Updated: September 11, 2012 6:11AM
Jennifer’s dad dropped her off at the downtown Chicago office building where she was scheduled to meet with her Harvard alumni interviewer.
This could be the most important interview of her life and she was only 17 years old. A knot tightened in her stomach.
“This is it,” she said to herself. “I’m on my own.”
Objectively there was no reason for Jennifer to be nervous. She was number one in her high school class and had nearly perfect scores on her SATs. She was editor of the school newspaper, president of the regional French club, a Thespian honoree, a member of the math and science Olympiad and, most recently, had earned an “A” from Stanford University’s online introductory physics course, her intended major at Harvard.
Why then was she so worried about the alumni interview?
She knew that her interviewer was a senior partner in a major Chicago law firm.
Jennifer introduced herself to the receptionist and was invited to be seated on one of the soft leather couches. She had only spent a few minutes thumbing through The American Lawyer before a door opened and her interviewer greeted her.
The first thing she thought to herself was she had not met anybody like him. He projected real power. He reached out to shake her hand and introduced himself while guiding her to his office. The interview was about to begin.
“What makes you think you are good enough to get into Harvard?”
There was no preamble to his question. She had thought he might ask a few warm up questions — about her grades, test scores, intended college major, but not this. It never occurred to her that anyone would ask such a question.
One thought flashed through her mind, “If I blow this interview I’m a goner. Twelve years of preparation will have gone down the drain and I will have let down parents, friends, teachers who believe in me.”
She composed herself and said, “My grandfather asked me that same question when I was in the ninth grade.” For a split second Jennifer thought she had flubbed the interview, but she remembered her grandfather’s probing question and used it to her advantage.
The interview became conversational from that point on and Jennifer felt comfortable asking him questions about his experiences at Harvard.
In his alumni evaluation the interviewer said that if she had been a potential candidate for employment he would have hired her on the spot. He wrote that she had that rare quality that would make her a competitor, something that many applicants lack when they discover that they will have to compete against other students who are as gifted as they are academically.
During the first week in April she received her letter of admittance to Harvard. She showed it to her grandfather and told him that she could not have done it without him.