Posts tagged ‘college’

2012/12/03

Alumni Interviews

A dreadfully practical post this morning. :) Every year I do a few interviews of high school kids applying to Princeton, and this year a relative who knows this and whose high school kid is applying to Princeton asked me if I had any advice. I mailed some to them, but I thought I’d also share it, lightly edited, with the world.

Schools differ in various ways, but I expect this is probably at least somewhat relevant to all various places one might be applying and/or interviewing.

Princeton tells us basically nothing other than the person’s name and that they’ve applied. So the interviewee has a nice opportunity to shape the discussion. :)

You certainly don’t have to bring anything; most candidates don’t. On the other hand I’ve had kids bring a resume, or even a piece of original research, and I found that pretty impressive (always assuming it’s well-done of course, and they can talk interestingly about it).

Princeton says, and it’s true, that the interview is primarily a channel through which you the student can give any information about yourself that didn’t come through in the rest of the application process, and also ask someone who’s actually been there what it’s like (although it’s generally someone who was there a long time ago!).

But secondarily it’s also another piece of data about the student that I’m sure plays into the evaluation process, at least in resolving ties.

Random advice:

Don’t ask dry factual questions that are right there on the school web site (what majors exist, class sizes, etc). The alum probably won’t know the current answer, and it just looks like you haven’t done your homework.

Do ask questions that the alum can talk to from their own experience, and that aren’t on the website. Just “what was it like?” and “what do you think is the school’s greatest strength / weakness?” are good, or anything else along those lines. If you’re interested in anything specific that the alum might know about (and isn’t on the website), definitely be prepared to ask about that.

Have some questions in mind to ask if the discussion trails off. I’m always much more impressed with a student who can keep the discussion going for the whole time than I am if I have to think “okay, we’re sitting here silent again, what can I ask next?”.

The interviewer is likely to ask something along the lines of “is there anything about yourself that you’d like to make sure the school knows about, that might not be evident from your application?”. Even if there isn’t, it’s good to have some interesting answer to this ready. :) Be prepared to talk about your interests, your strengths, your accomplishments, even if you think that they probably are evident from your application. Just saying “um, no I don’t think so” isn’t nearly as impressive.

Basically the challenge is to somehow differentiate yourself from the average applicant. This is especially true of the application process in general, but if you can do it at the interview that’s also good. It’s hard to do that in a single short interview, of course, but it’s a good thing to have in mind. Every applicant has good grades and is interested in science and/or English and/or math in a general way. If you can say specifically that you really love partial differential equations and tell a funny story about how you taught them to your cat, or talk about some particular activity that got you really excited and you can ramble on about it for five or ten minutes sounding all enthusiastic and intelligent, or you recently did a deep dive into the history of the kings of Norway and can talk about that, or you feel that your kung fu training has given you a unique insight into the education system, definitely use that.

Which isn’t to say that you should stress about it. :) There’s really no way to mess up an interview; it can be a good way to get information, and can probably help you a bit in terms of admission if it goes well, but I don’t think you can hurt your chances by doing the wrong thing. So relax and be comfortable and confident and all.

So there it is! May not apply to your particular situation, no warrantee is expressed or implied, not intended as medical advice, void where prohibited, licensed, or taxed. Consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. Not to be taken internally.

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2011/09/10

Saturday

So I am sitting here writing this as a passenger while the little daughter drives her car, if you can believe it.

Many many things have happened, and even are still happening; some of them I will write about later when they are more culminated. I spent threeish days of Labor Day week in airports-and-hotels-and-raised-floor land, sitting around waiting for something to go wrong that I might be needed to help with, and nothing did, which was good but extremely dull, because for much of the time I had no network connection nor any of my computers, and not enough printed out on paper to occupy the time.

The little daughter, as suggested above, now has her very own car, a natty little 2007 Nissan Sentra that we saw sitting at our local Nissan dealer with used-car price-numbers on the windshield, but when we made up our minds to probably buy it, and went there, the dealer had no idea what it was doing there, and said it wasn’t one of theirs, and didn’t we want something more expensive instead. (This is a good story, so I will continue it into a whole nother paragraph.)

We didn’t want any of the more expensive ones, and went home, but someone not me remembered there had been a URL on the license plate frame of the car, and we went there and the car was actually there on the website, and eventually we bought it. (For anyone in the area, Hudson Auto Traders is a very nice two or three vaguely Slavic young guys in a clean little shack by the side of the road, with a couple of desks and computers and lots of cars sitting around for sale, and they handle all the license and registration stuff, and wash the car very nicely for turning over, and the reason it was sitting at the Nissan dealer was that a service light had come on and they’d taken it to the service department for a new transmission, which is a good thing in a used car.)

So anyway now we are taking the little daughter back to school for her Senior Year of College, and M and the little boy are driving in the big car with most of the stuff, and the little daughter is driving her car with the fridge and the old TV and the beer and some shoes and things, and I am sitting here writing in my weblog, and helping her with her highway driving by gasping and making panicky little motions whenever she does anything dangerous, like driving on the same road as other cars. We are listening to Spanish music on th’ car radio.

