The Irrelevant Alumni Interview

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The alumni interview is one step in the admissions process that many high school students go through in their efforts to attend some of America’s more selective colleges. But many alumni don’t want to conduct interviews anymore; they’re finding the process frustrating.

According to an article by Janet Lorin in Bloomberg News:

Alumni interviewers like University of Pennsylvania graduate Andrew Ross say they’re getting annoyed that fewer of the students they endorse win acceptance. Some are ignoring calls to do more and others are quitting the volunteer job altogether. Ross has interviewed more than 50 applicants in a decade and only seen two or three get in.

“Is it worth it to interview if I’m not going to have any influence on the students getting in?” said Ross, 33, who lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and runs a children’s entertainment business. “If it doesn’t mean much, then they should find a better way to use our time. It just kind of feels ridiculous.”

Students submit their applications to colleges but admissions personnel have only the numbers and the essay to work with. Ideally alumni can help gauge how the student will actually “fit in” to their alma maters. If they can tell the student is good, they can help the admissions office to overlook that B- in Pre-Algebra. If alums can tell there’s something about the student that maybe wouldn’t fit in so well in Hanover, Hew Hampshire, they can help make admissions officers aware of that too.

But with admissions so tough these days (this spring Princeton admitted a mere 8.39 percent of applicants), alums find their input doesn’t matter.

If alumni interview a lot of applicants that their schools choose not to admit, however, they might get frustrated with their alma mater, and stop donating or participating. According to Doug Ulene, who does interviews for his alma mater, Brown University, “If alums start becoming disenchanted with the process and it changes their feelings toward the university, it may end up being a bad thing for the university in the long haul.”

According to Jerome Karabel, author of The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, America’s elite colleges first began to interview applicants in the 1920s in an effort to identify Jews and exclude them from top schools.

Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, it seems, have now moved to more progressive practices; they now exclude virtually everyone. That’s what makes the alumni interviews so frustrating, for both graduates and potential students. Why bother? No one seems to get in anyway. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer