For three of the colleges I applied to, two of the colleges had programs that required an in-person interview that would be used as a factor in determining whether a student would be accepted to the college or not. I spent time beforehand researching college interview tips and how to nail a college interview but found that many of the resources available weren’t helpful for prospective college students with a disability or chronic illness, or for prospective college students who are neurodiverse. As a result, my search history was filled with a ton of tips for college interviews that didn’t apply to me at all, and I ended up going to the interviews not knowing what to expect. While I ended up attending a different college that was my top choice and didn’t require interviews, I’ve since created a list of college interview tips for disabled students that I have passed on to other students over the years. Today, I will be sharing this list on how to nail a college interview as a disabled student or as a chronically ill student, based on my own experiences.
Schedule the interview at a time that works best for your health
When I was a senior in high school, I dealt with tremendous amounts of fatigue and chronic pain during the afternoon and evening after having to focus for long periods of time, to the point that I would take naps every day after I came home from school. For this reason, I scheduled my two interviews either on weekend mornings or weekday afternoons when I didn’t have class so that I would be able to focus on the questions and feel well-rested.
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Inquire about the interview location
While this wasn’t for a college admissions interview, I had a different interview when I was in college for a student publication that took place in the crowded student center, where I had more difficulty concentrating on what the interviewer was saying because of all of the people walking around and a large amount of visual stimuli. From that point on, I would ask where interviews would be taking place so that I could answer the following questions:
- Is this in an accessible place? Can I find where I am going with my mobility aids?
- Will there be a lot of noise, and will I be able to focus on what the person is saying?
- Could this interview location exasperate a health issue- i.e are there lots of bright/flashing lights or do I have to walk across lots of stairs?
A growing number of college admissions interviews are offered online as well as in person, so if a student feels more comfortable talking from their home, this can be a great option. When scheduling online interviews, I typically mention the name of two online meeting platforms/video chat applications that are compatible with my assistive technology, so that I can access the meeting without help, which looks something like this:
“Hello! My name is Veronica Lewis, and I received a request to schedule an online college admissions interview. Is it possible for this interview to be conducted on Zoom or Google Meet so that I can access it more easily?”
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What to wear to a college interview
While there wasn’t a strict dress code for the interviews that I went to, prospective students were encouraged to wear dressy-casual clothing. For my first interview, I wore jeans with a plain long-sleeve top, a colorful infinity scarf, dangly earrings, and flat shoes. For the second interview, I wore a sleeveless patterned knee-length dress and flat shoes, and felt completely comfortable with my outfit choice in both scenarios. My other friends generally wore button-down shirts and nice-fitting jeans or slacks with nice shoes or solid-color tennis shoes, or knee-length dresses/skirts. My biggest advice is to dress in clothing that feels comfortable to wear, and to find a way to incorporate personal style- when I was in high school, this meant including colorful clothing, cute earrings that made me feel happy, or a patterned scarf.
Take advantage of practice interviews and questions
While I may not have found a lot of the college interview tips helpful when I researched them many years ago, I did find it helpful to look at practice interview questions that were released by the college I would be interviewing at, as well as questions from other colleges. One of the main ways that I practiced was by typing out answers to these questions so that I could think about how I would answer these questions, and I would sometimes use these notes in the actual interview to help me answer the questions. While I didn’t read the answers off the page like a script, it was helpful for me to remember what I had written in the past so that I could easily construct an answer in the actual interview.
Some examples of questions and answers that I practiced and that were in my interviews include:
- If you could have any living or dead person from history over for dinner, who would you choose and why? I wrote out three different historical figures in my notes and justified my answers, and ended up using one of the answers in the interview.
- Describe a time where you helped someone else and didn’t realize it until later. I told a story about an experience I had while volunteering at a nursing home, though in another interview years later I talked about an experience with my sibling.
- Why do you want to go into this particular field of study? I talked about the profound experience assistive technology has had on my life, and my interest in creating better technology- at the time, I was planning to study computer science and assistive technology, though my final degree ended up being in data science and assistive technology
Should I disclose my disability?
