By Lee Binz
You've done a great job educating your child. They are bright, intelligent, well socialized, and have an area of passionate interest. All the required classes are under their belt, with great grades, excellent test scores, and wonderful letters of recommendation. You have kept complete and accurate homeschool records. Great preparation means a college interview or scholarship competition may be the next step.
Great news! Learning how to interview is important for all adults, whether they go to college or not. Spend some time during junior and senior year discussing interview skills while your child visits and interacts with colleges.
Whether a college requires a 30-minute interview for admission, or an 8-hour competition for scholarships, how do you prepare your child for something like this?
Do the Ground Work
During an on-site scholarship competition, colleges are looking for students with great social skills. Does the student look them in the eye and have a firm handshake? Can they talk with anyone of any age? Are they polite, yet confident? One of the reasons homeschoolers do so well in these competitions is because they often have these skills! So, relax—most of your preparation for the competition has already been done!
Schools are looking for someone who's warm and friendly. They understand kids will sound like kids and not like adults. At the same time, they are trying to decide if "the lights are on" inside. For example, if they mention a current cultural issue, can the student give an educated opinion?
Colleges are looking for an investment. They want to give money to someone who is going to improve the college’s bottom line. This means they are looking for a student who will stay at their college for all four years and graduate with a good GPA. They want students who will succeed in graduate school or career in the future, are involved on campus, and are leaders among their peers.
Homeschoolers do have an advantage. We have a curriculum advantage, with the ability to choose appropriate curriculum to educate our children. We have the testing advantage, by allowing our children to take tests that highlight their academic strengths. We have the comprehensive record advantage, by providing explanations of what we taught. And we have the character advantage, because we have time to shape and mold our children’s character and behavior every day.
These are great advantages. But when it's time for your children to interview or compete for scholarships, knowing you have the advantage isn't enough. This is when you need lists!
As in a job interview, colleges will likely ask your child, "Tell me something about yourself?" For this reason, it is a good idea to brainstorm some possible answers with your student beforehand. Colleges may ask specific questions about a student's area of specialization. Think for a moment about possible topics and stories your student could mention. Help your child also think of questions they could ask the college about their major, or the on campus living situation. Bring anything they ask you to. Take along music if your child is performing. Bring a portfolio if the art school asks for it. Read every bit of material they send, looking for a list of things to bring.
Prepare for a College Interview
Here's a list of important questions and ideas for your student to review before the interview:
12 Ways to Prepare Yourself
- Accept the offer to interview as soon as possible.
- Review your comprehensive homeschool records together with your parent.
- Think about what questions you want to ask the college.
- Make a list of things you want to be sure to say about yourself.
- Review the essay you submitted with your application.
- Consider any special situation or transcript grade you need to explain.
- Be ready to describe ways you can make the college stronger:
- Stay on campus.
- Graduate in 4 years.
- Earn a good GPA.
- Be active on campus.
- Have goals for after college.
13 Practice Questions
- Why are you interested in this college?
- What will you contribute to our college community?
- What high school courses have you enjoyed the most?
- What is the most important thing you've learned in high school?
- How do you define "success"?
- What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
- What activities do you enjoy the most?
- How would you describe your biggest achievement?
- What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
- What is your opinion on (current event)?
- If you could talk to one person (living or dead) who would it be and why?
- How do you spend your summer?
- What do you expect to be doing 5 years from now?
6 Helpful Be-Attitudes
- Be genuine—who you are, not pretending to be someone else, or stretching the truth.
- Be engaged—pay attention to the person speaking to you.
- Be assertive—everyone is in the same boat, so demonstrate confidence.
- Be interested—ask questions about the college, programs, and activities.
- Be polite—dress conservatively and speak politely to everyone while on campus.
- Be thankful—write a thank you note, and send by email and snail mail.
14 "Don't Do" Tips
- Don't look at the clock.
- Don't look at your phone—turn it completely off and leave it off.
- Don't be late.
- Don't be arrogant or boast.
- Don't lie, because they can figure it out.
- Don't respond with only yes or no answers.
- Don't tell the school they are not your first choice.
- Don't memorize a prepared speech.
- Don't ask questions covered by the college catalog.
- Don't chew gum.
- Don't wear lots of cologne or perfume.
- Don't swear or use too much slang.
- Don't be rude to the receptionist or staff.
- Don't bring a parent into the interview.
Relax and Breathe Deeply.
You have been well prepared for this moment. Think about a few ideas you can use for the general "who are you" questions. Think of it not as a competition so much as an opportunity to meet some great new friends and share your opinions on a wide range of topics. You can do this! Just let your light shine and have fun!
What is a Scholarship Competition Like?
My students experienced this process when they went to an all-day competition for a full-tuition scholarship at Seattle Pacific University. SPU invited 108 students, and 10 were chosen. Two of the kids selected that day were homeschoolers—and both were my children! Boy, did we have a party that day!
