The College Interview

By Michelle R. Berg, Psy.D

AT A GLANCE

For students with LD and ADHD, the college interview offers a chance to highlight strengths in a way that might not be obvious from your GPA It also provides an opportunity for you to determine if a particular college and culture are a good fit


2.10.11 College InterviewCollege interviews for students with learning disabilities or ADHD can be a valuable part of the application process. An interview gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your interest in a particular school and to make a positive impression on an admissions counselor. For students who apply directly to LD programs within a college, a formal interview is usually required.

Students who possess strong verbal skills and the ability to describe their learning style have an advantage during an interview.

The ability to articulate your learning issues demonstrates that you’ve achieved a desirable level of self-knowledge and maturity. These factors help the admissions staff to determine whether you’re ready for the school’s curriculum and college life.

To Disclose or Not To Disclose

Before you can prepare for a college interview, you need to decide whether to disclose your learning disabilities to admissions personnel. Making that determination is a personal decision that hinges on your situation. For example, if you do not need a formal LD program and can manage with minimal support, you may not wish to disclose.

On the other hand, if you’ve struggled academically, socially, or emotionally, you may choose to briefly describe your learning issues and how you’ve dealt with them. Describing a learning disability often helps to explain why grades have suffered in a particular area, or why grades are stronger than standardized test scores. For those who elect not to disclose their learning disability, it is helpful to talk about learning issues in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

If you decide to reveal your learning disability, make sure you learn about your diagnosis and how it affects you. Disclosing allows you the opportunity to demonstrate how you’ve succeeded despite your learning challenges. Describing academic obstacles that you’ve faced and overcome demonstrates that you have the determination and the tools to succeed.

Regardless of whether you disclose your learning disability, you should be prepared to discuss specific learning strategies that help you. While you do not need to make your learning issues the centerpiece of the interview, you should be prepared to talk about your learning issues intelligently.

Interview Preparation

The interview is a two-way proposition: For the admissions counselor it’s a chance to evaluate you as a person; for you, it’s an opportunity to determine if the college will be a good fit. It’s important that you take advantage of the interview to get out of it what you need to make a good decision should you be accepted.

Prepare for your interview by learning as much as you can about the school. Research should include areas of study that you’re interested in, study abroad opportunities, internships, and campus activities. If a school has a unique program or cutting-edge technology that distinguishes it, and you have an interest, then inquire about it. Don’t waste time asking about programs that you have no interest in.

Admissions counselors are trying to learn what is unique about each applicant, so generalized questions and answers are not helpful.

In addition to researching prospective schools, you should prepare answers for common questions, such as why a particular school is a good fit, or what specific programs or aspects of campus life are well suited to you. Be prepared to give reasons for your statements.

Additionally, be prepared to answer questions about your interests, strengths and weaknesses, personal values, likes and dislikes, and personal experiences. An interview is an opportunity to highlight achievements but also to point out challenges faced and overcome.

If you choose to talk about your learning disability, also discuss academic support that has been helpful.

Disability Services Interview

Those who disclose their learning disability should inquire about support services offered, and let the interviewer know if you’re planning to meet with Disability Services. Sharing that information signals that you are invested in meeting your academic needs.

An interview with Disability Services will likely be more informational than evaluative, but it is important to fully understand what each school offers and to determine whether the support offered meets your particular learning needs.

When students follow these guidelines and prepare thoughtfully for their meetings, college interviews can become a valuable addition to an application.

Interview Etiquette 101
In addition to preparing carefully crafted questions and answers, it is helpful to do mock interviews. When interviewing, remember basic etiquette:
  • Make eye contact
  • Don’t fidget
  • Don’t interrupt when the interviewer is speaking
  • Try to relax
  • Dress business casual
  • Turn off your cell phone
  • Send a thank you note afterwards.

Dr. Berg is an educational consultant who specializes in educational advising and placement for students with LD, ADHD, and related learning issues. She consults for the School Counseling Group in Washington, DC and is a member of the Professional Advisory Board for Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities.

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