Beyond Drama Club and Taylor Swift: How to Leave an Impression in a W&M Interview

If you’re a rising high school senior, you’re one of the many reasons I’ve loved working in the Admission Office this summer…I thank you. Interviewing is an awesome job because I get talk with all of you potential members of the Class of 2016 each day and learn about your pursuits, your fascinations, your hometowns, your favorite moments of your high school experience, days you would erase from that experience if you could…and the list goes on. For some high school seniors, the interview can be a daunting, somewhat overwhelming trip to Williamsburg that includes a rather ambiguous vision of what to anticipate. I get that; to some degree, I’m right back in your boat as I start applying to jobs and law school, so I’m more than aware of the anxiety these processes can entail. With this post, my goal is to ease some of those apprehensions you may have by telling you about a couple specific questions I ask and the intangible elements that make certain responses, and in turn, certain interviews, something I distinctly remember.

My greatest suggestion is that before the interview, you sit down to reflect upon a few things—on what you care about, how you’ve acted on that, why the path you’ve traveled is totally different from that of anyone else, what you want out of a college experience, what you personally will contribute to a campus community, AND how exactly William & Mary in particular fits into all of that. Once you’ve reflected on these aspects of your own story, decide how best to articulate them. I don’t have to regale you with every inquiry I ask (and that changes a bit from interview to interview!) in order to help you prepare. In fact, I promise that if you engage in this self-evaluation of sorts, you’ll be better able to include everything you want me to know about you, and even if you’re a bit nervous coming in, we can have a genuinely enjoyable conversation in which you leave me with a distinct impression of who you are.

At some point during our conversation, I’m going to ask you about extracurriculars—what do you do outside the classroom? Here are a few pointers for that moment:
• This is NOT time for a laundry list of 14.25 activities; it IS an opportunity for me to find out what you care about and WHY you invest so much time in whatever that may be. If you do theater, that’s great—color it for me, though! Elaborate. My goal is to make you jump off paper as the Admission Committee reads your application. Chances are that I can find that you’re in the International Thespian Society and are involved in your school’s theater program somewhere on your resume. Instead of just mentioning an involvement off-handedly, if you’ve recently been in Beauty and the Beast, give me a rendition of “Tale as Old as Time!” Tell me what it was like to play Lumière. Share an anecdote about how the cast bonded…anything that provides me with details to contextualize your experience.
• If you’re on the debate team at your high school, don’t be afraid to tell me about what kind of debate you do, your favorite topic to research or present, how you totally rocked at that one tournament, how your arch-nemesis from your rival high school beat you at another after your voice cracked three times in front of an audience of 100 people…these sorts of quick details put a certain personal stamp on what you share.

Here’s another question that I love to ask: If you had a soundtrack to your life—20 or 25 songs as a backdrop to the last 17 years—what would be three songs that I’d likely find on it? Why?
• Again, not a numbers game. I have no mental point system through which I assign Hanson -4 points (though they were my first cassette ever…yes, cassette…I’m older than you are), Celine Dion 8 points because she was my jam growing up, Iron & Wine 7.5 points because he’s indie and awesomely folksy, Joni Mitchell 12 points because the woman is a brilliant lyricist (I digress…), and then add up your numbers at the end as a Quality of Taste in Music Score….no no no. Instead, it’s about relating a song or beat or artist to who you’ve become, to what matters to you, to your sense of humor, to your favorite sport, to your cultural heritage, to the dance you choreographed, to the instrument you’ve been playing since age 6, and so forth.
• For example, I had one student who told me she’d have a Taylor Swift song on her soundtrack. Pretty generic. But then, she added that the song would be “Long Live” due in large part to her favorite lyric of the song, “I’ve had the time of my life fighting dragons with you,” which she thinks describes her high school experience with her best friend perfectly. That’s great because she owned the answer by individualizing it, and in doing so, she revealed a bit about how she thinks of friendships and how she notices certain language even in teeny-bopper-ish tunes. Another student immediately responded, “Oh my gosh! They’re ALL show tunes!” This added further depth to his adoration of musicals and involvement in theater, and it was certainly not something that any high school senior would assert. He proceeded to give me three specific show tunes from musicals he loves, and that provided me with YouTubing material for after the interview.
• At the risk of sounding tangential, one more comment: I was sitting at the campus bookstore about a week ago with my friend, Nathan Hoback, when he mentioned something that automatically brought this question to mind. (Nathan came to the College for both undergrad and his Masters of Education and is now living in the ‘Burg to start his teaching career!) During a conversation about the merits of taking long drives alone, Nathan forcefully asserted, “I totally prefer driving alone sometimes. You know, Taylor, sometimes, I just show up places without any voice at all because I’ve been singing so loudly in my car! You just can’t do that when there’s someone there beside you in the passenger’s seat…it’s not the same.” That, my friends, is a detail that I’d love to hear about when you answer the soundtrack question…something that hints at humor, honesty, and quirk.

I hope that insight into these two talking points helps you out! Overall, I’m interested in your personality, in whatever you really love and invest in, and in why the College has captivated you.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below. I look forward to seeing and having a great conversation with you at the Alma Mater of a Nation!