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Brown suspends Alumni Interview Program for 2020-21 admission cycle

Dean of Admission Logan Powell cites concerns of access and equity for widespread virtual interviewing and highlights video submission alternative

The University will suspend its Alumni Interview Program for the 2020-21 admission cycle, Dean of Admission Logan Powell announced in a Sept. 10 email to past alumni interviewers. 

The AIP offers applicants to the University the opportunity to meet with an alum to gain a new perspective about Brown, have their questions answered and share additional information about themselves to add to their application.

This year, instead of requesting an interview, applicants will be able to submit a two-minute video and will have access to alumni panels — alternatives that disappointed some alumni interviewers.

David Duncan ’81 P’15 P’16, who has interviewed applicants for decades, said he was upset that the decision was made without consultation with alums who have dedicated time and effort to making the program successful.

“Suddenly to be told what you have busted your butt doing for all of these years, we're just going to decide in one email (that) we're not going to do it anymore — kind of takes the wind out of our guts,” Duncan said.

Powell said that though the AIP is something Brown has always valued, the circumstances of the pandemic make it difficult to continue the program in a safe and equitable way.

Behind the decision 

The Admission Office recognized in March that Brown’s college admission process would have to change significantly based on the changing landscape of COVID-19, Powell said. Spring programs such as A Day on College Hill and in-person tours were canceled and replaced with virtual options.

In considering what form the interviewing program should take, Powell consulted with numerous members of the University community, including the Office of the General Counsel, Computing and Information Services, alumni trustees and Global Chair of the AIP Mandy Tachiki ’95. After these conversations, it quickly became clear that the traditional in-person, one-on-one model of interviewing would not be feasible, he said.

The Admission Office initially pursued the option of conducting virtual interviews but encountered several obstacles that threatened to substantially alter the conversations between alums and prospective students. Concerns emerged such as varying levels of access to stable Wi-Fi for a 45-minute conversation and added uncertainty and anxiety for prospective students. 

The option of virtual interviews also raised legal problems. According to Powell, the University has certain legal guidelines in place to govern how Brown representatives interact with legal minors online. Those guidelines include seeking consent from all parties before the conversation, having a third-party adult present and recording the interview. The guidelines also encourage Brown to store those recordings for some period of time.

“We want those conversations to be casual. We want them to be informative. And in the end, we just didn't see any way through to solve all of the challenges that were presented to us to conduct the interviews in the way that would be optimal,” Powell said.

Alternatives to the alumni interview

In place of alumni interviews, the Admission Office came up with several new initiatives that could be implemented quickly given the time constraints and the large applicant pool. Applicants are encouraged to submit an optional two-minute video portfolio if they would like to share additional information about themselves. The Admission Office began offering applicants the chance to submit a video portfolio two years ago starting with the class of 2023, so some students may be familiar with the option.

The Admission Office is also planning a series of online panel conversations with alums to give applicants the chance to hear about their experiences. Powell believes this program will be more informative than an interview because it gives applicants an opportunity to hear from multiple alums, rather than just the one that they would encounter in an interview. The Admission Office will offer many panels, covering a variety of topics such as being a first-generation student at Brown or certain career paths.

Finally, Brown is inviting past alumni interviewers to conversations with the Admission Office about this year’s admission cycle and how it is being affected by COVID-19, Powell said.

Powell believes these three initiatives will offer many of the same benefits of the alumni interview, for both the applicants and the alumni interviewers. 

Fundamentally, the experience “is for the student to be able to share in their own words more about themselves and their interest in Brown,” and provides “an opportunity for the (alum) to share with the applicants more about their experience at Brown and after Brown,” Powell said.

Alums express frustration, sympathy in response to the program’s cancellation

Some alumni interviewers were frustrated by the decision. 

David Duncan expressed that much is lost in the absence of interviews this year. For Duncan, the interviews served as a way to connect applicants with alums on a personal level, where applicants can share more about themselves and learn about the experiences of someone who has attended the University.

Duncan also believes the interviews humanize the admission process and help relieve applicant anxiety. “It's just a tsunami of applicants and you can feel lost in that, but here's a person who can not only be a connection to you, (but) help you understand that it's really not about who is the best,” Duncan said. “It's really a lot about … the luck of the draw.”

Duncan also said he questioned why COVID-19 has changed things to the point that virtual interviews are not feasible. Duncan has interviewed for several decades and said he has done many virtual interviews in the past, and argued that COVID-19 has already forced people to incorporate similar technologies into their everyday lives. 

Kendra Cornejo ’15, a former alumni interviewer, was also disappointed that the program was suspended this year, but said she understood the decision. The AIP requires a lot of volunteer work, which Cornejo said can be difficult during a pandemic. 

“It's definitely a volunteer-driven program, and in a time where so many people have so many other things on their mind with uprisings for racial justice and this health pandemic,” Cornejo said. “I can understand how incredibly difficult it is and probably what a relief it was to all the other alums who are doing this leadership on the (back end) that it was suspended.” 

Duncan also felt the more widespread adoption of the video portfolio submission could expose more of a technology gap among applicants and create more anxiety than a one-on-one virtual interview. “Suddenly you have to be a really clever producer in a process that already requires you to be a really clever applicant, because you want to somehow get attention drawn to what you're doing,” Duncan said.

In response, Powell said that nearly every applicant has access to a cell phone based on collected data, and the Admission Office encourages students to record their videos using their phones. The Admission Office evaluates only the content, not the production or quality of the submissions, Powell said.

Applicants “can edit it to whatever degree they like or not, but it is absolutely their own words, and there's no translation of it at all. What they record and what they submit is what we view,” Powell said.

Powell added that the new initiatives will give students the opportunity to share more about themselves than they otherwise might during an interview with an alum. According to Powell, 8,000 students who requested an alumni interview last year were not able to secure one, creating an access issue.

“What I wanted to assure every student who applied to Brown was that if they wanted to tell us who they were in their own words, they'd have an opportunity to do so,” Powell said.

Powell recognized the work of the alums, adding that “we remain deeply grateful to our alumni volunteers for the incredible efforts we have witnessed over the year, both to provide feedback as part of the admission process and to serve as illustrious representatives of the Brown community for those who seek to join us on College Hill,” he wrote in his recent email to alumni interviewers. 

As with all of the new programs and changes to the Admission Office — the suspension of the standardized testing requirement and the cancellation of in-person tours, for example — Powell says the Office will reassess next year.


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