By Kelly Mae Ross




When applying to U.S. colleges and universities, prospective international students may get to interview with admissions officers or local alumni.

There’s also another option: video interviewing services. These companies conduct interviews in English with applicants and share a recording of the conversation with schools selected by the student.

A growing number of U.S. colleges and graduate programs accept, but generally don’t require, prerecorded video interviews from international applicants. The trend is more pronounced at the undergraduate level, according to companies that provide these services.

Watching videos of one-on-one conversations can help admissions officers gauge international applicants’ English speaking skills. The videos also give a sense of a prospective student’s personality, says Sonya Dudgeon Broeren, associate dean and director of international admissions at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.

“You’re trying to build a person out of a piece of paper,” Broeren says, referring to the college admissions process. “It’s very helpful when they come to life.”

Though a video interview may boost a prospective international student’s application, it adds another cost to the already expensive process of applying to U.S. schools. And in many cases, sharing a third-party video interview doesn’t replace the need to submit a score from an English proficiency test, such as the IELTS or TOEFL, which come with their own fees.

InitialView and Vericant are two companies that offer video interview services. Both are headquartered in Beijing, but they conduct interviews – either in person or online – with students around the world.

The interviews can range from 10 to 20 minutes. As part of these companies’ interview packages, students also write a short, timed essay in English. InitialView also offers an interview-only package for graduate-level applicants. The companies share both the interview videos and writing samples with schools.

Students can see lists of the colleges and universities InitialView and Vericant work with on the companies’ websites.

There are differences between the two services. A big one is that Vericant scores an applicant’s interview, using its own standards and a score range from level 1 to 6, while InitialView does not.

InitialView charges $220 for its college interview service, and Vericant’s basic interview package is priced at about $315.

Fee reductions or waivers are available for students from low-income backgrounds, according to executives from both companies. High school counselors or college admissions officials will need to communicate with the companies to verify students’ economic need.

For example, if they can confirm that students qualify for a college application fee waiver, then the interview services will likely consider reducing or eliminating their fees, say representatives from both companies.

For prospective international students interested in these services, here are five video interview tips.

1. Don’t wait to schedule the interview. Based on availability, students may not be able to sit for an interview right away – they may have to wait a week or two, says Seth Gummere, senior vice president at Vericant. He says it’s best for students to schedule an interview for sometime in early fall to meet application deadlines. Those who wait until the last minute may not be able to share their video in time to meet a school’s deadline.

Gummere says many schools his company works with stop accepting interviews in January or February.

2. Be prepared. During an interview, students will likely have a chance to talk about their academic and extracurricular interests, why they want to study in the U.S. and their future goals.

Before sitting in front of the camera, students should think of at least three things about themselves that they would like to highlight in the interview, says Terry Crawford, co-founder and CEO of InitialView.

But students shouldn’t walk into an interview planning to recite memorized answers, Crawford says.

“That’s not compelling, and you’re going to be interrupted by our interviewers,” he says. “They’re going to cut you off if it’s just a canned response.”

3. Seek help when preparing. Neil Qiao, a freshman at the University of California—Berkeley who hails from China, says his school counselor helped him prepare for his InitialView interview. “He actually walked me through the general process and gave me several websites to look at,” Qiao says. “We even got a handout, like ‘What a college interview will be like.'”

English-speaking friends are another good resource, Crawford says. Students can provide a list of topics they’d like to discuss and have a friend ask related questions. Crawford says students can record the exchange on their phone and review the footage to see how they did.

4. Be yourself. Broeren says students shouldn’t try to give the answers they think admissions officers want to hear.

“Be yourself, be authentic, be vulnerable,” says Charity Agasaro, a freshman at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who hails from Rwanda and participated in an InitialView interview. “Tell your story because people are trying to listen to your perspective.”

5. Ask if other schools will accept the video. Schools that don’t mention third-party interviews on their website and aren’t listed as partner institutions for any interview services may still accept a video. Applicants should ask the admissions offices at these schools if they would be willing to receive a video interview, Gummere says. In his experience, a lot of schools say yes.

“Most admissions offices are trying to get as much information about a student as they possibly can to help them in the decision process,” Gummere says.