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MIT staff blogger Kim Hunter '86

The Interview…Part 2 by Kim Hunter '86

The next installment of my saga...

Not surprisingly, you all seem to be the most interested about how the interviewer will evaluate you in the process and what role the interview plays in selection so while I’d planned to start at the very beginning—a very good place to start, I think I’ll have to start in the middle of the process instead.

Most of the comments/questions I received last time had to do with what the ECs look for, what questions they ask and how they evaluate the student. I can’t cover all of it at once ‘cuz it would just be too long but I’ll try to make a start here.

There isn’t any one piece of your folder that will cause us to admit or not admit you. Instead it’s about the complete picture of who you are as a student, as an individual, and as a citizen of your world. You don’t make up for one part of the application with another but each adds another piece to the puzzle which when completed is the picture of you. There is no bad essay or bad interview report for as long as they are honest and reflective of who you are they are of value to us in the process. A number of students called me last year because they were afraid they had had a bad interview so wanted another one. Sadly, we don’t have enough ECs to allow everyone to try again but I do know that every time I checked with the EC about the interview they didn’t feel the interview had been bad at all and each one had great things to say about the student.

During the interview ECs will ask you a serious of questions and most you will not be able to answer with a simple yes and no, but that’s a good thing. The more descriptive and complete your answer, the more fun the interview will be. They won’t ask you about your scores and grades but they will ask you about things you like about school or different activities and then they’ll ask you to tell them more about what you like best about the things you do. An EC told me recently that she was always looking for that subject that made the student’s eyes light up when they talk because that showed her what they found most interesting. I’m not saying we expect you to light up a room (although perhaps we could solve the energy crisis that way:-). Instead, just talk about those things that are of greatest interest to you—the things you’d miss doing the most if you had to give them up.

The downside of the admissions process is that we don’t as admissions officers get to meet each of you personally but instead only get to know you by what you and others write about you. The interview is one of the ways that we can personalize the information. ECs don’t make decisions about whether or not you are admitted to MIT nor do they tell us who we should and shouldn’t admit. Fortunately for them (and sometimes unfortunately for my colleagues and me) admissions officers have to do that. In fact, when you ask them what your chances of being admitted is, they just can’t tell you because all they know about you is what you tell them. We DON’T tell them anything else.

So the best way to prepare for your interview is to plan to talk about yourself and the things you like. The EC will like you and you will like them. You already have lots in common. They love MIT as much as you do, or they wouldn’t be sitting there.

37 responses to “The Interview…Part 2”

  1. Kim '86 says:

    @ Reena: One of my favorites as well. I was feeling left because Mikey had all those musical references so thought I’d slip one in and see if anyone caught it. Good job!!!

  2. Anon says:

    I knew that line sounded familiar smile

  3. Anonymous says:

    My interviewer didn’t ask me much, and primarily talked about himself. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to share more of my personality and interests, but such is life. Thanks for the informative post.

  4. Ehsan says:

    Thank you so much for clearing that up. Even though I have 2/3 years until applying I know now that I dont have to stress that much over my interview.
    Will I be interviewed at all? I live in Toronto, Canadal; no where near Cambridge. What if their’s not an EC around here?

  5. Hanhan says:

    Kim, great blog!! It’s so nice to have you representin’ the ECs. smile

    I think “interview” is totally formalized. It’s definitely more like a conversation that goes both ways. I’m trying to get to know the student, and the student is trying to find out more about MIT through me. I think the most commonly discussed question is “Is MIT really that hard/Will I work all the time?” Haha. I often have to dispell the notion that we are all nerds with thick glasses who like to study physics in our free time.

    Keep up the blogging awesomeness!

  6. As an EC, I wanted to second Kim’s advice to “talk about those things that are of greatest interest to you.” My advice is to come ready to talk about your favorite activity or hobby or whatever makes you YOU. The “best” interviews I’ve had are when a student really has something to tell me and I can toss my usual questions and let the student lead the discussion.

    @ Deng – I generally take notes on my laptop. If I didn’t, there is no way I could remember everything that is usually discussed at an interview! I try to be an unobtrusive note-taker, so if your EC takes notes, don’t let that throw you off.

    @ Banerjee, the form we fill out is basically a summary of the conversation.

  7. EJ Bensing says:

    I had my interview in August and it was a lot fun. I learned quite a few things about MIT that I had never heard before. My EC was an extremely interesting person and I really enjoyed talking with him.

    I’d definitely recommend doing an interview to anybody who has the opportunity.

