I am a Brown alum who has been interviewing students since I graduated more than 25 years ago. Here are some common questions, and my answers.
Who gets interviewed?
Brown wants everyone who applies to get interviewed. There is absolutely, positively no connection between who gets interviewed and who is going to be accepted.
The only students who don't get interviewed are those who go to certain prep schools.
Athletic recruits: Yes, we want to interview you, too, even if you have a likely letter.
What's the process?
Your information is put into a database. Every geographic area has alumni chairs who match applicants to alumni interviewers. They use the database to assign you to an alum, who gets an email with your contact information. This alum then contacts you to arrange an interview.
It's all computerized. You file your application, it gets into the computer system, and is uploaded into the database.
I haven't heard yet; what does that mean?
The database goes live sometime in mid- to late October, so even if you sent in your ED application in September, you won't hear anything until late October.
Not all alums act promptly. If you haven't been contacted, it may mean the alumni chair hasn't made the assignments, the alumni interviewer hasn't looked at his/her email, or the interviewer got the email and hasn't contacted you yet. Some area chairs may make assignments the moment a name pops up; others may wait until most of the applicants are in the system. Some interviewers might call right away, others might not. And some are busy or lazy or forgetful and don't call.
In some geographic areas with few alumni, we try to arrange phone interviews. Some areas with large numbers of applicants have mass/group interview sessions -- I don't know anything about these.
If you don't hear by around Nov. 20 for early decision and by Feb. 1 for regular decision, then call admissions.
What does the interviewer know about me?
Interviewers do not see applications, transcripts, recommendations or standardized test scores. We know your name, high school, contact info and get a very brief list of extracurricular activities (i.e., "literary pubs," "music") and the academic area you are considering. We know if you have a legacy connection or are a minority.
What should I bring to the interview?
Nothing, unless the interviewer asks you to bring something. If it helps you to have your activity sheet with you, or a paper with your questions on it, then bring those.
I don't expect the applicants to bring anything to the interview. Sometimes they bring things, and I usually glance at them to be polite. Brown does not want its interviewers to base write-ups on information that Brown already has, like transcripts and resumes. If an interviewer specifically asks you to bring that stuff you should, but technically the interviewers should not be asking for it.
What questions will they ask?
Interviewers are supposed to cover these areas: Why a student wants to go to Brown and how thoughtful/genuine the reason is; intellectual qualities; and what the student will bring to the Brown community outside of academic experiences.
Some have lots of questions, others are more casual. My interviews typically last an hour and are pretty casual, although I ask some standard questions. At some point, maybe 45 minutes in, I ask if they have questions. (If the answer is no, I'm not impressed.)
Interviewers should not ask for your GPA, your SAT scores, where else you are applying and whether Brown is your first choice (or what school is your first choice). Your interviewer may ask one of these questions -- because not all interviewers are perfect or even that good at doing interviews. We're all volunteers with minimal training. If your interviewer asks you questions that are really inappropriate, then you should report your experience to Admissions.
Every interviewer is different -- some have a list of questions they stick to. Others are fine if the conversation is more freewheeling. Some will ask "hard questions" ("if you were a color, what color would you be"), but that's their personal style and not a directive from Brown. Some interviewers are very old (I'd love to know how you would define old -- I guess I am old) and have been doing this for years; others are recent graduates.
What should I wear to my interview?
This will vary depending on where you live, who is interviewing you and where the interview is taking place.
I tell my applicants to dress casually, and I mean it. I often wear jeans to interviews. I expect students to wear clean clothing. I don't want to see underwear or excessive cleavage, nothing ripped, no shirts with writing on them. I don't want to remember what you are wearing.
If you are meeting a lawyer in a downtown office, I'd dress a little nicer. I honestly don't think a Brown alum would expect a high school student would wear a suit and tie to an interview (but I could be wrong). Khakis or cords, button-down or polo shirt for guys; khakis or cords or skirt for girls. Dark-wash clean jeans can be OK too. Be comfortable.
How long will the interview last?
Interviews can last from 15 minutes to three hours. It depends on the interviewer. Mine typically last one hour.
What does my interviewer do after the interview?
We go back to the same website where we got your name and fill out a form, which is electronically uploaded to admissions. Three to five days after you learn about your acceptance/denial, we learn. We are not told why.
What are the due dates for the alumni interview reports?