There is a thirty-foot dumpster in our driveway back there at home, from Mr. Cheapee Carting, and it is surprisingy (and almost entirely) full of stuff that we have and don’t want. A fair fraction of the stuff was rendered (even) less desirable by being soaked in six inches of water in the basement; the rest is just stuff we realized we don’t want even in a dry condition, and Julian and Antoine hauled out and tossed in. It’s supposed to be removed on Monday.

In one of the ancient decaying cabinets that are now in the dumpster, M found a cache of books, mostly paperback SF, presumably placed there by me in the distant past. Once we’re home again maybe I will type them in, ’cause we like lists of random books here. M’s comment was that in the one place she would not have expected to find books, there were books.

(This is fun! says the little daughter, zipping down Interstate 287 South.)

There are a couple of industrial-strength fans in the basement, drying out the last few wet patches on the amazingly empty cement floor, and Julian and Antoine and their boss (boss-of-the-moment, perhaps) Manny have applied professional-strength disinfectants to discourage mold and fungus and other microorganisms that flourish in dampish basements.

My trip into airport-and-hotel-and-raised-floor land was complicated rather by the storms and tornadoes around Atlanta, in which city’s airport I was originally to change planes. After the airline drove me at their own expense from one airport to another one an hour away, I discovered that I was still not scheduled to arrive at my ultimate destination until the next morning, which was not According to Plan. Fortunately when I wailed about this to the gate agent, she said “oh, well, there is a direct flight to your ultimate destination leaving from that gate there in fifteen minutes, do you want to take that?”, and I did, and that simplified things considerably.

I have my third over-80 character in WoW (did I already say that?), a sore-faced Dren paladin named Spaenorus. “Sore-faced” is a joke, referring to the notional rolling of the face across the keyboard that WoW players invoke to imply that something is easy.

And WoW is easy! I think it’s that they’ve accelerated their “make everything easier, to increase new-user retention” policy, rather than that I’m just an awesomely skilled player haha. But, just for a fun-story example, there’s this semi-boss that’s level 80ish Elite, and after doing a quest chain you get the ability to set off these runes that he is foolishly walking around on, which do him lots of damage when activated. So I decided to see if I can vanquish and/or defeat him without using the runes, and I was able to do it handily, finishing with full health and mana, and the only reason I even had to use my Lay On Hands cooldown was (this is the good part) that halfway through the battle I got disconnected from the server, and when I got back in he was at full health again and I was at like 1%; but I had no serious trouble recovering from that and winning, still without using any of the runes.

If you made a graph of how hard WoW is now, it would stay flat at “push two or three buttons repeatedly until you win” all the way from level 1 to level 85, go up to “have some idea what you’re doing” in the last few level 85 instances, hit “optimize your gear and think about rotations” in heroic level 85 content, and then “actually be in a well-prepared and skillful and well-geared group, and do the right things” only at the very highest level 85 large-group raids.

Which means that hitting the advanced 85 content is quite a shock for people who’ve just been facerolling for their whole WoW lives, and random PUGs (pick-up groups) can get pretty ugly.

But presumably that effect doesn’t hurt user retention or revenue, or they wouldn’t do it? It’s a funny world!

Anyway, the little daughter is now all safely installed at school, and after a great sushi and tempura dinner, I have driven the rest of us home in the big car, and we are watching the second men’s semifinal of the U.S. Tennis Open, which involves tennis.

Ah, and here are the random books M rescued from the basement!

Star Trek: Vulcan’s Glory. A Star Trek novel, likely involving a Vulcan or two. And some glory.

The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West, by Mary Stanton. “If you loved Watership Down… this is the book for you”.

Piper at the Gate, by Mary Stanton. “The exciting sequel to The Heavenly Horse from the Outermost West.”

Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad. Famous!

The Loud Halo, by Lillian Beckwith. Apparently stories about life on a Hebridean island, with complimentary jacket-blurb from The Daily Scotsman, and an old sticker saying “PF50”.

“How to Parent”, by Dr. Fitzhugh Dodson. Hahaha a bit late there. Given my general disdain for parenting books, I’m especially baffled by this one.

The Teachings of the Mystics, by Walter T. Stace, a Mentor Book, 1960.

The Celtic Twilight, and a selection of early poems, by W. B. Yeats. (I wonder if there’s a digital edition of that.)

Beneath the Wheel, by Hermann Hesse. His second novel.

Mars, by Ben Bova. Many many pages.

The Peter Principle, by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his [sic] level of incompetence.” Bantam edition published February 1970.

Dayworld, by Philip Jose Farmer. A SF novel.

And finally, not a book, “Joy to the World, Three Dog Night, their greatest hits”. This is a primitive plastic device, with many moving parts, called a “tape cassette”. Ancient legends say that they were once used to record audio tracks, like a strange mechanical iPod; but if so, the method of extracting the recorded sound is long lost to science.

A satisfyingly odd collection, I’d say… :)