Wednesday, November 10, 2010

College admissions blues

The other day I interviewed a local high school student who's applying to Instant Name Recognition U. This is only my second year as an alumni interviewer and she was only my second interviewee, but each time I've scheduled a meeting I've had some anticipatory misgivings.

I'll be frank: teaching at Regional U makes me feel differently about my alma mater. Now, I don't accept the claim that the Ivy League is a bastion of snobbery and privilege; for one, there's plenty of school-related snobbery to go around (where I grew up, it was an article of faith that people who went to the University of Washington were much smarter than people who went to Washington State), and for another, the Ivies and similar schools are actually incredibly economically diverse--much more so than the pricey St. Whoevers or Private Basketball/Football Unis that criss-cross this great nation.

But when one believes, as I do, in the mission of a place like RU, it's hard not to feel conflicted. I love my alma mater. But I also love my students. I see the differences between the two institutions pretty clearly, and I doubt that RU is even a safety school for most of the INRU applicants from this region. That makes me feel defensive and protective of my students--as if, somehow, they were the ones being judged.

The kid I interviewed last year did nothing to dispel this feeling. He showed up in a suit and tie, with a copy of his mile-long resume, and spoke like a frequent attender of "junior leadership" conferences. He was smart and personable and socially-conscious, but he didn't seem much like my students.

He didn't seem much like an INRU student, either, and he didn't get in, but the experience made me feel that much more ambivalent about going to interview my second candidate last week.

She was totally different. Charming and gawky and confident and nervous, she too had a long resume, but she had more than a resume. She didn't have a prefabricated bit to give me, but as she talked it became clear how boundlessly curious she was, and what a passion she had for breaking things apart and creating new syntheses--how studying physics transformed the way she thought about everything from sailing to singing, and how the quantitative gave her a means to understand the qualitative. She reminded me of so many of the students I knew or taught at INRU.

Curiously enough, she also reminded me of the students I teach at RU, or at least some of them: all earnestness and potential, ready to be set afire by a new subject or idea. They may not all be starting out with the same cultural capital as she, but they're not, actually, so very different.


Anonymous said...

apparently I grew up where you grew up. everyone knows seattle is the navel of the universe.

Flavia said...

Anastasia: In the sense that those living there gaze upon it?

I grew up in the biggest community on the Eastside. I used to tell people back east, "It's like Seattle, except not."

Janice said...

I will bet you that this latest student gets an offer of admission. From what you've described, that quality of synthesizing curiosity is instant acceptance, much more so than being a junior joiner!

the rebel lettriste said...

OMG! I have totally had this experience interviewing for my own SLAC alma mater. In one case, I ended up interviewing a young woman who had boundless privilege (tony private NYC school, blah blah blah) and who wanted to go to SLAC for ...? I never could tell. What hit me, though, was that she didn't speak once about any kind of service or social justice or voluntarism. These are big deals at my olde SLAC. I thought, how can this girl, who has had such a cushy life, never once have given a shift at the soup kitchen in New York Fucking City? And what made me think this was that my own public, open admissions students at Grad School DID do all kinds of service. And they worked full time. And raised families. And went to school.

Needless to say, I did not recommend her for admission.

Breena Ronan said...

When you do these interviews do you then recommend the student for admission (or not)? I'm tagging you for a meme. Tell us Seven Random Things.

Withywindle said...

The whole service, social justice, volunteerism schtick doesn't particularly thrill me; in and of itself, but especially since so many students do it nowadays simply to jump through a hoop for college admissions. In my Alum Interviewer Days, I looked for people who were enthusiastic about more than one subject, and able to articulate their enthusiasm. I didn't care for the lumpish lacrosse player (accepted over my dead body), I didn't care for the kid who talked for one hour straight without pausing to breath (rejected, thank heavens), and I wish we'd gotten the charismatic future I-Banker (doubtless went to an Ivy instead). But some people I really wanted to go to my college were accepted and went, so yay.

Flavia said...

Breena: more or less. The point of the alumni interview is to give a fuller picture of the applicant, in ways that might flesh out the paper application. I doubt people often recommend rejection, but the letter may be more or less persuasive (and we do rate candidates on a 1-10 scale).

And sorry for not getting back to you sooner about the meme; I did that one, though, a few years ago.