Updated: May 6, 2013 6:11AM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw: I am applying to several colleges next fall that require an interview by an alumnus. Can you share with me what kind of information they look for in an applicant?
Dear Student: This should help. Here is an alumni report I wrote for a successful applicant to Harvard. I’ve changed her name to protect her identity.
As the admissions committee can see from her “Extracurricular” sheet, Jane is an unusually talented person. She is prodigiously bright and accomplished. Her awards and academic honors alone merit close scrutiny. I found Jane a pleasure to talk with in every respect.
Jane and I met in the high school counselor’s office and before I knew it almost an hour had passed as we moved from stories about one part of her life to the other; scholarship, test scores, parents, work, sports, piano and music, acting. Each of these areas had a special place in her development and she clearly enjoyed her accomplishments. I could have listened to her for hours. She sailed through these subjects with an enthusiasm for life that I found unusual.
She had insights that made me appreciate my own good fortune. She was not the least bit inhibited in linking her interest in physics to the other joys of life she experienced while playing the piano. “I enjoy playing the piano for the same reason I love eating blueberries,” she said. This was not a silly statement coming from her. I believed in her because I left the interview feeling better myself for having talked with her.
Jane is interested in science and especially physics. She is taking advanced math classes from Caltech (over the Internet) because her high school does not offer them. She is number one in her high school class and said she has not taken any “really difficult” courses. She gave only passing marks about the ability of the Internet to deliver quality teaching. “When you have a problem with the instructor it is more difficult to communicate with him when the relationship is electronic.” She does feel that the Internet has helped her in other ways. “I would not have had the chance to study at Caltech as a high school student so I guess that makes up for any of the difficulties I experienced.”
At this point Jane is thinking of a major in physics or law. I probed this broad difference in her academic interests and she said, “I know Harvard is strong in both areas. I would use my four years there to see which area of study would inspire me to spend a career studying it.”
I tend to let applicants take the lead at the end of the interview and I asked her if she would like to give me a tour of the high school. She was delighted and she became my tour guide as we walked from science labs to the soccer field. In each place Jane expressed special enjoyment of her high school years. I asked her to rate in order of importance what she liked most about her high school experiences. “I enjoy scholarship, music, and track, all equally,” she replied. “I do a lot of thinking while I run and playing the piano gives me a pleasure that is hard to explain.” She went on, “I’ve played the piano for years, I’ve run track for years, and I have always done well academically so it’s hard for me to separate the experiences. It would be like eating blueberries without the summer’s sun.”
I enjoyed interviewing Jane. Her academic goals and personality point to first-class scholarship and leadership in whatever field she chooses. She has my highest recommendation.
Hopefully this gives you an idea of what the interviewer is looking for and how important your enthusiasm is in the interviewing process.