Informal setting, serious outcomes

Lose the rehearsed questions. Forget the formality. For some prospective students, the admissions interview is little more than a conversation with a student only four years older, leaving the fate of your admission partly in the hands of a senior in college.

For about 15 percent of incoming freshmen who choose the optional admissions interview, it’s an integral part of the application process. For the 27 GW seniors handpicked by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions for the Senior Interviewer Program, the interviews are an opportunity to have an impact on who makes it into GW.

“Honestly. it’s really nerve-wracking,” said Lani Smith, an interviewer. “It’s like that situation of don’t be scared because the other person is probably just as nervous as you are. For a lot of them this is their first time doing a college interview and they don’t know what to expect, but at the same time you don’t either.”

SIPs hold two on-campus interviews per week, and are sometimes sent to far off states with traveling admissions staff to hold interviews.

Seth McElroy, another interviewer who spoke from San Francisco, Calif. while on an admissions trip, said the interviews conducted by SIPs are held in the same regard as one done by an admissions director.

“It’s all the same write-up paper,” McElroy said.

McElroy said the interview write-up can be an important part of the application packet.

“The interview can kind of be a deal breaker. [A prospective student’s] interview might be able to show something about themselves that they can’t put on paper,” McElroy said.

Besides paid expenses for the weekend spent out of D.C., the interviewers do not receive compensation for their work, but McElroy said that the reward is in the unique opportunity to impact the incoming class.

“I feel like I’m making a difference for the University because I’m actually getting a say in whether I think this kid really would fit in at GW or that kid wouldn’t,” McElroy said. “So I feel like I’m helping out the University and the kids [who] are applying.”

Undergraduate Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper said in an e-mail that about 100 seniors are nominated each year to become interviewers in the “elite group” of 27.

“[Senior interviewers] are superb representatives of the University due to their outstanding student leadership during their time at GW,” Napper said.

Daniel Miller, assistant director of Undergraduate Admissions and head of the senior interviewer program, said he encourages students to look at the interview as a “conversation” and not a straight interview.

“While we certainly have questions prepared, we want to hear from the students,” Miller said. “The advantage of the senior interview is that they are able to engage with students and answer questions about their own perspective at GW. There is certainly a give and take between the senior interviewers and interviewees.”

Interviewer Brian Engel said the informal setting of the interviews surprises some students who come into the process expecting to regurgitate practiced answers to typical admissions interview questions.

“Sometimes getting that conversation started can be a challenge because I don’t think many students [who] come into the interview are expecting this kind of environment,” Engel said. “To try and cut away from some of that scripting that they have prepared and convince them that this is a conversation and a dynamic experience can be a challenge.”

Sophomore Jake Oxford, who was interviewed by a senior interviewer during his admissions process, said he was less intimidated by being interviewed by someone not much older than him.

“I was nervous, but I wasn’t as nervous as I would have been had it been a professional – someone who works for GW,” Oxford said. “I felt more relaxed just because I felt like I could more relate to a student since they’ve gone through the process. It’s more of a relating factor than a superiority factor.”

Oxford said he rehearsed questions for the interview with his mom the night before and was surprised by the type of questions he was asked in the actual interview.

“I went into it thinking I would get questions like, ‘Why do you want to go to GW, what do you want to do with your life?’ I had some of those questions but it was more random questions that I got that I was kind of surprised by,” Oxford said. “I got a question like, ‘If I gave you $1,000 and I gave you a plane ticket where would you go and why?’ I wasn’t expecting that.”

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