University News

As apps rise, alumni interviewers weigh options

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Despite the 50 percent increase in applications to Brown over the past five years, the Brown Alumni Schools Committee has still been able to arrange interviews for most first-year applicants, said Todd Andrews ’83, vice president for alumni relations. The continued success has been due in part to an increase in the number of alumni volunteers and the number of applicants they each interview.
If the applicant pool continues to grow, the process will likely include more interviews not conducted in person, Andrew said. “I think in the future you’ll see more phone interviews, more Skype interviews, but for now the alumni are answering the call.” Both phone and Skype have been used in the past, especially when contacting an increasing international pool, he said.
BASC recruitment efforts have increased the participation of younger alums, Andrews wrote in an email to The Herald. The number of interviewers has roughly doubled since Andrews began working at the University six years ago.
Other potential means for dealing with the rise in applications would be to eliminate applicants before the interview process or to conduct mass interviews, Andrews said. In the past, this has been done in southern California and Texas, where alums are limited. Candidates and interviewers in an area come to a school or a large space and conduct all interviews in one day.
Kalena Crafton ’15 said she was not comfortable with a phone interview last year when she applied and felt “shorthanded.” She said while it might make nervous students more relaxed, phone interviews can make it harder for applicants to present themselves fully.
Helen Lord ’14, who hails from Wellesley, Mass., said the University told her she did not need to interview since it was already familiar with her school, Phillips Academy.
Jeffrey Durso-Finley MAT’91, who worked in the Admission Office for eight years, wrote in an email to The Herald that he does not believe organizations like BASC will be able to match an increasing applicant pool, but he added that “matching each applicant to an interviewer isn’t the overall goal.” Interviews are an important link between alums and universities and “education past and present,” he wrote.
“I think they can live without it,” said Bruce Breimer, director of college guidance at the Collegiate School in New York City from 1970 to 2007, stressing that interviews are generally far less important than teacher references.
Andrews acknowledged that at some point in the future the University may not be able to interview every applicant, in which case the committee will look to its volunteers to seek a “workable solution.”
BASC currently contacts 95 percent of the applicants for an interview each year to offer them an opportunity to speak with an alum, according to Andrews. The interview process gives the University another view of the prospective students.
BASC uses roughly 10,000 alums from the classes of 1948 to 2011 to contact the 30,000 applicants each year. Ninety-two percent of applicants are eventually interviewed, Andrews said, because not all contacted applicants reply to interview offers.
The interview reports are submitted electronically and go directly into the applicants’ files, said Dean of Admission Jim Miller ’73. The University coordinates with the interviewers through 350 area chairs, Andrews said.
“Older interviewers are often the most excited” to speak with the applicants, Durso-Finley wrote.
Miller said interviews rarely hinder a candidate’s chances, and “you can’t put a weight” on its effect on the application. Sometimes an interview can encourage admission officers to go back and do more digging.
“It certainly isn’t a defining factor,” Andrews said. “It helps complete the picture.”
“In the States, it could be really important in unearthing a diamond in the rough from Montana,” Breimer said. “I think they have more impact, geographically, in less concentrated areas.” Interviews are more important if the secondary school, whether domestic or international, is less familiar to the University. Usually, interviewers acknowledge they “have very little impact on decisions,” Breimer said. At times, positive networking by the interviewer can help applicants because of their interviews.
With a wide variety of alums voluntarily conducting interviews, Breimer emphasized there is very little quality control or uniformity in the interviewers. Interviewers are not professionals like the admission officers and should play an appropriately small role, Breimer said.
“Generally I’d say with rare exceptions, it’s a PR thing for (the colleges),” Breimer said. Passionate alums represent their schools well to applicants, he said.
Those who do not have an interview are not at a disadvantage, but rejecting interview offers does not reflect well, Miller said.
Chirona Silverstein ScB’10 ScM’11, who is an alumni interviewer, said she finds interviews to be a good time for applicants to ask questions and that she gets a good view of the applicant in that amount of time.
According to applicant Liam Trotzuk, who is from New York City, his interview with Brown was “by far the most relaxed.” In the lengthy span of time between submitting applications and receiving decisions, Trotzuk said the interview provides “a sense of security.”
There is always the chance that a very good alum can increase a student’s interest in the university, Breimer said.
“(Interviews are) very helpful because they would give us insight from an objective person meeting the candidate,” said Ed Hu ’87, former associate dean of admission at the University. He added that though it is often a confirmation of the Admission Office’s previous opinions, it can make the office more comfortable with its selections.