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The Missing Puzzle Piece – Admissions Interviews

By Robert LeVine


On my bookshelf, I have 14 books about “college essays,” all of which focus on the dreaded Personal Statement. I am aware of only one or two books about college admissions interviews. After 29 years interviewing for Harvard, the last few as the chairman of our interview committee, I can say with certainty that interviews are a very important part of the application process.

Yet few people pay attention to admissions interviews. Pay attention!

Why are interviews so important? Chronologically, admissions interviews usually occur after the admissions office has already graded and sorted the application. Then comes the interview report (not the actual interview, just the interviewer’s report). This new piece of information can propel a student into the class. Or not.

Imagine a movie with a flat ending, or perhaps that disappointing final season of “Game of Thrones.” Nobody cares about GoT anymore.

Do not let a good application effort be destroyed by a lackluster interview effort.

The key to a great interview is understanding the interview process, purpose and goal. First, recognize who is conducting the interview. That person can recommend you for admission.

Most college interviews are conducted by alumni volunteers, not by admissions representatives. Alumni choose to interview because they love their colleges and want to see good students attend their schools. While applicants might think of the interview as an interrogation, interviewers are really hoping to meet a great candidate. Interviewers don’t want to spend their time filtering out bad candidates; they want to find great candidates and advocate for them. In fact, the most common complaint of interviewers is that they do not meet enough good candidates and, when they do, the colleges don’t offer admission to “their kids.”

The purpose of the interview is to understand a candidate’s interpersonal qualities, not judge academics or extracurricular performance. A 45-minute interview cannot contribute significantly to the evaluation of a candidate’s academic prowess or achievements in activities; that information is already available in the application itself. However, because it is usually the only opportunity for a college to meet applicants, an interview is valuable to the admissions office for learning more about a candidate’s personality.

For the applicant (and the interviewer), the goal is simply to have a pleasant, positive conversation. Make a connection. Just talk to the interviewer. Consider the interviewer as someone who wants to help you go to their school, not someone who wants to keep you out. It is a selection process, not a rejection process.

Interviews typically take place at a neutral location, like a Starbucks, though occasionally the interviewer will invite an applicant to his or her office. Parents should not accompany their children to college interviews. This is the time for the students to show themselves to be mature, and adults do not come to interviews with mommy or daddy in tow. If your child is not driving yet, please wait somewhere else during the interview or go run an errand.

Candidates should dress neatly and professionally, but not formally. “Business casual” attire or “church clothes” are preferred. That means a casual skirt or pants and a blouse for girls, and casual pants (like khakis) and a collared shirt for boys. Please, no athletic shoes, jeans or dress suits. Also, avoid perfume and cologne; the interviewer might be allergic or might not like the scent you are wearing. Your personality, not your appearance, should be what is noticed.

Students should come to the interview armed with stories that illustrate who they are. Your stories are the “new information” that is not included in your application file. The cross-country runner should be ready to tell her story about the funny thing that happened at practice last week. The avid reader should be prepared to discuss the characters in his favorite novel. The thespian might want to talk about that embarrassing misstep or missed note on stage. Interesting moments lead to good conversation. It’s not all serious. Interviewers are impressed with your demeanor, not your resume.

With strategy and practice, college applicants can transform interviews from something scary into something powerful. The starting point is to place emphasis on your personality and ability to converse. This allows colleges to predict you as someone who will contribute in their campus community.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit 


Flipping the script on busyness with gratitude

By Anu Varma Panchal


I’ve always loved fall. When my kids were little, Halloween was a fun project that could span multiple evenings. We’d hit up the pumpkin patch, plan and make elaborate costumes and then spend hours decorating. Diwali was the same. We’d pick out new lamps and spend half a day making rangolis across our entire walkway.

As our family grows older, however, sustained festivity is harder to manage. This year, it was just my younger daughter and me putting up the Halloween decorations. The older one is a freshman in the IB program, and her workload has quadrupled. Mealtimes together, which we used to manage most evenings when the kids were little, are hit or miss most days now.

We’re not the only ones. “Busy,” is the answer I get when I ask anyone how they are. Everyone is exhaustingly busy with kids’ teams and projects, rehearsals and performances. Busy with work deadlines and things we’ve volunteered to do. We take our laptops on vacation, accept work calls on evenings and weekends, and load our weekends with social engagements. As for the kids, they’re even busier than we are.

On a recent weekend, I had planned to spend a few hours Sunday evening finishing up some work. At around 8 p.m., one child appeared mournfully in front of me and produced lengthy homework she needed help with as if she hadn’t known about its existence for days. The other one dumped a pile of paperwork on the table that had to be filled out for clubs (all due the next day of course), and my husband decided now was the time to book flights for holiday travel. I fell into bed hours later, only to lie wide awake and think of everything that now had to be done the next day. I tried meditating, which backfired when the blank space I worked hard to cultivate converted itself to a chalkboard and an imaginary hand started writing a to-do list on it.

The good news is that I only have two more months to get through before starting a new year. In 2020, I will resolve to work less, be more organized, say yes and no to the right things and make all the right parenting decisions. But how to get through the next couple of months without going nuts?

The answer lies in the calendar. It’s November now, season of thankfulness — so I’m giving gratitude a chance.

According to U.C. Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, the scientific benefits of gratitude include stronger immune systems; less depression, loneliness and isolation; more joy and optimism; and stronger relationships. All I need to do is look around at the madness and flip the equation. I’m busy because I have work. I’m “partied out” because I have friends. I’m “stressed about sorting out tickets” because we are fortunate enough to travel. I “can’t get my work done” because I’m lucky enough to still have my babies under my roof to keep me occupied.

It took me a while, but I caught on. On a recent Tuesday evening, my older child had a show choir concert nearly an hour away in rush-hour traffic. In order to get her there, I had to drive her car pool home (almost an hour round trip), make arrangements for my friend to pick up my other child from her activity, and then get back in the van and head south, where I sat in a parking lot with my laptop trying to finish up work while they rehearsed. Why on earth had she said yes to this, I fumed. She’d spend hours catching up on homework to make up for the wasted evening, and who knew when we’d get home.

When they let us into the auditorium, I settled into a seat, yawned, scrolled reflexively through my phone. But there’s something about children singing in unison that can’t help but lighten the most grudging mood. They were busy too, but here they were singing their hearts out for us, fully in the moment they occupied. Then a University of Florida chorus took the stage, and when their soprano’s astonishing voice soared into that ordinary high school auditorium, we were transported by its beauty. Once I let go of that to-do list that hovered like a crabby ghost over my every moment, I could see busy-making moments such as these for what they truly are: a privilege to be grateful for. It’s not that I have to be here. It’s this: How lucky I am to have a whole two hours with nothing to do but listen to my daughter sing with her friends.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of

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