Do alumni interviews help students get into top colleges?

Many Georgia high school seniors aiming to attend select colleges will participate in alumni interviews in which a graduate of the prestigious university meets with them.

Do these interviews matter? I have friends who have interviewed on behalf of their alma maters and never had a single interviewee accepted. (See a piece by a Yale alum who quit doing interviews.)

Al Meyers is the Atlanta chair for the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Interview Program. I asked him to share his perspective.

By Al Meyers

If you’re a high school senior, you may have recently submitted your Early Decision and/or Questbridge applications (for those who don’t know, Questbridge is a special program that connects the world’s brightest low-income students to America’s best universities and opportunities).

Perhaps you’re getting ready to mail an Early Action application or finalizing your Regular Decision applications. A few weeks after you send in your application, an alumnus of the school contacts you to invite you for an interview.

Do alumni interviews help students get into elite colleges?

Do alumni interviews help students get into elite colleges?

Do you take it? The Alumni Interview is typically “optional,” but strongly encouraged. Does the interview matter? I believe it does.

I’ve participated in a number of case studies with admissions officers and have seen firsthand how these decisions are made. There is a ton of quantitative and qualitative data being evaluated and compared on a national, state and local scale. Admissions officers will tell you that the alumni interview is arguably the only unbiased piece of information that goes into an applicant’s file.

Some admissions officers will read the alumni interview report before reviewing other information in the application. An alumnus may only spend 45 minutes to an hour, at most, with a student; however, an alumnus who takes this responsibility seriously will ask probing questions and be able to incorporate pieces of information that may not have been able to be adequately addressed within the confines of the application format.

The alumnus is forbidden to see any pieces of the application such as transcripts, SAT scores, or any other application components. Students should simply bring the best version of themselves especially their passion. It is incumbent upon the alumnus to extract the critical information by asking engaging questions and getting the student to relax and have a conversation, something many 17- and 18-year-olds find quite unsettling. It’s not about regurgitating what’s already contained in the application.

Rather, it’s a chance to highlight a student’s key strengths and why this school will offer the student the best opportunity to realize their career goals.

Most importantly, a good interviewer can quickly put the student at ease, but sometimes even the best interviewer will be unable to spur dialogue from a nervous, unprepared or even disinterested student.

For students to perform well in an interview, they should have researched the school, done some interview practicing beforehand, and most importantly, be themselves. It’s the students’ chance to emphasize their secret sauce that may not have been effectively conveyed in the application, and interact with an alumnus of the school. The students should be enthusiastic, and so should the alumni, who are volunteering to be ambassadors for their alma mater.

I know firsthand many alumni get discouraged because a vast majority of the students they recommend do not get admitted. I know there were several promising students I’ve interviewed over the years who did not get admitted. It’s a competitive process and there are many talented students out there. But I feel strongly the alumni interview is significant.

If there’s anything I have learned in my 25 years of interviewing, it’s there is a great deal of information alumni do not see that goes into an application. The Common Application has depressed admission rates at top universities – that we know. In fact, most of the elite schools admit less than 10 percent of all applicants – some, such as Harvard and Stanford, are as low as 5 percent.

But for students who can express themselves to an alumnus and show not only their passion for the university in question, but also how they stand out compared to peers, the alumni interview might be the piece of information that sways an admissions officer from being “on the fence” to saying “admit.” For me, the alumni interview is an annual reminder of how fortunate I was to get admitted to my alma mater. It is so rewarding to interact with bright, talented young people who represent America’s future, and to tell them why your university is special.

There are no guarantees in life, but if a school is offering you an opportunity to participate in an alumni interview and give you another chance to demonstrate why you should be admitted, why wouldn’t you seize it? Carpe diem, right?

 

Reader Comments 0

17 comments
Anna222
Anna222

I've heard conflicting information with regard to alumni interviews. I've heard that the interview reports are rarely read or they are all reviewed, or that admission officers simply toss the applicants they feel don't have a shot in getting accepted rather than contact an alumnus interviewer and waste their valuable time (this to me sounds more realistic for some reason)


If interviews don't carry much weight then why bother...I mean what is the point? I can't see why an admission officer would contact a busy alumnus to interview a candidate then not read the report.

Would love to hear back.  Thanks.

altantamom
altantamom

My daughter interviewed for Yale.  Her interviewer stated that  the interview could neither get her in nor keep or out, but it was one small piece of the puzzle.  But I think we both thought the interviewer had her application.  That's a surprise.

I would never consider an interview to be optional.  Seems to me it's one more hoop to jump through.

Anna222
Anna222

@altantamom Hi atlantamom, if you don't mind me asking, what made you think the interviewer had her application? 

Green55
Green55

Joe Herring

Having been an interviewer for Dartmouth for 55 years, I have met very few weak candidates. I understand that my

job is ambassadorial, and I have no illusion that my report will be a major factor in the admissions process. Yet I also

believe it can make a difference in close calls. Because I have great confidence in the value of a Dartmouth education, I'm delighted to have an hour to respond to applicants' questions, whether incisive or routine.

