Who’s Shopping Whom?

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Stupid me.  I was reading an article about college admissions interviews the other day, and was surprised by one of the author’s messages: The interview is as much about the student learning more about the college as it is about the college learning more about the student. We parents are so caught up in the selection process by the college or university of the student, we sometimes fail to see the obvious — the primacy of the selection process by the student of the college or university.  It is a question of perspective.

The article reminded me that our kids are in the driver’s seat.  They need to be prepared to ask questions, seek specifics, find out more than the schools present in their glossy, highly finessed marketing materials.  Like any good advertisement, those tri-folds, pamphlets, and brochures tout all the best selling features of the school.  It’s up to the investigative applicant to find out the rest of the story – more than the website reveals.     

Our kids need to show up to their admissions interviews prepared, armed with questions, and certainly well-versed in the information that is publicly available about the school where they are interviewing.  The opportunity to look uninformed, disinterested and unprepared, is as great as the opportunity to present an impression of one who is thoughtfully interested, who has done his or her research, and who has a sincere desire to learn more about the school that he or she wishes to attend.  Like any self-respecting consumer in the 21st century, they need to shop it.

Admissions directors and college counselors who recently convened at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (“NACAC”) Conference in New Orleans agree that the basics of a good interview are still important: A solid handshake, good eye contact, and strong knowledge of the host institution cannot be ignored.  These are fundamental skills our kids will need every step of the rest of their lives, including every job interview they ever have.  But the skill we must also impart to them is the confidence to know that the match is a two-way accord.  Whether it be a college interview or a job interview, they must own the process, and have the poise and personal conviction to feel selective, like they are good enough to decline an offer, even if one should come their way.

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  1. Hoo-boy, I am so glad that I was able to attend college back in the days when all we needed was a good grade average and a literate essay. The college selection process now seems too much like marketing and too little like education. Is it still true that every year, hundreds of positions at perfectly respectable schools go empty, and that zillions of dollars of financial aid are unclaimed, just because those assets are at schools not thought of as “top-notch”? That was the case a decade ago, when I had the joyful task of writing letters of recommendation for several applicants every year from our highly successful public high school. The guidance counselor ( a real gem) was adept at pointing the students to schools with little name recognition but fine academic value.

    Campus visits were a luxury, when the school was hundreds of mile away; but local alumni would do interviews, and the interaction was usually lively. It seems a bit unnatural to expect a teenager, with a dozen years of life experience, to conduct a formal interview with a middle manager three times their age, and pull it off like a pro. Ought not the adult, with the benefit of age and training, be obliged to guide the youngster through the experience, for the benefit of all?

    I thought so.

    But when do things go as they ought?

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