring some sort of “portfolio” that represents you to the interview. For example, I am part of a great program called MESA, where my classmates and I work on engineering-related projects. Would it help to bring pictures of these projects or something related to them, or is it better not to do so?
    Thanks again,
    Anna

  4. Matt,
    I have been unable to reach my EC. Do you have any suggestions?

  5. Thuita Maina says:

    Thanks Matt for your advice. I was just wondering – how official should one look like? How well should I be dressed? But now I am thinking beyond that – how to express myself without saying too much of whom I am not just to please the interviewer.

  6. Vishal says:

    Hi Matt,

    Here in India I have no educatioal counsellor
    around me. I am currently in Lucknow City . Please tell me what to do.

  7. Kevin says:

    Yeah. I am applying early, about to hit submit, and so I had my interview about a month ago. I thought it was really cool how I could ask my EC some real questions and get real answers. Plus, I like that interviews are person to person, rather than person to paper to person.

    Thanks so much for having the EC system.

  8. Narbe says:

    I called my EC in the first week of October and was told to call back after completing the application. I called back last week and left a message, but have not received a response. I have tried to call back periodically, and I just left another message. The deadline is coming up so I do not know what to do. Can you help me in any way?

  9. Sharon says:

    I’m so relieved to hear that the interview is like a casual conversation. I was worried about trying to “sell” myself to my EC. Now I’m really excited about talking to Mr. Troth and hearing his stories about MIT. Thank you for taking off some of the anxiety.

  10. Daniel says:

    My interview was waived because of where I live. I still would be willing to drive however far necessary if the interview would help my chances of acceptance.

    Should I try to contact an out of state EC to travel for my interview?

  11. Chen says:

    Hi Matt,

    Your information has provided a relief for me and I am truly thankful. I was wondering: I have scheduled an interview with my EC already; however, I have not turned in my Part 2 yet. Is that a problem? In addition, for the interview, do I need to wear formal, prepare documents and etc.?

    Thank you!

  12. Greg H says:

    Nice posting from Matt. I’m an EC (second time: once in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, and returned to doing it just this year).

    Stu’s blog posting is closed for comments, but some replies there, as well as some here, made me think of something to post: namely, your EC is a person, and is most likely NOT an EMPLOYEE of MIT and its admissions department. So, if you call or e-mail your EC and don’t receive a response in a few days, that does not necessarily mean the EC is ignoring you or isn’t doing his or her job: it might mean the EC is on vacation, on a business trip, or fixing a hole in the roof where a tree came in (which has been my excuse for the past two days).

    Anyway, as an EC, here’s my paltry addition:

    (1) I try to have comfortable conversations, rather than inquisitions. I don’t think the typical EC expects you to appear prepared to have a job interview, but my advice would be to ASK that EC in an e-mail or phone conversation if they expect you to bring anything, or to dress in a particular way. My bet is the answer is “no” on both counts. In my case, I tell the students to dress however they would be dressing if they weren’t coming over for an interview, because, most likely, they’ll be dressed better than me.

    (1.1) Regarding dress–if you’re wondering, ask the EC when you set up the interview. My office is located in an R&D center at a chemical plant, so when I interview there, I don’t expect suits and ties, but my company requires certain clothing (like long pants, closed shoes, and no hanging jewelry) to get in the door. However, when I interview at home, someone showing up in a suit will probably make the neighbors think there’s an undertaker visiting, and they can go pick up my patio furniture, because I must be dead.

    (2) I tell scheduled and prospective students that I’m available to talk at any time, before OR after the interview. I look at being an EC as being a resource to MIT applicants at any point in the application process, from “curiosity” to “already applied” to “got in”. I think ALL ECs are probably the same, and if not, you should contact MIT with any follow-up questions, or to request the name of some other nearby EC who’ll be happy to talk with you.

    (3) Interviews and parts of the application: I’ve interviewed students who’ve submitted every part of the application BUT the interview, and I’ve interviewed students who’ve submitted diddly. The interview is NOT a step in a linear progression of admissions activities–it’s a step that you should complete at some point DURING those activities. Make sure you get all parts of your application in to Admissions on time, and if you happen to have your interview before or after those arrive, I don’t think it matters, as long as you meet all the time requirements.

    Anyway, just my lame addition from an EC to the vast populace reading this blog. I’m sure if I’ve said anything hideously wrong, the Admissions department will fix it, and have me sent to Georgia Tech.

  13. Lendz says:

    GREETINGS!!

    Helloo Matt McGann!

    I dought youll remember me, but I was the one that bombarded you with questions… before the seminar even began!!! The one that helped you all keep the supply of pens flowing in san Jose at the double tree. Anyways… i was looking, their is a descrepincy I dont understand admittions wise…

    My EC has told me that anyone who takes a class at a CC while waiting for their acceptance is automatically applieing as a Transfer student… he seemed a little fuzzy about this… and told me to check with you via your email address. It just so happens that my room looks like the pilaging deck of a vikings’ mess hall… I even found a 5 year old invention paper… Its funny… how incredibly wacked the ideas seem now…

    …and so your card is in their…

    somewhere…

    Where was I? oh yes, Their are a few CC offering classes that i have always been interested in, but not necesarilly to major in… and i really would like to take them… but if it means Id have to transfer in… Im going to have to think twice…

  14. manushi says:

    Hi,

    I signed up my account for MIT admissions quite a while ago, but still haven’t received my EC’s name and I really want to apply for early action, but today is the last day to sign up for an interview, so I don’t know what I should do.

  15. manushi shah says:

    Hi,

    I signed up my account for MIT admissions quite a while ago, but still haven’t received my EC’s name and I really want to apply for early action, but today is the last day to sign up for an interview, so I don’t know what I should do.

