Tuesday, September 14, 2010
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Dear Mr. Bradshaw -- I'm well along in completing my application to several top colleges. My teachers and guidance counselor have given me good advice on all aspects of the process, except for the alumni interview. None of them graduated from a college that required an interview. How do I prepare? -- Concerned Student
Dear Student -- The best advice I can give is to repeat a story from a previous student who successfully interviewed for Harvard.
Jennifer's dad dropped her off at the downtown office building where she was scheduled to meet with her Harvard interviewer. She looked up at one of Chicago's tallest skyscrapers. Her stomach was in knots.
"This is it; I'm all on my own," she told herself before raising her chin. "Welcome to the world of the elite."
She pushed through the revolving door and entered the lobby. This probably would be the most important interview of her life, and she was only 17 years old.
Objectively, there was no reason for Jennifer to be nervous. She was a "1 percenter." She had prepared well in high school. She was No. 1 in her class. She scored almost perfectly on her SATs. She was editor of the school newspaper, president of the regional French club, a thespian honoree, a member of the math and science Olympiad and, most recently, she had earned an "A" from Stanford University's online introductory physics course, her intended major at Harvard.
Why, then, was she so worried about the alumni interview?
All Jennifer knew about her interviewer was that he was a senior partner (whatever that means) in a major Chicago law firm -- stuffy gray suits with lots of money.
No big deal; she had interned the previous summer for a senator in Washington, D.C. But that was with a lot of kids, and she hardly ever met the power brokers who make up the elite of the Washington insiders -- a number of them with kids already at Harvard and with Senate parking stickers adorning their BMWs.
Then, a voice asked for her photo ID. Jennifer's name was checked off on a prepared list of visitors allowed to enter the building that day. She was given a name tag bar-coded with the appropriate security information.
Then, Jennifer walked to the elevator that silently whisked her up the 57 floors to the law offices of her interlocutor and her meeting with destiny.
Jennifer exited the elevator, and her first thought was that she had never seen such luxury. Dark wood paneling, soft leather couches and classical paintings on the wall depicted fox-hunting Englishmen on horses with their dogs in chase.
She walked to the receptionist and introduced herself. The receptionist smiled pleasantly and said she was expected and pointed to one of the soft leather couches.
Jennifer thumbed through "The American Lawyer" a few minutes before an office door opened and he came out to greet her -- tall, gray-haired and wearing French cuffs.
The first thing Jennifer thought was, she had not met anyone like him in Washington. He projected real power; he had money behind him. This was not one of those political functionaries with whom she had worked in Washington.
He reached out to shake her hand and introduced himself while he guided her into his office. The interview was about to begin.
"What makes you think you are good enough to get into Harvard?" he asked.
Jennifer was caught a bit off guard. She expected some small talk or maybe a few warmup questions -- about her grades, test scores, intended college major, but never a straight-out, "What makes you think you are good enough to get into Harvard?"
It never occurred to her that anyone would ask such a direct question in such an assertive manner.
For an instant, Jennifer felt queasy.
In that split second, just one thought flashed through her mind: "If I blow this one, I'm a goner. Twelve years of preparation down the drain; parents, friends, teachers -- how can I let them down?
"Why is he attacking me? What have I done? How could I have so misjudged the alumni interview and not seen this coming? I'm being blindsided by an angry white male."
Then, just as quickly, Jennifer recovered from his pointed query. She composed herself and showed a hint of wisdom beyond her years with this polite reply, "My grandfather asked me that same question when I was in the ninth grade."
From there, Jennifer led him through her meticulous preparation for Harvard during the last four years.
For a split second, Jennifer thought she had flubbed it. But she remembered her grandfather's probing question, and it all came back to her.
With the first week of April came a welcoming letter of admittance to Harvard. She showed it to her grandfather and told him he never would know how much he had helped her succeed.
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