College Interviews


This post has nothing to do with Wikipedia. Sorry, guys. I’m in college now. I see enough of Wikipedia. No, today I’ll be telling you a story.

Last year, at about this time, I was entering my senior year of high school, so naturally I had to start considering the question of where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life. I hadn’t really given the matter much thought before then. Some say that when you visit the right college, you immediately feel as if you belong there. This did not happen for me.

Now, being an above-average public school attendee from Westchester, New York, I applied to roughly the same schools that the average above-average public school attendee from Westchester, New York can be expected to apply to. A smattering of schools in Boston, a few in the city, some safety schools upstate – the usual. Having had a somewhat inflated view of myself, I also applied to a couple of Ivies – namely Brown and Cornell.

These two were the only schools requiring interviews from me. I should point out that these were not standard interviews, in which a representative of the school questions me in-depth, but alumni interviews, in which a former student of the school chats briefly with the applicants. I’ve since learned that alumni interviews are next-to-meaningless, but at the time I was quite worried about them, primarily due to the fact that I am far from an adept conversationalist.

The Brown one came first, and in doing some research on the subject I realized that I had lucked out – the interviewer had gone to high school with my cousin. Further, he was a very close friend of another Brown alumnus who’d gone to high school with my cousin, and who had recommended that I apply to Brown in the first place. So I had two names to drop in case the interview was going poorly.

The Brown interview took place in a Starbucks near my house. I should point out that I don’t drink coffee, and had thus never been to a Starbucks in my life. I stepped through the entrance into a room smelling of vanilla and filled with people in corduroy pants, wool sweaters, and Buddy Holly glasses. No one there appeared to be ready for an interview, and I was fifteen minutes early, so I took a seat at a table in the back corner.

After spending about five minutes tapping my fingers on the tabletop, I decided that I probably looked suspicious – sitting by myself, without having purchased anything, the only one in the shop without a macbook. The best way to look natural would, naturally, be to order something, and so I stood up and took my place at the back of the line leading to the counter. Looking at the menu on the wall, I found a dizzying array of coffees, cocoas, biscuits, and frappuccinos, in various flavors of unappetizing and for a wide range of overpriced.

As I sheepishly walked back to my corner seat, a man called my name from a table near the door. He had a notepad open in front of him, a dog-eared book under his armpit, and a face that I had passed right by on my way in. His hair was the same rusty shade of red as his sweater. He had a ragged, unkempt beard a few shades darker and a neat, pompously-waxed mustache several shades lighter. As I sat down he took my hand firmly and offered to buy me coffee. I declined.

The interview actually went pretty well – at one point, the conversation reached something of a lull, but his next question was, “Why do you want to come to Brown?” and I mentioned that I knew someone who had gone and was extremely happy to have done so. He asked me who, I told him, and he spent a few minutes indulging his own nostalgia. At one point, I interrupted my own sentence to point out that the radio was playing the new Decemberists single. Just as I expected, he was a fan. Bonus points for me. After roughly a half hour, I left reasonably satisfied that I had done well enough.

The interview for Cornell did not go quite as smoothly. I had done all my interviewing practice for the Brown one, but somehow managed to forget it all in the week or so before the Cornell one. This one took place in a coffee shop, too, but it was a much smaller, independent joint in the next town over. Unfortunately, I didn’t know any guys who knew any guys who went to Cornell, and so I had nothing to rely on for when the conversation turned downwards.

This time, I didn’t arrive quite as early – only five minutes or so. Starbucks had been bustling with people – this place held only two patrons and a few plush booths with splits in the plastic upholstery. There wasn’t even a worker behind the counter. One of the women inside was writing in a notepad; the other was typing on her laptop. I sat in front of the one on the laptop and began to introduce myself, quickly learning – as you probably saw coming – that the woman I was supposed to be meeting was the one with the notepad.

Switching seats, I once again introduced myself with a handshake. This interviewer was neat, professional, wearing slacks and a blazer. She worked for a bank. This was someone I wanted to take after – well-dressed and, judging from the Mercedes outside, moneyed. I wanted to go to Cornell.

This interview didn’t go so well. I’d forgotten to remember any questions to ask, as all the forums recommended doing, and so most of the ones I thought up could easily have been answered by a glance at their website. I answered most of her questions – where do I see myself in five years, what’s my prospective major, what books am I reading – with a pass, an “um,” and a lie, respectively. At one point she asked what major historical figure I’d like to invite to my dinner table and talk to. Having passed on the last question, eager to answer this one to make up for it, I unthinkingly blurted out, “Son of Sam!”

Not sure why. Definitely a stupid move. According to most sources, the only purpose of the alumni interviews is making sure the applicant isn’t clinically insane. I’m not quite sure I passed. I tried to justify my answer with some verbiage about the nature of evil, and how I was curious to learn his true motives because I was quite interested in how anyone could commit such atrocities and feel fine about it, but I wound up sounding like a psych major, and all of the questions she asked me after my half-assed excuse were questions pertaining to psychology. Which is not, as you might have inferred, my strong suit. This one lasted much less time, and I felt much worse afterward.

No, I did not get into either school.

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