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Admissions “Interviews” in the Digital World

By Robert LeVine

For years, many of America’s top colleges conducted interviews of applicants as part of the admissions process. Having served in this capacity for Harvard for over 29 years, I cannot tell you how many times I sat down with bright young people at a Starbucks for an hour-long chat that turned into an Interview Report, which proved to be highly influential in determining who got in and who did not.

Then Covid-19 hit and put a stop to most everything.

Yet now that the world is transforming into another “new normal.” Things change, but things also remain the same: the admissions interview is BACK.

Well, not necessarily an “interview” in the classic sense ….

Some schools have returned to performing interviews, usually by alumni, only now many of those interviews are being conducted over zoom or some other form of digital video chat. However, new formats – which were becoming more popular even before the pandemic – are being utilized by many schools. One or two-minute prerecorded videos often take the place of live interviews. Even in an Instagram world, these are hard for anyone to master.

First, with a prerecorded video, there is nobody with whom to interact. That may seem like a benefit to some, but for most people, the inability to have meaningful conversations can change the human dynamic for the worse. It is very hard to demonstrate that you will be a beneficial part of a campus community in a format with zero give-and-take.

Second, these videos are short. Whereas an interview provides time and opportunity to communicate memorable stuff, a prerecorded video just … doesn’t.

So, how do you create a video that helps you become part of a school’s next class?

Let’s start with discussing what not to do. Don’t try to be perfect. Psychologically, although humans are impressed by perfection, we tend to like imperfection. In art, we usually prefer asymmetry over symmetry; off-center is more interesting. When you mirror an attractive face through Photoshop, the model or movie star somehow doesn’t look as attractive. My funniest stories are about what went wrong, not about what I did right.

Translating this into the world of admissions, please do not create an overworked, overproduced movie. Admissions officers are looking for genuine people, not immaculate editing. This is not a portfolio for a competitive film major. This is a quick meet-and-greet.

Perhaps the most important advice is: relax. Just be you. Don’t worry so much about making mistakes (bloopers, by the way, can be endearing). In fact, the chance that you’ll get a great video in just one take is practically zero. Assume that you’re going to make many attempts before achieving even a palatable result. Remove the pressure from yourself.

But what to say, or do? Please, do not recite your resume, achievements or qualifications. They already know about those things from your application. The video is meant to add information – about your human side – not “prove” yourself.

Definitely give your name, where you’re from, and … then what?

Here lies the brilliance of a short take. You can say and do pretty much anything you want (within the boundaries of decency, of course). If you look at YouTube, you will see dozens and dozens of short admissions videos, but remember: they are usually posted by students (as something the kids enjoyed), not by admissions offices (as something that proved effective). Use the internet, but only for giving yourself comfort that anything goes.

Discuss what you are looking forward to doing in college. Chat about how your friends make you laugh. Describe a quirk or idiosyncrasy. Tell them about a question which vexes you. If you’re unsure about what to say, try a bunch of different ideas, then ask your friends or parents what they like. Remember: it’s all about what the audience wants.

Ultimately, admissions officers just want to get to know you, not some perfect presentation. As one admissions dean told me:

“Trying to be someone you’re not because you think that’s what I want? It’s not good. I’m going to be intrigued by an interesting person who probably is not perfect. In fact, I’d be very skeptical of the perfect 17 or 18-year old. I’ve never met that person.”

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit


Ode to my Odyssey

By Anu Varma Panchal

About 13 years ago, my husband and I had just moved back to Florida and were pondering car options. With a baby, a preschooler, and family that visited often, all signs pointed in one, decidedly unglamorous direction — it was time to buy a minivan.

We hesitated. Had we really become those people? Toting around in-laws and toddlers in a moving behemoth packed with snacks and a diaper changing pad? Like no other decision, this one definitively slammed the door on a multitude of other more exciting paths in life.

But I said yes to the minivan, that much-maligned icon of suburban ennui and conformity. And it turned out to be love at first drive.

Who can argue with the ease and convenience of doors that slide open when your arms are full of groceries and your little ones are too tiny to manage a heavy door? Or a trunk spacious enough to lug shopping bags, strollers and grandparents-from-India levels of luggage, even with the third row up?

The American minivan as we know it was born nearly 40 years ago, though Europeans and Asians had driven them since the 1950s. According to Smithsonian Magazine’s History of the Minivan, Chrysler engineers tinkered around with versions of a “garageable van” since the early 1970s, finally rolling out the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager in 1984 to instant success.

I spent almost as much time inside my first Honda Odyssey as in my home. It transported little ones to Montessori with five car seats and booster chairs. While waiting for my older one to finish Kumon or dance, I’d fold down the backseat to create a playroom for the baby. After dinner with friends when the kids inevitably wanted to continue the evening at someone’s house, we gathered all of them into one minivan or another. On trips to the beach, we hauled people, umbrellas and coolers, and we didn’t care if the mats got sandy (built-in vacuum cleaner!). On countless nights, the kids fell asleep in the backseat to a DVD as it drove us safely back from Disney World.

Unlike my husband’s spotless car, my Odyssey’s seats were indented with the weight of car seats and booster chairs, often strewn with the debris of life with little ones. The occasional goldfish cracker that got away. Capri Sun straw wrappers. Goody bags from Pump it Up. Hair ties. Those sparkly star-topped wands. Pencils, stickers, flyers from school and receipts from the library. It was our roving home away from home, the back covered in my kids’ Citizen of the Month stickers and school magnets.

If our vehicles of choice reflect our image, the minivan was perfect for this stage in my life. Indeed, when Chrysler debuted the Dodge Caravan, “Road and Track” described the newcomer as straightforward and “honest in the sense that it is designed to be utilitarian. Yet it is clean and pleasant to look at. It doesn’t present to be what it’s not.” Suited me just fine.

When the time came to replace my beloved Odyssey, the choice was easy: another Odyssey! This one carried heavier backpacks and different kids as schools and activities changed. No more car seats; now they vied for shotgun. While waiting to pick up my kids from activities, I’d open up my laptop and work.

Now, one of our kids is old enough to drive herself around. Do we still need a minivan, asked my husband (not a member of my Odyssey fan club)? Absolutely, I said. The little one would be in high school soon, and I’d need all possible seats to attract potential carpools. But the truth? I wasn’t ready to give up the huge chunk of my identity that hinged on being that very-much-in-need chauffeur mother.

Alas, it was not to be. When Chrysler put out that first revolutionary minivan in 1983, people had to wait weeks for one. Now, history repeats itself; this year, demand for the humble minivan soared to the point that dealers can’t keep them in stock. There just wasn’t one for me to have.

Reluctantly, I perused websites of inferior vehicles without sliding doors. Glumly, I test-drove an SUV that could fit as many people as I wanted without sacrificing comfort. Begrudgingly, I gave consent.

I may no longer be a member of the minivan brigade (at least for now), but the unassuming, loyal Honda Odyssey that safely drove this often-frazzled mother and her babies around will always have my heart.

As for that young couple test-driving their new one with a longing backward glance at their vanishing coolness, I’ll tell them this — strap your baby in and slide that door shut. The best miles lie ahead of you.

Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of

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