“Why is Loomis an island?”
“What kinds of students do you think are most successful at Loomis?”
“Where is your favorite place on Loomis Chaffee’s campus?”
As my Loomis Chaffee admission colleagues can attest, I love interviewing students. Of course, it’s easy for me to say ― they interview many more students than I do in a given year. But throughout the fall and early winter, at various times throughout the day I am forced to drop everything, go back to my former role as a college counselor, and do nothing but ask teens questions, listen to their answers, and let them do the same. There is no better way for me to be reminded of who we are serving and the community we are trying to build than talking to students who are navigating the process of applying to schools. One recent interviewee answered a question about his academic interests by sighing deeply, closing his eyes, pounding his fist to his chest twice emphatically and stating, “Math is my ROMEO, man! It’s my RO!ME!O!” I guess one could say that talking to students is my Romeo. Whether shy, outspoken, nervous, or honestly bored with the entire enterprise of talking about their hopes and dreams with total strangers, it doesn’t matter. As I’ve written previously (see The Sassy Interviewee), it doesn’t matter to me who they are in their interview ― as long as I can get even the tiniest glimmer into who they really are, not who they think they need to be.
This year, of course, interviewing has introduced a whole new bag of tricks. Just learning how to interview effectively online required practice (a belated apology to those I interviewed and mistakenly disconnected that first week ― you know who you are!). Like online learning, there have been some benefits and some drawbacks for our new interviewing normal. Because our campus is not open to visitors, we are able to schedule interviews with far more students each day as we aren’t limited to the number we can accommodate on a tour or fit in our waiting room at a given hour. We are interviewing students who have never seen the campus, so we are not just information-gathering, we are also doing a lot more information-providing to help students discern what makes Loomis different than the other schools they’ve met with online. Another adjustment has been that we do not always meet with parents or guardians in an online interview, whereas on campus, we never did an interview without meeting them. And like our peer institutions, to accommodate students in different time zones and school schedules, we are interviewing six days a week ― morning, noon and night. The screen time requires a different kind of stamina than the energy that on-campus interviewing requires.
And once we hit that “connect” button on our interviewing screen, we don’t know what awaits us: students who log in from their bedrooms, family rooms and dining rooms, their school classrooms and libraries, and on one of my recent weeknights, the passenger seat of a car. Not unlike online learning, some of those students are more comfortable on screen than in person. Not having to sit struggling with anxious anticipation in an unfamiliar reception room surrounded by similarly-weirded-out peers makes them more relaxed and ready to engage. They know online. They’ve got this! For others, the format still feels unnatural to them. Like many of the teens I’ve interviewed say about their online learning experience, it’s okay, but it’s no comparison to being in person. Many interviewees (and interviewers) agree that not being able to tour the campus in person before an interview or to be meeting us in our Loomis habitat makes a difference in their ability to get to know the school ― and on our end, for us to get to know the student. As I wrote about in The Benefits of Armchair Travel, I too miss the hustle-bustle and energy of our building during the visiting months. It’s not the same.
But what has changed the most for me this fall is that interviewing is no longer just my Romeo. It’s also my window. The concept of “mirrors and windows” is one that is often used in education, one that describes a “mirror” as a story that reflects our own culture and helps build our identity; and a “window” as one that enables us to see into an experience that does not reflect our own. In building curriculum, it’s important to provide both mirrors and windows so that students feel both included and represented in communities of learning as well as challenged to consider alternate points of view. I have been reminded of this metaphor repeatedly throughout the course of the fall as I have had a literal window ― albeit one through my laptop camera ― into the experiences that our young people are having during this unprecedented year of 2020. It has been inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking, but always illuminating to connect through the window of interviewing teens in their bedrooms, family rooms, dining rooms and yes, cars throughout these past months. I work every day not to take that window for granted, and to every student who has genuinely shared even a sliver of their real selves in their conversations with me, I owe you a great debt of gratitude. Talking to students about how they see themselves and the world allows me to see every day directly into another experience that teaches me more about myself and about how I interact with that same world. It enables me to empathize better, learn more, and think more critically about the process our prospective students are going through and ways we can make it a better one for them.
And so, when students and parents ask me for advice about admission interviews, I don’t tell them to prepare answers to questions that might be asked, or make sure to talk about accomplishments, or to “just be yourself!” My advice is more about mindset: Remember, the person on the other side of that screen is peeking through a window into your life. (In a friendly way. Not a scary way.) They want to see you. Let them in. You might teach that admission officer a thing or two without you even realizing it.