I’ll be answering this question from the perspective of someone with an invisible disability that has this option- I recognize many people have visible disabilities that cannot be hidden.
I have low vision and a neurological condition called Chiari Malformation, though at the time of my college interview we did not know if my low vision condition was going to progress, I did not use a blindness cane yet, and we did not have a confirmed diagnosis for Chiari Malformation either. These two conditions impact every part of my life, including my academics, but I wasn’t very comfortable with people knowing I was disabled at the time, and I wasn’t sure if either of these colleges were particularly accommodating for students with vision loss.
In the first interview, I chose to disclose that I have low vision when the interviewer asked me why I had gotten a C in AP Psychology and why I wrote my college essay on the future of assistive technology, and they asked me additional questions because they had never heard the term low vision before, and they weren’t sure if people with vision loss would be successful in this program- please note that this is illegal.
For the second interview, I mentioned that I had low vision in passing, as I talked about my interests in improving technology for people with vision loss and how I became so interested in the field of assistive technology, and also briefly talked about how I could not be around flashing lights with my neurological condition. The interviewer did not ask any further questions, and I spent the majority of the interview talking about my other interests.
Since a lot of my professional experience is linked to projects related to visual impairment and assistive technology and because I talk about my disability publicly online, I’m not afraid to disclose that I have low vision at all now, though I make sure to focus on what I contributed to each project, such as creating training videos, speaking at a conference, or writing informational blog posts.
Sharing what you are passionate about
Instead of focusing on my disability, I answered as many college interview questions as possible by talking about my other passions and accomplishments. Some of the things that came up include the fact that I can play multiple types of clarinets, my experience volunteering at a popular museum, doing a mentorship at a local elementary school, and my Microsoft Office certifications. Since a lot of other students talked about being on sports teams or the honor roll, I received a lot of questions about what my certifications were, whether the clarinets were challenging to play, or what my favorite exhibits were at the museum and why.
I know that students with chronic illness may not be able to participate in as many extracurriculars, but it’s still important to talk about personal interests and enjoyable things. One of my friends talked about a book they were writing, another friend showed off their amazing digital art, and someone else talked about how they had been playing a particular video game that the college had a club for.
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Turn negatives into positives
One of the primary reasons I became interested in studying assistive technology was because I endured years of academic ableism and wanted to invent the tools that would have helped me to thrive more in the classroom. However, this goes against popular college admission interview advice that says students should avoid talking about negative experiences, bashing teachers, or similar behaviors. Since my experiences in school are the foundation for why I chose to be in this field, I took the advice of one of my favorite teachers and learned to put a more positive spin on these negative experiences. I focused on talking about the amazing teachers that I had that helped me to have an appreciation for subjects that typically would be seen as inaccessible or difficult for students with vision loss, and occasionally mentioned things that I had learned from teachers that were less amazing, such as how a failure to get textbooks for my Spanish class taught me how to create and find accessible instructional materials so that I could be more self-sufficient.
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It’s better to have difficult goals than no goals at all
When asked about what goals I wanted to achieve in college, I gave the following answers:
- Create a resource for students with low vision that anyone can access
- Meet politicians, including members of Congress and the Senate, and talk about disability policy, as well as write my own policy memos
- Become a published writer
- Continue to play clarinet
While some of these things may have seemed unrealistic at the time, I managed to accomplish all of these things in my undergraduate years! It’s important to relate goals back to the desired major/minor, and show how a particular resource or program at the college can help a student to accomplish these goals. For example, I talked about taking writing classes and getting involved with a policy club, as well as playing at least one type of clarinet in the college pep band. My interviewers both said that these goals seemed very large, but I am proud that I was able to accomplish these things and so much more.
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Other miscellaneous college interview tips
- For students that have trouble with eye contact, look at the person’s shoulder
- Don’t be afraid to speak slowly or to think about an answer before saying it
- Ask the school guidance counselor about mock interview opportunities to practice
- Check what’s in the background before doing a video interview
- Bring a resume to the interview in case it is requested