The Candidates

For the last seven years, I have been interviewing applicants for my Alma Mater as part of their alumni admissions program. It’s a busy time for college seniors, and therefore for us. The library, Barnes & Noble café, and the local Starbucks are crammed with pairs of vaguely middle-aged men and women peppering 17- and 18-year olds with questions about their interests, hopes, and plans for the future. And their ideas for how to achieve world peace. Not really. But absolutely why they want, above everything else, to attend fill-in-the-blank College/University. The last time I was in B&N, at least five interviews were in progress, and I overheard mention of Tufts, Harvard, and Cornell.

I don’t kid myself that my input will make or break a student’s application. Their records, which the admissions office has and I don’t, clearly reflect all they’ve worked so doggedly to amass for the Common Application: Transcripts, GPAs, SATs, ACTs, APs, essays, and more. What I do hope is that I can add another dimension to their application, to show them as human beings and not simply collections of pages and numbers.

What I want to let them know is how unique and interesting they all are and that they will find a college that suits them, where they will fit in, even if it’s not the one on which their heart is currently set.

I want to tell them that they don’t have to do everything and do it better than everyone else all the time. I want to tell them to relax and pursue what makes them smile. Yet I know all too well (having gone through this with my own two boys) that the soundproof bubble that surrounds much of Fairfield County and many other affluent communities across the country would deflect my pleas.

I am in between interviews now – the 13th of 15 this season – sitting and sipping on decaf and unintentionally eavesdropping (I can’t help it; the tables are close and conversations loud to compete with all the kids studying in groups for midterms) on another interview in progress. The young man reports on how rewarding he finds his work with underprivileged kids in Bridgeport, how amazing it was to help construct a school in Guatemala with BBB, and how much he loved the Willa Cather novel he just read in his free time. The interviewer asks him to define “happiness,” where he sees himself in 10 years, and what photography has taught him about life. I’m not sure I could answer those questions eloquently, let alone coherently.

So I redouble my efforts to put my applicants at ease. To just have a comfortable conversation that doesn’t probe or push too deeply, but gives them an opportunity to relax and let their guards down a bit so I can see the teenagers they are and the young adults they are embarking on a journey to become.


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