Dr. Michele Hernandez on College Interviews

A post by Dr. Michele Hernandez

The Chosen BookIf you want a really sobering (but great) admission read about the Ivies, pick up Jerome Karabel’s The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. It might surprise you to learn that college interviews were started so that the Ivies could discriminate against certain groups (Jews, minorities). We are not making this up! In the 80’s and 90’s, interviews at top colleges used to carry more weight, but partially in reaction to the disturbing history of interviews, the interview is MUCH less important now. In fact, most of the Ivies don’t even offer on campus interviews anymore. It’s mostly the small liberal arts colleges who still offer interviews to prospective students (because they are not overwhelmed with a million students) rather than the larger colleges.

When I worked as an Assistant Director of Admissions at Dartmouth, I spent almost my entire summer interviewing 4-5 students a day (as did the other officers). The bad thing was that only maybe 20% (or fewer) of those students ended up actually becoming applicants. Colleges eventually realized that it was not a good use of their time to spend that much time interviewing so many students who ended up not even applying. Now it’s much more likely that you will have an alumni interview ONCE YOU HAVE APPLIED to a college. Let’s say you apply to Yale early action – typically an alumni interviewer would contact you to arrange for an interview. Keep in mind that these interviews are just alums of the schools, not highly trained interviewers, which is part of the reason why colleges don’t put too much stock in them. Basically, it makes the alums feel useful and gives the admissions office a more 3-dimensional picture of the applicant. What an interview will NOT do is jettison a B student with 600 level scores into the range of a top tier college. If you are not in range of a college in terms of scores and grades, don’t count on the interview making any difference. If you ARE in range, the interview can help shed light on what you are passionate about and if you are a good fit for the school. The bottom line is that for small liberal arts schools, you should check their websites and schedule an on campus interview when you visit if they offer one. For larger schools, you should accept the offer of an alumni interview once you have applied, particularly to your ED or EA college.

2 replies on “Dr. Michele Hernandez on College Interviews”

My daughter was given both an on campus interview with a student in the admission office and later asked to do an alumni interview locally. She was accepted into that school EA and it was her top choice. We felt the process was amazingly complete. By the end of it all we were happy with the result.

But in truth I believe that once you make the “threshold cut” you get judged on what you individually bring to the school in the totality of who your child is as a human being. I felt like the school was buying a car. Who my kid was as a person was like buying a car with different options. Did the school want a 5.0 liter engine, disc brakes and a 5 speed manual transmission or did they want a luxury sedan with a large back seat and a spacious interior? That literal “taste” choice we called the “oboe” question. All things being equal did the school want my kid and her leadership skills or did they want the other kid who played the oboe? She got lucky and the oboe player didn’t. Now the oboe player is going have to suffer at Harvard? 😉

Hi Brian- Congratulations to your daughter on getting into her top choice college! We agree with your points on colleges selecting students. It’s a matter of what is the student bringing to the college, not necessarily what the college brings to the student. –Mimi and Michele

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *