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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 11/19/2010

A plea to college interviewers

By Valerie Strauss

The first part of this was written by Paula Porter, director of college guidance at York Country Day School in Pennsylvania, and posted on the listserv of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. The second part was written by Amy Garrou, university counselor at the French International School in Bethesda, Md., also posted on the listserv.

From Paula Porter:

Good morning!
I would like to make a plea to college students, admission office personnel, alumni and other college officials who interview prospective students. I feel that I am getting more student feedback than ever before that they are being told they are going to be accepted when they interview. I certainly know that comments can be misconstrued by eager applicants and their parents but I offer the following:

A student who is a good fit for a highly selective liberal arts college who came away from the interview with business cards for two deans that the interviewer suggested she contact. She’s now convinced she’s a shoe in and doesn’t want to apply anywhere else. I had a student interview at a state school and met with the director of admission who shook his hand and said "Welcome to XXX." Well, that may be what happens but the student has a 1.97 cumulative gpa and I doubt the man knew that.

I’ve had two alumni interviewers tell kids "we’d be lucky to have you". And then, the president of a highly selective college told one student the same thing. Now, the family claims to have some pull (hence the pres. contact) but the student hardly meets the school’s profile and, again, I sincerely doubt the president was aware of that. I had a student interview at a major university Monday who is now positive he’s in (a real long shot) because the student interviewer said he’d be great there.

I do understand how the system works and I realize that part of the job of the interviewer (in a non-evaluative situation) is to generate excitement and enthusiasm but I would hope that admission professionals go out of their way not to mislead students. Does NACAC have guidelines for what types of statements interviewers should or should not make? This would seem to relate to ethics of the profession. It becomes even more difficult for those of us on the high school side to deal with unrealistic expectations when the students think they’re being given assurance that they are going to be accepted. I had a parent comment to me that after her daughter interviewed at a college the admission officer seemed very ‘noncommittal’. Hooray! I thought.

Thanks for letting me vent!

Paula Porter


Porter’s plea was followed by this e-mail from Garrou:

Thanks for voicing this concern, Paula. I haven’t heard examples as extreme as some of yours, but I do hear of similar things a few times each year, especially from student interviewers or students recruited to contact talented applicants. I know that universities can’t control every person on their staff (i.e. students, faculty members) who speak with prospective students, but at least for people trained to do admission-related interviews, advising cautiousness should be possible.

Maybe a standard email from the admission dean each year to other university administrators, and to faculty, would help remind them not to make any off-the-cuff promises to students.

That’s one of the perennial hazards of admissions (just like education in general): everybody thinks he’s an expert, based on what happened when he/she applied, or was in college, or based on the students they knew X years ago at their university. It’s still my pet peeve to hear students who’ve just been accepted tell other students they KNOW the one factor that got them in! You never know what it was, and it likely wasn’t just one thing. We have so much mis-information to control in our jobs . . . .

Then, Garrou added in an email to me:

I have also been an admissions officer and I know how frustrating it is to find out that anyone outside the process, or tangential to the process, has been too encouraging to applicants. Admissions officers always wish that the information could just come from them, but it’s impossible to control it completely.

Alumni and student interviewers are wonderful because of their enthusiasm for their alma maters, and most of them do an excellent job. The downside, occasionally, of that enthusiasm is that they can forget to be cautious when they’re representing a highly selective institution.

Amy Garrou


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By Valerie Strauss  | November 19, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions, college applications, college interviews  
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As a college consultant, I think you have made some great comments. I had a student interview at a school that had a large percentage of women compared to men. The college guide told her that the school was only interested in men. Even though she liked the school, she didn't even want to bother to reply. When anyone from a college or university talks with a prospective student, he or she must be careful about what they say.

Susie Watts
Denver, Colorado

Posted by: collegedirection | November 19, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

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