It's college-application season, which means it's also college-application-interview season. This is the fourth year I've served as an alumna interviewer for my alma mater, and I continue to have somewhat conflicted feelings about it. I do, after all, teach at a local college, and part of me feels weirdly disloyal to my institution and to my students--even though there's only a very small overlap between the students who apply to Regional U and the students who apply to INRU.* Another part of me feels pre-emptively defensive: I remember what it was like to be a high school senior snobbishly passing judgment on the local colleges and universities. And a third part of me wonders why, of all the things I could volunteer to do, I'm doing this: feeding the hungry and clothing the naked it ain't.
But I enjoy doing the interviews and I enjoy learning more about the community to which I belong. It's interesting to learn where bookish teenagers go for fun, what kinds of educational extras middle-class parents are (and are not) willing to pay for, and how the local high schools compare. By now I know which school has an IB program, which has a state-championship sailing team, and which holds its classes in three-hour blocks.
Also, I'm good at it. Unlike some of the alumni interviewers in the region (dudes who got an MBA or MD thirty years ago, never knew anything about their institution's undergraduate program, and have no idea how to evaluate a high school student's "promise"), I know INRU well: I spent ten years there, the last three of them teaching undergraduates. I can craft an effective prose profile. And much of my day-to-day life involves working with, trying to draw out, and get a feel for the potential of late-adolescents and young adults. Relative to the average, my admission success rate is high.
So I suppose that I'm serving my community by advocating for kids who, however talented and sometimes economically comfortable they may be, aren't connected to the centers of elite power. Many live in semi-rural communities, most attend public schools, and few have traveled widely. A good number of the students who leave will never come back, but they help to diversify INRU and whatever centers of power they may wind up in--and I guess that still counts as raising the region's profile.
And there are other rewards. A while back I interviewed a kid who just didn't want to talk about himself. He was affable and laid-back, and I quickly got a sense of his wide-ranging talents, but he refused to spin the autobiographical soundbites that lots of college applicants specialize in. He didn't want to boast, he didn't want to say much about the unusual personal hardship he'd overcome, and for the first 30 minutes I felt like I had no sense of his actual personality. Finally I asked him if he had any questions for me, and the entire dynamic of the conversation shifted. He asked me at least three times as many questions as any kid I've interviewed before or since--and they were deeply thoughtful, sometimes rather personal questions: about my own experiences at INRU and my impressions of its students and its social and intellectual dynamics. He listened intently, he asked follow-up questions, and I suddenly understood why this unassuming kid was captain of virtually every sports team, why he'd been elected student-body president, and why he insisted that pretty much everyone at his high school got along: the nerds and the jocks and the goths and so on. It was pure, natural leadership--not showy, not demanding, not domineering--of a sort I'd never seen before.
Interviewing for INRU also helps remind me that students are students: the kids I interview aren't much different from the kids I teach. And most are worth getting to know.
*For those joining us late, Instant-Name-Recognition University is the stupid pseudonym I invented for my alma mater seven years ago--i.e., too late to change it now.