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Saving the Best for Last (Student Interview Evaluations)

December 14, 2009 by

When I used to eat meat, I always saved my McDonald’s French fries in my Happy Meal for the end. I would eat all of my little cheeseburger, drink all of my orange soda, and then dive into those famously delicious fries. Why? Simply because I enjoyed my meal that much more knowing that the best was coming last. This ritual came in handy last year during my introduction to the reading season.

Opening a file is similar (granted, I have not had a fast food meal in roughly 14 years) to my childhood process of saving my favorite part of the calorie ridden goodness for last. When I pick up a new file and flip open the cover, I always get a slight rush of excitement when a bright orange piece of paper sits atop the general application. You see, that orange piece of paper indicates that this applicant visited campus this past summer and took part in a student led interview. All of us on the Dean Staff have various reasons for enjoying the process of reading an interview evaluation, but my interest in the bright orange sheet comes from a somewhat unique place. I am one of the 50 W&M former students who can say that I have conducted several hundred of these student led interviews and taken the pride and care to write thorough evaluations for prospective students. To me, the student interview evaluation is the most exciting and often insightful part of an applicant’s file, likely because I have worn the hats of both a student interviewer and now an Assistant Dean.

These interview evaluations paint a more intimate picture of the applicant than the traditional college application. Each summer, thousands of potential W&M applicants spend 20-30 minutes with a current W&M senior chatting about their interests and accomplishments. It is then that the interviewer listens and learns from the expert on the applicant: the actual high school student.  Where the Common Application might mention that a student is involved in a service organization, the interview evaluation will tell us the deep passion and commitment she conveyed for said activity. I might already know from the applicant’s resume that she receives outstanding grades in humanities courses, but that orange piece of paper will tell a story of a young lady who wants to combine her passion for French and Biology by some day becoming a physician dedicated to Doctors Without Borders. A letter of recommendation in the file from a high school teacher might describe the applicant as unique, one of a kind, or even quirky. The student interviewer’s words will paint a more detailed picture via the applicant’s answers from some of our traditionally more off the wall questions (such as “What do your shoes say about you as a person?” or “Who would you choose to switch places with for a day?”) Where the general application gives us the equivalent of an extended movie trailer on his or her life, the student interview provides us with a more detailed 30 minute review of the new summer blockbuster.

It might be that the last bit of information I read in a file is the interview evaluation because I save my favorite part of any whole for last. The rarity of a file actually containing an interview evaluation might also add to the initial excitement felt when the orange piece of paper comes into focus.* I think it is more likely that I enjoy reading about the applicant from the guidance counselor, teacher, and of course the high school student’s own perspective before I read the interviewer’s point of view. Each application is unique and a guaranteed interesting read. However, that orange piece of paper, for me, is the carrot on a stick, the icing on the cupcake, and the gold star after a month of good behavior reports. The student interview evaluation merely echoes the successes and details which the applicant has already carefully presented in the body of the application, but in an in-depth and expressive manner I find to be worth the read every time!

* Roughly only 15% of our applicant pool will come to campus for a student interview. We recognize that not everyone is able to receive an interview as we only offer them in the summer months on our campus. The interview is in no way required. Those students who do not receive an interview are not at a disadvantage in the admission process.

- Amanda Norris

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