  8. Alice'78 says:

    I take voluminous notes during an interview, in longhand, because I want to be able to remember what we talked about (and to be able to review my notes to see if I’ve missed following up on something you mentioned). I also finish all my interviews by telling my applicants that if they get home and think of something they meant to tell me about (or if a parent or friend says “whaddya mean you didn’t talk about ____”, to just leave me an email or voicmail about it. I also reserve the right to contact the student if I can’t make heads or tails out of my notes. Even if you EC doesn’t offer this, you can still send them additional info after the interview if it’s necessary to give a true picture of YOU. It can also be useful to tell your EC if you win a significant award after the application deadline but before the admissions decisions are awarded (or to tell MIT Admissions about it directly). A $250 scholarship from a local Rotary Club is not significant. Third in your state at something probably is.

    Kim’s comment that most questions will not have a yes or no answer is significant. We as EC’s

  9. deng says:

    do the EC’s actually write down notes during the interview, or is it really just pure conversation?

  10. Kevin '12 says:

    @ Ehsan

    They have ECs pretty much everywhere. I have a feeling they will find you one. smile

  11. Ivan says:

    @ Kim

    Great post, looking forward to your next posts on the interview process.

    1. If during our interviews we don´t ask as many questions concerning MIT as other students might, not because we don´t want to learn more about MIT but because we have learned/read and have had many of our questions answered by friends or bloggers at MIT or even from family members who have studied at MIT, would this seem to the EC that we are not curious or passionate about the Institute?

    2. Should we let our EC know about this “background knowledge/research” we have conducted on MIT prior to the interview?

    3. Would it be appropriate if, before the interview (a few weeks before), we ask questions to our EC about what major he/she studied at MIT, dorm lived at, etc? (This way we can have some questions ready about these topics if it interests us?)

    Thanks in advance

  12. Dane says:

    This was interesting to read. It’s what I was hoping, really. I was worried that the interview would be… Well, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was less than favorable for me. Maybe it was just the general fear you get about important things.

    Now all I need to do is finish my application and get the interview scheduled so that I can have it. Can’t forget about that.

  13. Saher says:

    Thank you very much for that information

    I am now more anxious and confident to do my interview and be completely natural smile

  14. Aditya says:

    Hello there. I’ve got a question (off-topic).
    If I’m taking AP classes which MIT doesn’t give credit for (Like Chemistry and Computers AB), will it count for anything in the application?

  15. David Sun says:

    Sounds reeeally great and constructive…

    I’ve got a question… I’m an international student in mainland China, and have been assigned an EC in Beijing in the Northern China. However, I live in south, which means that it’ll be a long trip for me if I decide to take the interview. Do MIT have any active EC in Southern part of China ( cities like Shanghai)?

    Thanks a lot.
    Replies may be sent to [email protected]

  16. Banerjee says:

    I still have 2/3 years to go, but I was just wondering how you assess (it that’s the right word)us. Do you set up a camera to record us on film (which gets sent to Cambridge), or does interviewer write a report about us?

    Just curious.


  17. @ Banerjee

    They don’t film you. You meet up, usually in a public place like a Starbucks, introduce yourselves, and start talking. I remember spending about three hours talking to a really awesome guy about science fiction and Laser Quest and good books and Tiddliwinks – he’d been the captain of the Tiddliwink team when he was here – and about college life.

    There’s apparently a form the interviewer fills out afterward, although I don’t know what’s on it. I would strongly suspect, although it’s no more than suspicion, that they’d ask whether we seemed interested in MIT (there are people who apply just because it’s famous, without caring about the culture or academics at all) and about our current involvements like clubs or sports teams.

  18. Snively says:

    MIT expects you to take full advantage of the courseload your high school offers. Even if you won’t get AP credit at MIT, taking the classes that challenge you the most is important. BUT, since MIT doesn’t give credit for several AP classes, don’t worry about taking the AP test for those, they don’t matter.

    No movie, just a written summary and evaluation.

  19. Susan '11 says:

    @ Deng: There were a few notes, but mostly conversation, if I recall correctly.

    @ Aditya: Yes, it’ll count in terms of letting MIT know how much you’re challenging yourself and how much work you’re used to doing in school. It certainly won’t count against you.

  20. mei says:

    It’s a “series of questions” not a “serious of questions”. Thanks for this, it really helps.

  21. Kim '86 says:

    @ Mei: I won’t pick on your “typos” if you don’t pick on mine grin

  22. mei says:

    Sounds good. smile

  23. Reena says:

    You quoted The Sound of Music!
    My all-time favorite movie! :D

  24. Kim '86 says:

    @Mitangi: It’s best to be clean and comfortable. If you like wearing a blazer by all means do but dark-wash jeans and a nice jacket work equally well. If ECs expect you to dress in a particular way, they will let you know when you set up the meeting.

