Harvard Law School Uses Skype to Interview Applicants

From applicants living in Asia to military personnel who are on active duty, qualified prospective students for Harvard Law School were interviewed through the free videoconferencing software Skype for the first time.

“The technology is working even better than we had hoped,” said Assistant Dean and Chief Admissions Officer and former Crimson business editor Jessica L. Soban ’02. “We’ve gotten great feedback from those that we’ve interviewed which has been really encouraging for us.”

Along with Soban, Harvard Law School Director of Admissions Karen E. Buttenbaum is also conducting interviews, which have occurred on a rolling basis since November.

“We have found it a really valuable part of our process,” Soban said. “Phone’s hard. You don’t get to see me nod, and I don’t get to see the other person smile. That’s the kind of stuff that makes for a really human interaction, and I think that it was missing from the phone interview.”

Soban said that the Law School aims to invite 1,200 students to interview in the new format by the end of this year’s admissions cycle, compared to 1,000 candidates who were interviewed via phone last year.

If a candidate is unable to interview via Skype, the Law School admissions office is prepared to offer special accommodations, which so far have not been needed.

Already one of only a small number of law schools to conduct interviews, Harvard joins a select few to offer videoconferencing, Soban said.

Second year Law School student Claire M. Guehenno ’09, a former Crimson news editor, said she appreciated having an interview for Harvard. “Especially for such a big school, it makes you much more connected to the admissions process,” she said.

Soban admitted that interviewing via Skype has its imperfections.

“The more you do it, the more it starts to feel like a really personal interaction, but it can be awkward when you’re first getting to know how to use the technology,” she said.

Third year Law School student Benjamin Schultz said that videoconferencing was not common enough to ensure that candidates felt comfortable in that setting.

“People have a certain idea of how to conduct themselves in a phone interview, but Skype is not widespread enough to have the same effect,” he said.

Guehenno said that she had mixed feelings about the use of Skype as an interview medium.

“In some ways it’s more awkward [than a phone interview] since you have to worry about how you look and where you are sitting,” she said. “But there are some advantages to Skype because it makes it more personal. It more accurately depicts what an interview process is like in real life.”

Soban said that she anticipates that the practice of conducting interviews through Skype will continue at the Law School for at least the next several years.

—Staff writer Dev A. Patel can be reached at devpatel@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @dev_a_patel.

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