Defining the Purpose of the Alumni Interview

Until recently, alumni interviews seemed like a win-win-win situation for the schools, applicants, and alums involved. However, a March 2011 article from Bloomberg.com signals that some alumni are becoming disenchanted with admissions interview programs. As admissions to top-tier schools, such as the Ivy League, gets increasingly harder, alumni are seeing their success rates dwindle, prompting some to decrease their participation or stop their involvement altogether. Even as some schools, like Princeton, try to recast the interviewers’ roles and expectations to “being ambassadors for the university” rather than advocates for admissions, this new approach isn’t winning over all alums, since it elicits the question, “What great purpose is being an ambassador to 20,000 people who are not going to get in?”

I can certainly empathize with this sense of frustration. For several years, I did an average of 10-15 alumni interviews a year. As any student who has received the dreaded thin envelope or the short “Thank you for your application but…” email, rejection is hard to take, even when logic tells you that you aren’t the one being rejected. After an hour or so of conversation with these students and additional time reflecting on the meeting and writing up the report, it is easy to feel personally invested in the admissions results. Regardless of the admissions decision, I couldn’t help but take the result to heart. If my time, opinions, and effort weren’t worth something, I had to ask myself, “What is the purpose of all of this?”

Luckily, time and distance from the process have given me a much better sense of perspective. For students who are thinking of writing off the alumni interview as a waste of effort and time, I recommend that you consider the numerous advantages meeting with an alumnus might have for you. Rather than viewing the interview as something to check off on your application to-do list, think about the experience as being part of the big picture. Besides being another opportunity to express interest in a school, the alumni interview also gives students another way of learning about the college and the community they might be a part of for four years. The perspective and information that alumni have probably won’t be found in a viewbook or on a college tour, so it is a great way of getting a unique glimpse at the school. From finding out the best places to study to learning what college students really do on the weekends, you get an insider’s unscripted view of what the school is like.

The alumni interview also allows you to practice your interviewing skills, which will serve you well in college and beyond. Internships, careers, and other opportunities usually require an in-person interview; however, many students go into interviews without really knowing what is expected of them. For an alumni interview, you use the same skill set you will need in other interview situations. Take advantage of this opportunity to hone your interview prowess while also finding out about a school that obviously interests you.

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