    @ Gerardo: I will not be at the Santa Monica session. I’m doing sessions in the Bay Area over the next several days.

    @Sehar: We certainly don’t expect you to travel great distances for an interview. You could email the EC office at [email protected] to find out if there is anyone closer to you. We do prefer interviews to be face to face but on occasion use Skype when there is no other option.

  25. Kim '86 says:

    @David Sun: Please send an email to [email protected] and request a reassignment to an EC in Shanghai.

    @Ivan: ECs know that you have access to lots of information about MIT so don’t feel you have to manufacture lots of questions so that you sound interested. There isn’t a lot of information that needs to be discussed before the interview…otherwise that pre-interview would be the interview grin I would plan on discussing your research and asking about the ECs’ MIT experience when you meet.

    @Saher: You’ll be fine!

  26. Mitangi says:

    How formal is the interview? In terms of clothing, is it better to wear dress pants and blazers or something casual like dark-wash jeans and a nice jacket?

  27. Question Ms.Kim Hunter,
    by any chance (maybe you mentioned it somewhere else but i didn’t catch it) will you be attending the MIT info session in Santa Monica Tomorrow? That’s the one i will be attending.

  28. sehar says:

    i just wanted to know that i have been appointed an interviewer who is in another city from where i live.It is very hard for me to go to another city and she will be flying away to another country in 5-6 days.couldnot the interview take place on phone or video conference? is it very important to meet the interviewer face to face.looking for your swift response as my interviewer will leave for another country after few days.i have requested for phone conversation or video conference from her.i am waiting for her!

  29. Aditya says:

    Susan and Snively, thanks for the reply!

  30. Eric '89 says:

    @Susan: No, the form does not have any space that is explicitly for noting the extent of your interest in MIT, although we do evaluate the degree to which we think you will fit the Institute’s culture. (Presumably you passed that test since you are now a sophomore.) There is a narrative space where an EC might note your degree of interest, but unless it is extreme in one direction or the other, we probably won’t mention it. If you had no interest in MIT you probably wouldn’t be applying, but given how selective MIT has been in recent years we will freely admit that any applicant should have a Plan B in mind.

    Re notes: I definitely take notes at my interviews. There are two reasons. First, especially if I am doing several interviews in a short span of time (as can happen close to deadlines), I want to make sure I remember the things that came up in your interview and associate them with you rather than the other applicant I interviewed the day before or after you. While there are certain questions I have in mind as conversation starters, each interview is unique. Second, I like to think things over for a day or two before writing the interview report (sometimes because of several interviews in rapid succession I can’t get to yours right away anyway), and my notes are a way of making sure I don’t leave out anything important.

  31. Hunter '90 says:

    @ Anonymous
    I can understand your frustration at feeling the interviewer talked more than you. Often an interviewer may try to tell about their experiences in an effort to draw out a student and get the student talking. Think about if your answers or part of the conversation are conveying information about you. Interviewers do want to hear you talk more than they do. Please take to heart the statements that it probably went better than you think.

    If there’s something you think you should tell the interviewer, don’t be shy about it, even if you’re not asked. Also Alice’s point about sending an EC information afterward or asking follow ups – don’t hesitate since it’s a good chance to augment the conversation that took place.

  32. Prayosha says:

    I hve question that do we need to prepare any kind of portfolio and put all awards or certificate we got until now.
    Would that be impressive?

  33. Mitangi says:

    Thanks for your reply!
    With regards to the MIT in our Area, when you visit the UofT schools on Oct. 19, 2008 here in Toronto, are we required to reserve seats beforehand? Because I was told that I’d be getting an email regarding that but haven’t gotten one yet and my friend got it and she said that we’re supposed to register for the seats.

    How can I register in that case?

  34. Kim '86 says:

    @Mitangi: I’d be happy to register your RSVP for the meeting. Your email may have bounced if something was wrong with the address.

  35. Mitangi says:

    Sorry, I just remembered to check this right now. Totally forgot about it! If you’ve registered me already, thanks so much!! If you haven’t please add me to your list. Thank you SO much for registering me! XD

  36. Mark '75 says:

    Hi, Kim – nice blog!

    I don’t take notes during the interview – I’d like it to be more like a normal conversation. Some (many?) applicants are apprehensive about the interview, and having an interviewer writing notes about them adds to the stress level. However, as soon as the student goes out the door, I write things down so I won’t forget anything writing up the report. (Or mix up interviews if I’m doing several in a short time!)

    That’s a great suggestion, Alice ’78, of telling the student to contact you after the interview if they think of something more to add. I will start doing that myself!