Takeaways from College Interviews

Every year for a decade or so, I have interviewed high school students for my alma mater. As much as I want to give back, I find myself enriched by the experience each year, too. One student years ago introduced me to the concept of "10,000 hours of purposeful practice." Others, who have excelled in research laboratories, have given me insight into the future of medical developments and biotech advancements. Still others regale me with fascinating tales of trips to Africa, Asia, Latin America. But I warn them, "This interview will likely make little difference on your likelihood of acceptance."

Don't get me wrong; most of these kids blow me away. They usually have the "It" factor. But the goal of the interview is for the university to learn more about the candidate that is not evident in a resume or essay. I also have an ulterior motive: I want them to leave that interview feeling like they actually learned something--a life lesson--that will serve them no matter which university they attend.

The questions high school students ask almost never surprise: "What is dorm life like?" I tell them what it was like 25 years ago. "What is the best class you ever took?" That leads to an emphatic response that you should really take courses for the professor, not the subject matter. "What else should I know?" This is my favorite question.

"I can only tell you what I learned, but I think it's good advice. When you walk through any campus, you will see hordes of students. Those will always be the freshmen. In the first few weeks, people feel the need to glom onto each other for support. Don't reject it outright, but learn how to really enjoy being alone. Being with you, yourself. It won't be easy. And you'll be on the phone or on Facebook, and your friends from home will be talking about how amazing everything is, and you may or may not feel the same way right away. Nobody feels exactly the same as somebody else, so find some way to accept that your experiences will not and can't be exactly as you have planned or you expected. You will feel like you're missing out on SOMETHING. But ask yourself this every day: 'Could this be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?' If so, skip class. You can make up the work, but you probably won't get that opportunity again. If you're looking for something and it isn't there, make it happen. And even if it doesn't happen, FAIL SPECTACULARLY. There are no real consequences to trying to make something great happen and falling on your face in college. Oh, and keep in touch with as many people as possible. Even if you don't like them in school, you may be surprised at how awesome they turn out to be when they learn to grow up a little."