Admission, students reflect on pilot interview program

May 27, 2010, 1:04 a.m.

As Stanford’s admission rate dropped to a historically low rate this year — just 7.2 percent — some applicants added an extra element to the usual essays and transcript that comprise the application: an admission interview.

Now, Stanford’s Office of Undergraduate Admission has announced the third year of the pilot interview program that, if expanded, could extend interviews to all applicants.

“Right now it’s a pilot program,” said Richard Shaw, dean of Undergraduate Admission. “That’s exactly what it is. It’s been a pilot and it continues to be one. We’ve not made any final determination as to whether it would be a larger program.”

The pilot program began two years ago and was first available to some applicants for the Class of 2013; it was offered again for the Class of 2014 and will be available to the incoming applicant Class of 2015. Stanford alumni conduct interviews in the applicant’s area, then do a write-up of the experience and send it to the admission office.

While Harvard and Princeton have instituted programs that offer interviews to everyone who applies, interviews for Stanford are currently offered to applicants in 12 areas: Atlanta, Denver, London, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. were just added for the applicants of the Class of 2015.

“They’re pretty broadly distributed across the nation,” Shaw said of the interview locations. “They’re primarily metropolitan areas and very importantly, we have strong alumni presence in them.”

Shaw emphasized that the interviews are not required components of the application. However, he did note that the vast majority of applicants offered an interview chose to take it.

Shaw said the admission office would wait until its third year before any decisions are made on whether or not to implement the program more broadly.

“So far we feel pretty strong success, but there’s no preconceived notion that it will go forward,” he said. “We’re still evaluating.”

Stanford received more than 32,000 applications for spots in the Class of 2014, about a 5.4 percent increase over the 30,348 received the previous year.

Because of high application numbers, Shaw is hesitant to expand the program to cover all applicants in this nascent stage. Undergraduate Admission is still determining if it has the capacity to employ this program worldwide. The concern affects Stanford’s home state in particular, where there are currently no interview locations due to the sheer volume of applications Stanford receives from California each year.

Shaw estimated around 2,500 applicants received interviews this year. This raises the question of whether or not those 2,500 people received an unfair advantage over ones who were not interviewed.

“Really, what it does is it adds texture to the application, as we get a summary of the experience of meeting the person in the process,” Shaw said. “In general, it isn’t a make-or-break deal. It’s one piece of information among all other pieces of information that candidates give to us.”

“I think, frankly, interviews can go either way, but again, it’s just a factor among many,” he added. “I think to the extent that it hurts or helps a student’s chances for Stanford, it’s probably more generally neutral than it is one way or the other.”

Shaw also asserted that the admission rate among the interviewees was in line with the overall admission rate.

Alumni who conduct the interviews undergo training programs, which include meetings and manuals to ensure that interviews are as comprehensive and consistent as possible.

“Most don’t see more than three interviews in an area a year,” Shaw said. “Then they actually do a write up of the interview process and get that information to us so we get a sense [of the applicant].” Shaw also sees the interview process as a way to introduce Stanford programs to individuals who may not be as familiar with the University.

Christine Chung ’13 was one student who underwent an interview last year.

“I met with a recent graduate, I think, because she was really young,” Chung said. “We met at Borders and grabbed some coffee. It was really chill. It wasn’t formal at all.”

Chung discussed her interests with her interviewer, who recommended on-campus activities and groups to her should she be accepted. However, she did not find the interview all that important.

“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” she said.

“I don’t know how much colleges in general benefit from the interviews or if they mean anything…I guess it doesn’t hurt to have more information on the application,” Chung added.

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