By Martha Allman
During the winter months in the Admissions Office, Fridays are dedicated to “Committee.” We gather with stacks of applications, discuss them, argue about them, eat lunch over them, plead for them, and then eventually vote as to whether or not they should be offered invitations to join our academic community.
Summer Fridays are different. With the incoming class already set and next year’s applications yet to arrive (except for the most zealous of the early decision) we have time to plan, to look ahead and to discuss the activity which consumes the bulk of our summer days—interviewing. We share insights, interview questions that have proven effective and yes, I admit, stories that are shared with us by interviewees about alien abductions the ability to communicate with animals, or details of the plot of the Transformer movie.
Since the decision to make SAT scores optional at Wake Forest, we have strongly encouraged our applicants to interview with us, either on campus, via webcam through Skype or if all else fails, through an on-line interview format. The interviews have proven invaluable as we evaluate applicants and have sometimes been so revealing that we have questioned how we ever made admissions decisions before the interview!
It’s important to note that the Admissions Officers who conduct interviews are not all the same. Some of us are fresh from the commencement line while others have just sent our own children away to college. We are musicians, historians, science geeks and bibliophiles. Some of us are the first in our families to have graduated from college. Others have descended from generations of academics. Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, our faces resemble those of the community around us. It is our happy task to spend thirty minutes with prospective students and in that time to draw from them information to help us decide whether or no they are a “fit” for our institution.
Do we have a common set of questions that can be rehearsed and prepared for? No. Do we often delve into areas of current events, high school classes, reading, or extra-curricular talents? Yes. Are there expected responses that we hope each question will elicit? Absolutely not. We like to be surprised. What we hope for most of all with the interview is insight into who the applicant really is at age 17, what ideas interest her, what experiences have shaped him, what are her hopes for the future and his concerns about the present. How open is her mind, how curious is his spirit? Is there kindness and humanity somewhere in there?
We seek a class of debaters and dancers, African drummers, mathematicians, zoologists and poets. The questions that we ask of our prospective students are thus broad and provocative. “Who are you?” asked with a warm smile is often how I begin my interview. ‘How do you hope your college years will be different from high school?” “What’s the best class you’ve ever taken?” “If you had a ‘do over button’ when would you have used it?”” Do you think your life will be easier than your parents’?” “Tell me about a book that everyone should read.” “If you had a day all to yourself, how would you spend it?” “Where do you get your news and what news has been most concerning to you of late?” Depending on the student the conversation can drift into European politics, techno music, sustainability, or conflicted teenage vampires. I love the drift. Just in case I have missed something critical I always conclude with, “Is there something which you hoped I would ask you that I have not?” Well, yes, there was the alien abduction.
We are admissions officers because we love college , we love college aged people and we love conversation. We don’t expect interviewees to be professional conversationalists, or mini-50 year olds, we want to talk with fresh, edgy, interesting teenagers. Theirs is the energy that makes a college campus a crucible of ideas. Come as you are to the interview and be ready to share. That’s how the match is made.