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Ruzicka ’21: Alumni interviews with prospective students build community — why destroy them now?

As our world is cast into turmoil by a global pandemic, almost everything about our daily lives has changed. It comes as no surprise that the college admission process has also changed during this time. Brown University specifically has made a few amendments to its admission procedures. Like many institutions, the University has waived its standardized testing requirement; however, unlike every other Ivy League college, the University has cut its alumni interviews program, opting instead for students to upload a two-minute video portfolio at their discretion. Though this change may save admission officers time during the admission cycle by relieving them of the obligation to schedule interviews and read alumni feedback, it ultimately deprives both prospective students and alumni of a chance to connect with the Brown community in a valuable way.

It is refreshing to see the Admission Office reevaluate how they select future Brunonians. With an ever-increasing applicant pool, having a clear idea of what metrics do and don’t matter to a student’s success on College Hill is essential to an effective admission process. The alumni interview offers students a unique opportunity to speak authentically, unfiltered by carefully edited essays or the pressure of video recordings. Meeting alumni in a casual setting also gives a face to the title “Brunonian,” showing students what kinds of people have shaped the University and providing them with a better sense of our community.

Without alumni interviews, only students with a previous connection to a Brown alum will be able to get the same inside look into campus as visits to Providence are not recommended during the pandemic. Consequently, the Office of College Admission will not receive any unrehearsed personal evaluations of students. Combined with the lack of on-campus tours during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a huge loss for prospective students and admission officers. The Admission Office has said that they will host a webinar series featuring alumni, but they have yet to announce when those events will occur or their structure. Furthermore, a webinar with dozens of other students present can never replace the personal connection provided by a one-on-one interview.

Beyond the loss of authentic information provided to admission officers and the missed personal connections for students, alumni also suffer under this new system. The Herald reported two weeks ago that alumni were gutted by the cancellation of the Alumni Interviews Program. Interviews allowed alumni to help shape the future of the University and continue to stay in touch with the community, even if they live far from Providence. The alumni voice was taken away with a mere email. It’s a blow to their morale and shows a lack of respect toward alumni by the Office of College Admission.

One obvious obstacle to conducting interviews at this time is the inability to meet in person. Yet all seven other Ivy League institutions are still recommending that students engage in some kind of alumni interview process. Five of those seven — Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn and Yale — all state explicitly that interviews will be by video conference or phone only, a tactic which Dean of Admission Logan Powell has declared inequitable. Yet solely offering in-person interviews, which the University has done for years, is even more inequitable than offering interviews virtually, as it’s reasonable to assume that there is a far smaller group of students who have access to neither phone nor Internet services than students who live outside of manageable in-person meeting distances from willing alumni.

During my college admission process, my father and I drove nearly two hours to downtown Chicago so that I could interview with a Brown alum. I recognize that I was very lucky, both to live close enough to a city where an interview could be held and to have parents who supported me enough to spend not just a few minutes of their day dropping me off and picking me up, but instead about five hours of combined driving and waiting. Extending the option for students to interview from their homes, whether through video conferencing platforms like Zoom or over the phone, eases the burden of transportation and lacking proximity to alumni, leveling the playing field for students with more rural homes, tight work schedules and no access to vehicles or reliable public transport.

In the end, the Office of College Admission knows that the absence of an alumni interview opportunity will not discourage enough students from applying to hurt their coveted admit rates. A spot in the Brown University Class of 2025 will be sought by students around the world due to the extraordinary opportunity and prestige that the University provides; however, I increasingly wonder whether such a revered reputation has been earned because of how University administration treats applicants, or in spite of it.

Emilia Ruzicka ’21 can be reached at emilia_ruzicka@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.



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