Alumni Interviewer Here: At Minimum, Please Read The Website

Hi -

I am was a first-gen student and am now serving on alumni interviews for ED and RD students applying to my alma mater, since I believe it’s important to really give back to the community and school that have opened a ton of doors for me than I could’ve ever imagined.

That said, I have done upwards of 50+ interviews and there are some feedback I think would really help everyone…

  1. Please read the website for the school and major you are applying to - I have had students not being able to say anything about why they want to attend the school, other than “This is a very prestigious school”, “This is a diverse school”, etc and other generalizations that can be said of any school in the world. The funniest answer I’ve gotten for why they want to attend the school: “My parents have told me SchoolABC students are very smart, so I will be great here”. I also had students tell me they are interested in a certain major because of specific classes that aren’t even taught under the major… Those very same students also come to realize that the major was nothing like what they had in mind during the interview and after they already submitted the application. It’s very easy to tell someone is not a right fit for the school, and especially a clear waste of my time when they don’t even know what the major actually is.
  2. Please be mindful of our time, especially we are volunteering our time to really help give you a picture of the college experience and answer any questions you guys have. I had multiple students reply to my emails >2 weeks later and speak to me as if I’m their assistant. Better yet, I had no-shows to interviews that were rescheduled twice, only to email 3 weeks later about a sob story of how they hope they had not ruined their chances. Other emails include apologizing for responding to interview request a month later (a few days before ED decisions are out), saying that they have too many emails on a daily basis (uhm, welcome to adult life?)… (at that point, I’ve already marked them as no-response, and no, they did not end up being accepted)
  3. If you don’t know something, then don’t pretend you’re an expert at it just because you think it will impress me, or worse yet, you think you can pull a fast one on me. All we want to do is to get to know the genuine you. It’s very easy to tell when students are bullsh*tting the 50 extra-curricular activities they claim to have, and a surprise to some, it’s very easy to tell when someone is reading off the screen over a zoom call.

Happy to provide any advice and guidance as well. Most importantly, good luck in the process and enjoy the senior year-

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adding on —

  1. Please be aware that the life that you have from birth through high school is very limited. Meaning, there are over 7 billion people in the world. One thing I am realizing that certain students (ones that believe they are Einsteins / God’s gift to mankind) think and speak as if the sample size of 200/300/400/500/600/700 people in their graduating class is what the world revolves around. It is important and pertinent of a life skill to always show humility and understand from early on that you will always be surrounded by people that are 100x smarter than you (I know, it’s hard to believe in your 200 person graduating class), and that it is a privilege to be in a situation where you always get to learn from people around you.
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I think that a number of these “elite” students don’t seek out their guidance counselors, and consider themselves as superstars who already are shoo-ins.

I get that the guidance counselors are overrun with students, but I know, at our children’s high school, they make time by going into the English classes, weekly, in Senior year (beginning in October) about college issues. They beg the students to make appointments for specific questions.

My eldest was nervous about her interview (at a local coffee shop) and had me drive her there an hour early while I went to the grocery store. The counselors had explained that the students needed to know their “schools”. She had her note cards with her, regarding questions about student life, the local community, part time jobs, etc.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the students don’t know anything about the schools, given that they apply to a bowl full of schools (like eating M & M’s) and are disrespectful with their interviews.
Just saddened by how unintelligent and immature they sound.

OP- long time interviewer here and I am nodding my head up and down at your post!

I would just add- if you DO take the OP’s advice and read the website, don’t think you’re scoring points with me by parroting back- word for word- what the website says. It’s no great insight on the future of the liberal arts to quote the President of the university and what SHE said about the future of the liberal arts. I was in the room when she said it (along with 499 other alums) and yes, I remember that talk. And don’t lecture me on the importance of integrating primary healthcare and behavioral economics, using VERBATIM the speech the head of the econ department gave four years ago when a new interdisciplinary center was launched. I wasn’t in the room- but have read the speech multiple times, and when someone quotes Socrates, Robert Aumann and Yogi Berra in the same paragraph, folks are bound to recognize it!

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For starters, thank you to everyone here who has taken the time to do interviews. As a former area coordinator, my life revolved around trying to dig such people up… and then pick up whatever the slack was – 46 in one season being my personal best (worst?).

A few stories of my own from the trenches:

  • The interviewee who didn’t know what state Brown is located in (though as a first-year at Brown, I did come across an Applied Math major who thought San Diego was in Nevada…
    Surf’s (not) up!).

  • The potential South Asia Studies major who was interested in China (wrong part of Asia, but they hadn’t figured that out).

  • As the OP metioned, any number of applicants who want to major in something my college doesn’t offer (Damn you, Common App!)

  • Meet-up interviews where the teenageer didn’t really focus on the directions, ending up between 45 minutes and 3 hours late (I always take things to work on, should there be down time).

  • A guy who seemed to have no discernable interest in learning, but was greatly concerned as to whether there would be four hours or more available in each school day to practice his “beats”. Once in a while they are so disengaged, you wonder if there’s some sort of coupon giveaway in connection with the interview day, and that’s the only reason they showed up (and if only because it bears repeating, “Damn you, Common App!”).

  • A would-be pre-med who wanted a career in a particular surgical specialty. “Why that specific one, as opposed to something more general?” “I have expensive tastes.”

I’ve noticed that sometimes I spend as much or even more time trying to make an interview happen as the interview itself takes. I’ve also concluded that in-person interviews rarely yield better information for my write-up than phone ones. That’s based in part on a couple of times when I’ve phone-interviewed someone and subsequently interviewed them in person as well (one was when a prior phone interviewee wrongly showed up at an interview day and I happened to draw them, having only been given a first name by the assignment desk. Gee, it feels like I’ve had this conversation before…).

What the above adds up to is I’ve found I can get good results by cold calling roughly mid-afternoon or on the weekend – not too close to potential homework deadlines – and asking if it’s an ok time to talk for thirty minutes or so. Make it clear that I know it’s without any notice, so if they want to set up another time that’s perfectly fine. It usually works out, and my throughput increases markedly compared to a lot of back and forth. Plus they seem to become relaxed/talkative sooner into the interview, not having spent days getting more and more nervous as a scheduled interview time draws closer. Instead, they are already having a fun conversation with an alum before they even know what’s hit 'em.

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coupon giveaway

You win. Thanks for the laugh!

What does an interviewer think of a student who wants to major in a subject but doesn’t have much to say in the conversation about it? What if it is clear that an LAC education would suit a student who is still figuring things out, despite what they say their intention is? Is it really necessary to have a mapped out plan and complete focus, or is it acceptable to being open to options and able to adapt? How do the interviewers interpret what they are hearing?

We all know we are talking to kids. Perfectly OK for a student to being open to options and still figuring things out. The important thing is for a student to be themselves!

If a kid wants to major in Renaissance Studies but doesn’t have much to say about it specifically- I’m fine with that. Kid reads historical fiction and is fascinated by art, wants to learn Italian? I’m good. But the kid does need to be able to talk about other interests- maybe aligned? which show some understanding of what studying history, art, language, culture, literature, is all about. Kid loves politics but maybe will major in econ or possibly sociology because she’s really interested in the origins of poverty and how it can be addressed by government, industry, etc? That’s more than sufficient! Kid loves literature but he’s also a talented graphic designer? But his chem teacher thinks he should give the sciences a chance-- that’s fine.

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Great examples!