It’s college admissions season, all over again. For years, I have interviewed local high school seniors who apply to my alma mater, and tell the admissions officers what I think of them.
I recently clicked open a PowerPoint presentation, put together for the latest interviewing cycle, which provided a battery of guidelines the interviewers are supposed to follow. (Are supposed to have been following? Are supposed to follow, moving forward? ) Several startled me.
Contact the student by phone or email, but try calling the student first. No thanks. I email first, and only use the phone if the kid hasn’t written back after about 4 days. Email is the most efficient way to nail down a date and the details. Back when I did always dial, we played too much phone tag. The sole advantage involved with calling came when the family’s landline was the only number I had, the kid’s parent picked up, and I got to overhear the background commotion.
“Hello, is Alexis there?”
“Just a minute. Lexi – phone!”
“LEXI, I SAID PICK.UP.THE. PHONE.”
[Lexi enters the room, bad attitude in tow, and loudly whispers with her mom.]
“Jesus, Lexi, what takes you so long? Hurry up. Get the phone.”
“Who is it? Stop yelling at me. Leave me alone.”
“How should I know? And no one’s yelling. She sounds your age but like she’s someone important – she asked for Alexis."
Remind the students to give your contact information to their parents, so the parents will know who their child is meeting. What am I, a family-dynamics facilitator? Without having ever really thought about it, I guess I’ve assumed these kids tell their parents they’re heading out for a college interview in the backroom of a bakery, and that they’ll have their phones on them. If they don’t have this kind of relationship with their parents, it ain’t a bit of my business.
Don’t meet in your home or the student’s home. No problem there, that’s the last thing I want. But when I was the high-schooler getting interviewed, my interviewer had me come to his apartment. My dad drove me there and waited in the car the whole time, directly below the apartment’s main window, in case the interviewer turned out to be a sexual predator. The interviewer was wonderful and so was his girlfriend (who brought me either a snack or a can of Diet Coke). I occasionally wonder how and where they are today.
If you meet in an eatery, tell the students you are not allowed to buy anything for them. If they want food or a beverage, they must buy it themselves. Now we’ve reached the prohibition I have the biggest problem with. I would go to jail before following a rule like this. A busy, nervous 17-year-old has just hauled her ass (to my preferred location) all the way down from the Bronx, dealing with weekend subway service, and I can’t treat her to a cup of cocoa? I’m her elder. In the social culture I come from, the elders pay the youngers’ way in venues like bakeries, especially if it’s a one-time deal. Thing is, many of the kids I get won’t even splurge for the cocoa. They’ll stick with a little container of juice they won’t touch during the interview itself.
Don’t spend a lot of time reminiscing about your own college experience. Uh-oh.
Don’t take notes during the interview. This interview should be relaxed, and students might feel pressured if you’re writing while they’re speaking. Take notes after the interview, and be specific so you can provide detailed info in your evaluation. I can’t promise great specifics if I’m barred from taking notes while the action’s still happening. My kids actually seem less nervous when I’m note-taking, or pretending to be, than when I’m not, particularly while they’re in the early stages of formulating thoughtful responses. Afterwards, more than a couple have said it’s the coolest college interview they’ve had because it was so chill, that it felt like a conversation with a friend. That’s how I want to live in their memories.