Early decision reports are due Dec. 1 and regular decision reports are due Feb. 15.
Are interviews a waste of time? Meaningless?
Many people feel the interview means nothing. I disagree.
The admissions office tells alumni all the time how important the interviews are, that they are crucial to the admissions process. Brown spends a tremendous amount of money, resources and manpower arranging interviews. We interviewers are volunteering our time, but there are staff people involved. And there are a lot of Brown alums who do this. I personally don't feel that Brown would devote so much energy to interviews if they meant nothing.
Most students have really good interviews, which is why it is rare for good interviews to improve the chances of acceptance. But I could see an instance where something comes up in an interview which wasn't explored in-depth in the application, which gets the attention of the admissions officer, which might help the student get admitted.
A really bad interview can have an impact. Here's an example -- let's say a student says during an interview that s/he has never spent a night away from home, is really scared about living away, and is very shy and quiet during the interview. That would raise a red flag about the student. What Brown might do in that case is call the guidance counselor to learn more.
Here's what an interview will NOT do: make up for a weakness in your application. If you have not taken the most rigorous curriculum in your high school, a fabulous interview will not erase that problem. So don't go into the interview thinking -- If I do an awesome job here, it will make up for my low SAT scores. It doesn't work that way.
Since almost 90 percent of students are not accepted, I suppose interviews could be considered a waste of time. But Brown views alumni interviews in other ways, as a PR
tool, and a way to put a friendly face onto what can be a cruel process.
What's a good interview?
Be articulate, enthusiastic -- and keep the conversation going.
I had an interview with a student where I hardly got to any of my questions because he was a brilliant conversationalist, who had had some interesting life experiences. He would take a question, and just run with it and take it in many directions, but leaving enough doors open that prompted other questions on that topic. He took control of the interview, and in doing so I could see how smart he was, see how quick his brain worked. He had penetrating insights to share and different perspectives on his experiences. He was not a typical student because of his experiences, what he did with them, and his well-expressed opinions.
Very few interviews stand out. I've done dozens over 3 decades, and I have forgotten almost all of them. I remember one student, an actor, who was very expressive about why one particular role meant so much to her. I could tell from her comments how intelligent and reflective she was. I vividly remember another student who came from an incredibly poor family, and was struck dumb by the herculean efforts she made to support them while expanding her own horizons. I remember the student who talked perceptively about what he learned from his job at a fast-food restaurant.
The students who stand out do so because they've either done some truly impressive things, or because the quality of their intelligence or depth of perception shines through.
Of the 4 students I mentioned above, one got in.
What questions should I ask?
Make sure the questions aren't easily answered by the website. Familiarize yourself with Brown so you sound like you know something about the school. (The student who never heard of the open curriculum -- not a good thing to come out in the interview.)
Your questions reflect you. I learn about students by what they ask.
Try to make your answer to "Why Brown" specific to Brown. There are dozens -- hundreds -- of schools that will challenge you academically and provide diversity. That is not unique to Brown. Do some research on the website. Find professors or classes or programs or activities that are special to Brown.
(Yes you can talk about the open curriculum -- but remember that's what everyone talks about. Try to be more original.)
How do I prove I am interested in Brown if it doesn't track visits? (Not an interview question, but thought I'd throw this in)
By interest, I think Brown means two things.
First, it hopes to glean from your essays and interview that your interest in going to Brown is sincere. So the more specific and personal you are, the better. If you talk to a professor, mention that (i.e., saying something like "I spoke to Kurt Teichert of the environmental studies department and learned that the way the department uses the local community for research fits the type of efforts I do now in HS and want to do when I get to Brown" -- and be even more specific than that). In other words -- do a lot of research, get to know about Brown more than just the superficial "I like the new curriculum because I never have to take French again" and convey that -- that shows interest.
Second, Brown is looking for fit. For example, because there is no core curriculum or distribution requirements, students have to be self-reliant and active in pursuing academics. Brown isn't for everyone, and part of your job is to convince them that you can succeed there -- and contribute to and enrich the community.
While Brown does not track visits, if you live close and don't visit, and that comes up in your interview -- that's not a good thing.
All this said -- there will be plenty of students who express a lot of interest who will not get in, and some extraordinarily strong students who might have shown indifference and even told an interviewer that Harvard is their first choice who will get in. With an 11% acceptance rate, Brown can afford to be pretty picky.