When my children were invited to the competition, they were asked to bring something that represented them. My younger son brought a charcoal drawing he had made of the French Economist, Jean Baptiste Say. My older son brought a chess demonstration board that he used to teach chess in inner city classrooms.
Every applicant displayed fabulous academics, with great test scores, and an interesting passion. All were able to talk intelligently. There were some "Survivor" moments, when students would try to out-answer, out-talk, and out-volunteer others. My younger son was surprised that other kids spoke up more than he did!
I remember when they came home from the competition. "I don't know if I won, but I had a great time! All the kids were so nice!" They loved getting to know new people - really smart kids with many interests. They met kids who talked about interesting things all day, and had a blast!
Ultimately, we learned that our students weren't chosen solely on their performance that day. They were also chosen for intangible reasons. How did they interact with other students? How did they handle the competitiveness? How did they behave when they thought nobody was looking?
Selection boiled down to socialization and character. Talk about a homeschooling advantage! Ultimately, I think they won because of how much fun they had. They went in with the right attitude and their authenticity and enthusiasm were apparent to all. Even my "quiet" son did well, thus proving it's not as much about being outgoing as it is about being genuine.
Karla's Scholarship Competition Experience
Karla did a wonderful job of preparing her son for a scholarship competition, and has some fabulous advice!
Lee, I wanted to share my son's scholarship interview and experience, but it was too long to put as a Facebook post. I hope you don't mind hearing the longer version! My son, Jeremy, has been accepted at George Fox for the fall and plans to go into the electrical/computer engineering program. His SAT scores were such that he has already received the $10,000 scholarship. In addition he was invited to their scholarship competition in February.
On the way to the college his dad and I spent a fair amount of time discussing what we thought they might ask in an interview: ‘Tell us about yourself, what are your strengths/weaknesses, what are your goals?’ etc. Several ideas came straight from your post about these interviews.
After the interview, I grilled him on what he had been asked. He said they asked about steward leadership, which was the topic of the application essay. Then the professor asked, ‘I see that your GPA was 3.97. Why wasn't it a 4.0?’ Boy, we hadn't anticipated that one! So, Jeremy replied that it was his freshman biology class, explaining that he and biology just didn't get along. Then the professor said, in an amused voice, ‘Wait, it says you are homeschooled! Your mama gave you a B!!??’ Jeremy said, ‘Well, yes, I guess I deserved it.’ And the professor added, ‘We homeschool, too, and we did that to our son once.’
We were quite amused by that, but secretly I was wondering if that lower grade would be a detriment since all the others probably had 4.0s, or if that would work in his favor since it showed he and his mom are honest.
Last week he got an email with the results of the competition. Guess what—he won! He will receive, in addition to the SAT scholarship, a scholarship for engineering, the highest for this competition. He also won a vocal scholarship as a non-music major.
There's our story. Thought you might enjoy it, especially the comment about ‘mama giving a B.’ Have a great day—and thanks for listening! ~ Karla in Washington
What a great story! It points out how human and humorous an admissions person can be. Karla's story has some great advice. Plan ahead for interviews. Practice questions with your child. Don't give up hope!
Write a Formal Thank You Note
If there was ever an instance that called for a heartfelt thank you note, it is after a scholarship competition. Have your child say thanks by email and postal service. Be sure to include specific details about their visit.
Below is an example of a genuine, heart-felt thank you note. Notice the specific compliments to the university, the professor of the class attended, the interviewer, and to the other students.
Thank you so much for both the scholarship competition and our interview on Monday. The competition in general was exceptionally well-organized for the candidates. The group discussion was excellent, fast-paced and quite insightful. I also thoroughly enjoyed my visit at the "Capstone: Political Economy" class, taught by Lisa Surdyk. It was fascinating to listen and participate as the class worked their way through current political issues using economic principles.
I also wanted to thank you for our interview and time together. You may not realize it, but the questions you asked, and even the visual feedback, really helped as I was formulating my thoughts. This was my first experience in an interview where I was able to talk about my motivation—not just what I'm passionate about, but also why. The beauty in fine arts is generally understood, but I am equally fascinated by the aesthetic of society and nature. I want to thank you for asking great questions.
Good luck in choosing the finalists from the exceptional candidates I met yesterday; you have quite a job ahead of you!
Be sure your child thanks the college for the interview or scholarship opportunity. Decisions may not be made for weeks, so this is their last opportunity to leave a positive impression. A thank you note provides a wonderful conclusion to a great opportunity.
How to Win a Scholarship Competition
(And Ace the Admission Interview)
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Preparation can help your child ace the admission interview or campus visit. Best wishes to all homeschoolers in their scholarship competitions!
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school . Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com/freebies.
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