Steve Lester
Steve Lester

Our son got into Princeton, and I believe it was from a interview with Rodney Ho of your organization.  He declined, and accepted to accept a full ride from Duke.. but yes, I believe that alumni interviews help.  He went on to get his PhD from Penn, also a full ride and pay..  Alumni interviews are worthwhile.

JeffreyEav
JeffreyEav

My wife does interviews for her alma mater. They accept six percent of applicants. At a top school like that all of the interviewees are impressive. She knows this and tries to find out how much they want to go to her school. She recommends almost all but is happy when one gets in that she knows is going to go and it was their first choice.

Kids should do the interviews. IMO.

HIbought theRefs
HIbought theRefs

@EdumateThat I believe you are quite jaded. As an alumni interviewer, I've never measured the program by the number of students that I interviewed who were accepted, nor by the ones that may have been "weeded-out" because of my impressions.  What I do, however, is provide an additional bit of information for the admissions department to consider. I have no information (unless a student volunteers the data) about class rank, standardized test results, or the application essay. With admissions rates dropping into the single digits due to the volume of applications at some schools, these interviews can be a differentiator.


I like knowing my alma mater is a highly (perhaps extremely would be more accurate) competitive school, and yes, it turns away many, many applicants each year. I don't pretend to know all the variables that inform the admissions decision. But I do know that the regional admissions officer has said that my input made a difference in the decision process. 


By the way, my school does not use a "standard" form - and I can't imagine that a form could capture the depth of a good interview, anyway.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

Unfortunately, @EdumacateThat may not truly understand what the alumni interview program is about.


This blogger believes  the contrarian story is a bit jaded and not indicative of what most alumni interviewers think of the program.   Most alumni do not gauge their enjoyment by how many applicants get admitted.  Alumni know how competitive the application process is.  And I'm sure there are several alumni who don't get students accepted.   What you seem to not understand is how few applicants are getting admitted nationwide.   There are a lot of amazing kids out there, and like the author said, there is a ton of information you as an alumnus do not see.   Could some interviewers be better trained?  Absolutely.   It's an all-volunteer program and alumni do not get paid to do these interviews.    There are certain questions you do not ask, but many students will about their life story and sometimes these stories are important.


But clearly, many folks are missing the point of what these interviews are about.  Alumni should want to represent their school and help a prospective applicant reinforce their favorable views on the school.  And this blogger agrees with the author that a student should take every opportunity they can to make a good impression on a school.  If an alumnus is only doing it to see how many students get in, then maybe they should support their alma mater in other ways.

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@living-in-outdated-ed @EdumacateThat You may be right, but from what I've seen, the commentary sheet the interviewer hands into the admissions liaison is so generic and useless.  I think that alumni interviews, in some way, are intended to make the ALUMNI feel more involved in the process, not to gather more info on the student.  After all, alumni donation yields are something else to consider.

You're entitled to your opinion and I'm entitled to mine.  Don't assume I do not understand the program, the process, or even the goal.

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

@living-in-outdated-ed @EdumacateThat I disagree.  I think their role in the process is not as cut-and-dried as you'd like to believe.  Based upon their generic form, it was quite apparent that the commentary required from the interviewer was never intended to be a critical piece of the admissions process.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

@EdumacateThat @living-in-outdated-ed You can disagree if you want.  I know for a fact that some schools provide a lot of training and help alumni understand what denotes a quality report versus one that gives no additional information to the admissions officers to help with their decision process.  Many times it's the interviewer who does not put in the effort and that is unfortunate.

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

Sorry, Maureen.  I didn't notice that you tagged the same Yale commentary.  Guess it is that entertaining that I wanted to highlight it again.

EdumacateThat
EdumacateThat

I may be quite jaded, but I don't think alumni interviews help at all; in fact, I think they are used as a potential wee-out tool (ie., "this kid is a whack-job; don't admit).  And in some cases, I would consider these interviews to be psychological shenanigans.  Some of the questions my eldest had to field were: beyond odd, had a political angle to them, or even bordered on discussing religion.  I remember him telling me that he told one interviewer that her questions were too personal and his answers would be none of her business.  My second son is now beginning the process.  We have told him that if interviews are not required, don't waste your time.  Finally, hubby has also decided to forgo doing alumni interviews as every candidate he has ever interviewed never was accepted, and these were amazing kids.  In that vein, read the following for a contrasting opinion to this article:

http://mathwithbaddrawings.com/2015/09/30/why-ive-stopped-doing-interviews-for-yale/

Anna222
Anna222

@EdumacateThat In all honesty, they should only interview applicants they truly feel have a chance...why waste the time of the alumni and the poor kid pinning his/her hopes to a successful interview...it's too stressful.