  16. jonathan says:

    Hi Matt,
    I had my interview before I started the application process. It was my first step. My EC was conversational and he englightened me on how he got into MIT and all. I spent more than two hours with him, which I enjoyed thoroughly. The best part of the whole conversation was that all the places he mentioned were familiar to me, and it gave me that comfortable feeling that I was at home and relaxed.
    jonathan (Ghana)

  17. Mikalye says:

    I’m an EC and I almost never ask about SAT’s, Class rank, or anything else that is likely to show up elsewhere on the application.

    The interview is one of the better opportunities that both sides have to work out the likelihood of a good match. The interviewer is trying to work out what characteristics of the candidate are unlikely to show up on paper, and to try to bring context to the application. We are also looking to identify whether the candidate shares MIT’s values.

    The interviewee is trying to figure out if the school is right for them. I have had candidates ask me about the judo team, what it means to live in a fraternity, and about the theatre program tours (Dramashop went to the UK this year). I have also had candidates ask me “what majors are offered at MIT?” and other questions which suggest that the candidate has never been to the MIT website. That question does not reflect well on a sense of intellectual curiousity.

    Fundamentally the interview is a (hopefully) relaxed chat. Its an opportunity for the interviewer to find out who you are without the constraints of a word-limited essay. There are of course other constraints, but that’s a separate post. I try very hard to put my interviewees at ease, and I try very hard to ensure that I reflect my candidates accurately as possible to the admissions staff. Very often the interview can be enjoyable for both parties.

    I have had students reel off their achievements at the interview, almost straight off the application, and that’s fine, if it helps them to relax, and reminds them that they have much to be proud of, but little or nothing of that usually makes it into any interview report that I write for the admissions office.

    I’m just trying to get a sense of who the candidate is, and why they want to go to MIT. One concrete hint, a candidate should be able to talk about why they chose to apply to MIT, what attracted them to the Institute, and possibly what concerns they might have about going there.

    But the interview is nothing more than a conversation, and a bad interview (and they can exist) is quite unpleasant for the interviewer as well as the interviewee, so most interviewers do work hard to avoid them.

    As to clothing, I can understand why people fret over what to wear; its one of the things you can control completely in advance. I have had people show up very casually and very formally. When I interview, I am trying very hard to put the candidate at ease (and to be at ease myself). The clothing should not interfere with that.

    If you wear a suit all the time (that tiny, tiny percentage of HS students male or female) and you feel comfortable in a suit, there is no problem wearing a suit. If you never wear one, it is likely to make it harder for you to relax, and you will come across as uncomfortable. Anyone who has ever seen news footage showing some petty criminal dressed up in a suit for trial has encountered this. You definitely don’t want the “defendant” look.

    The opposite side of the coin is that you do want to show that you care about the interview. That badly ripped t-shirt and cut-off jeans may not work well with all interviewers.

    Basically, you are looking for presentable, comfortable clothes in which you feel at ease.

    Strong caveat: This is modified by both the interviewer (there are a lot of us, and your milage may vary) and by the location for the interview. I normally choose coffee bars for my interviews, but others interview at their offices, or almost any other location.

    If you need to make a sartorial choice that you have some doubts about, or if you are genuinely unsure as to the appropriate clothing for the location, then ask the interviewer when setting up the interview (“Ummm… I’m coming straight from work, is it ok if I wear my Happy Burger uniform to the interview?” or “Given that the interview is at the beach, is a bathing suit appropriate?”). Both of these are exaggerated a little for effect; I am unaware of any beach interviews, but there may well have been one.

    One last note, I want both people in the chat to be comfortable. Certain choices make that harder. As a rule, see-through clothing or very revealing clothing makes for a difficult interview. That applies for both men and women. It just makes it harder for both people to be at ease.

    -Mikalye

    [Note much of this is cribbed from previous stuff I have written mostly on College Confidential]

  18. Just a couple of comments to the applicants *Lendz* and *Manushi*:

    (I’m an EC in Mexico)

    For Lendz: Just taking a course at a CC (I assume you are not admitted to the CC as a full-time student) is, at least IMHO, definitely *not* a reason to force you to apply as a transfer student. I would go ahead and take the courses you want to. Just to be on the safe side, you could write to the Head Honchos of the admissions process (Stu Schmill is *the* HH; just don’t expect a chat-speed response–he’s really busy right now) and ask them.

    For Manushi: in your situation, you are not quite too late yet. Search the MIT site for the admissions telephone &/or email and get in touch quick. They will try to assign you to another EC, or give you other contact information for the one you had been assigned. Stu just wrote us to tell us to be lenient with your type of case.

    Jim

  19. Aimee says:

    Regarding the community college courses:

    The vast majority of kids I’ve interviewed (I’m an EC) have taken college courses before applying to MIT.

    Obviously, you should check with the folks at the admissions office, but I asked about this for an prospective student who had a *lot* of college courses a few years ago. The answer at that time was that if you are under 18 and still living with your parents and otherwise acting like a perfectly normal really smart kid trying to get an interesting education that may not be available in your high school, you’re a freshman.

    One of the things we look for is whether you have put in the work to make the most of your educational opportunities given your existing resources and situation. Don’t shy away from taking those college classes if that’s where you need to be educationally right now.

    — Aimee

  20. Allen says:

    I’m don’t know about beach interviews, but my own interview (September 1979) took place in a tent in the woods. Coming from school I was a little overdressed, but it all worked out.

    Be comfortable; it’s not at all about how you look and I’d prefer not to even notice. Ask questions–even the ones you think are dumb or silly. Remember the EC was once your age, even if everything was black-and-white back then. If the EC didn’t remember their interview they probably wouldn’t be an EC.

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