Coffee Chats

I wore nice heels and a business blouse; my interviewer wore a flowing skirt and cheap flip flops. I talked about how much I loved rainy weather; she told me she hated it. The interviewee before me brought our interviewer’s book and asked her to sign it, and I didn’t even know that this woman had written a book.

Yet, despite this awkward and tense college interview, I was admitted to Harvard just two months later.

While an interview is ultimately an opportunity for a college to assess a student’s personality beyond his or her written application, students tend to exaggerate the interview’s weight in the scheme of their entire application. In my interview, when things started to go wrong, I thought I had lost my chance at Harvard. My mind jumped to wild conclusions: not only would I not be admitted, I wouldn’t even be considered.

As I and many others learned later, however, the interview didn’t seem to bear much weight on the application as compared to the Common Application essay and personal statements. Besides, we’re only human, right? Mistakes are bound to happen in college interviews--and it’s how you recover from these mistakes that really shows your personality.

John Parsons, a freshman at MIT, recalled his embarrassing interview with an MIT physicist.

“[My interviewer] probably showed up five or seven minutes late, and I had been kind of wondering who my interviewer was the whole time,” he said, adding that he felt very nervous. “I actually asked the wrong guy.”

After John’s interviewer arrived at the coffeeshop where the two met, John wondered if his interviewer would buy the drinks, or if he should.

“I was kind of wondering if he was going to buy me coffee, but he didn’t,” John said. The two headed over to a table, where John’s interviewer sat down his large kettle of tea.

“I put my hand down on the table just after he put the tea on the table. What I didn’t realize was that this was the tipsiest table ever, and this enormous kettle of tea spilled onto my interviewer’s lap,” said John, laughing. “So there’s your first impression.”

John thought he had ruined his chances at MIT. But as it turns out, after John ran around finding napkins and apologized profusely, the two really clicked.

“Since I’m at MIT now, I guess it didn’t matter that much,” John said.

Denis Russu, who was admitted early to Stanford’s class of 2018, said he was also very nervous for his interview, but had already formulated expectations before it actually began.

“Before, I had a very narrow scope of what a Stanford student was like,” Denis said. “I was sort of expecting another really laid back, outdoorsy sort of person.”

Instead, he found himself sitting across from a “sorority girl who majored in business.”

“We had virtually nothing in common,” Denis said.

Because Denis had envisioned his interview going a certain way,he said it did not go as well as he had hoped.

“I was pretty uptight and was really stressed out,” Denis said. “I blew it up in my head.” He added that holding expectations for his interview was a mistake.

Melinda R. Song ’17, a Harvard freshman, agreed that “you never know how your interview is going to go.” Her Harvard interviewer asked her about her future plans, which, Melinda said, was a perfectly normal question.

“I mentioned I’m a little bit interested in science policy and figuring out ways to harness clean energy instead of relying on fossil fuels,” Melinda said. “[My interviewer] looks me straight in the eye and she says, ‘Well you know that I own some coal mines. How does that make you feel?’”

Melinda knew this would be a sticky subject, so she tried to move on with the interview. Her interviewer, however, pressed on.

“She said that she didn’t really understand the recent obsession with clean energy, there are a lot of industries that rely on fossil fuels and it’s a very valid way of using the earth’s resources.’”

Melinda conceded and talked a bit about her interest in clean energy, but moved the conversation along soon after.

“I didn’t want to freeze up, but I had to try to think on my feet and try to think of a way to change topics quickly,” she said.

While Melinda, Denis, and John all experienced embarrassing and awkward college interviews, they were all eventually admitted into their dream colleges.

“Be yourself, try to navigate the situation as best you can,” Melinda said on facing an obstacle during a college interview. “You can’t prepare for everything.”