College Interview Tips

Josh Nowack

January 26, 2016

Having done this since 2011, I have compiled a list of tips, in no particular order, for your consideration during our time together.  This list is not based off of some internet forward.  This list is unique to me.  Admittedly, I have some pet peeves.  I am also a very direct person.  Perhaps it’s the New Jersey, but I figure that it may be helpful to disclose the things that will make our time enjoyable…and share the things that will bug me.

  1. Please take down my telephone number.  If you feel like you’ll be more than a few minutes late, please give me the courtesy of a phone call.  Being late can happen and that’s okay.  Let’s keep the lines of communication open.  Know that if I don’t see you, I will have my phone in hand wondering what has happened to you.  Email, text, call, etc are all fine.  After 15 minutes, I will have completed my beverage, will leave Starbucks and indicate to the University that you have chosen not to show up.  My interviewing schedule does not allow wiggle room for no shows.  While I am a very jovial person and I expect us to laugh, I do not take kindly to no shows.  In extenuating circumstances, where there was no possible way to send a message to me, I may reschedule our time. 
  2. I am a volunteer giving back to the University.  As such, I am choosing to spend this time with you because I am extremely passionate about higher education and about Duke University.  I have chosen to end my work day early so that I can help you as best as I can.
  3. Rescheduling is okay.  Like I said in point #1, life happens.  I have a deadline to Durham, which is usually around mid-February.  If we pass it, I cannot help you.  But if our originally scheduled time no longer works, let’s discuss.  Since I am passionate about Duke and education, I will do whatever I can to my schedule to make our interview happen.  Let’s discuss before our originally scheduled time.
  4. While dressing up can be lovely, it’s certainly not necessary on my account.  I generally will dress casually (i.e. jeans).  
  5. I have no preset interview questions.  However, I will usually start by saying - how are you doing?  But I don’t think that counts.  
  6. You don’t need your resume or transcripts; I won’t look at it.  Our time together is to discuss what’s NOT on a transcript or a resume.  I am most interested about what gets you excited in life.  Where in your life have you demonstrated leadership qualities?  I am not interested that you were the class president.  I am interested in why you became class president.  What were your challenges in being class president.  What were your defining moments.  And I don’t care if you never had a formal leadership role.  Some of the best leaders in history never held a formal position.
  7. I know nothing about you.  I am prohibited by University protocol from researching you on social media or the internet at large.  If I knew something about you or even knew your parents, I would have to recuse myself from interviewing you.  Thus, I know nothing about you.  Okay, that’s not entirely true.  I know you live in Orange County.  Most likely, you live near Rancho Santa Margarita.  When the University makes the assignment, I see your academic interests and your high school, but admittedly, I never remember them by the time we meet.  I make the assumption that you are smart and that you are applying to other competitive schools although I am prohibited from asking about them.  
  8. Truly ask yourself what makes you stand out from the crowd.  Indeed your are a unique person with gifts to offer those around you.  Tell me about your gifts.  
  9. In a rare moment in life, I give you full permission to speak confidently about your achievements.  This is not a time for modesty.  My job is to write about our time together.  Please give me material.
  10. Please be prepared to ask a few questions about Duke.  Please do not ask where North Carolina is.  I hope that by this point in high school, you’ve got that one covered.  Also, if you didn’t know that Duke was in North Carolina, please keep that one to yourself.  If you don’t know where North Carolina is - please keep that one to yourself too.
  11. Know something about the University. 
  12. Please use me as a resource.  This is my sixth year interviewing for Duke and will interview about 20-30 candidates during the application cycle.  
  13. Everything about this interview is done to try and make you as comfortable as possible.  I understand it can be intimidating.  I will try my best to be as approachable and grounded as possible.  We are meeting at a Starbucks, because it’s neutral ground and hopefully a place you’ve been to before.  Hopefully, you are comfortable there.  We are not in earshot of your parents.  We are not in my home or office.  We are in a public place for your safety and comfort.  If you recognize friends from school and are distracted, let me know and we’ll go outside.  It is super important for me that you are comfortable, that you are in the best possible place to succeed.  
  14. Most of all - just be yourself.  You are the most perfect you in the world and I recognize that you are doing the best you can to get into college. My job is to help you.  There are no right or wrong answers.  We are just going to have a conversation.  There are no trick questions.  So let’s have fun.


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