In the competitive world of college admissions, Yale is once again unusual among its Ivy peers — but this time, instead of its stance on early admissions, it is the University’s on-campus interview program that has separated it from the pack.
Dartmouth College decided to discontinue on-campus interviews earlier this month, making Yale the only school in the Ivy League offering evaluative on-campus interviews to all prospective applicants. While some experts question the fairness and utility of the interviews, the University has no plans to abandon its current system.
Harvard also holds on-campus interviews, but no evaluation is added to the applicant’s file. In addition, neither Stanford nor MIT offers evaluative on-campus interviews to high school applicants.
Dartmouth eliminated the interviews in order to streamline the admissions process and to allow the office to devote more resources to information sessions, campus tours and a new student forum program, Dartmouth Assistant Director of Admissions Caroline Kerr said. She said offering on-campus interviews limited the school’s ability to provide small group attention to as many students as possible.
The Yale admissions office, on the other hand, sees the on-campus interview program as an important means of communicating directly with students and has no plans to re-evaluate it, Associate Director of Admissions Marcia Landesman said.
“Because Yale prides itself on being a friendly, accessible place, we think it makes sense that we continue to allow our applicants to have some individual attention in the admissions process — particularly when they take the time to visit us here in New Haven,” Landesman said.
Yale seniors trained by the admissions office conduct interviews with approximately 2,000 prospective students each year, Landesman said. Applicants may instead choose to interview with alumni in their areas, and the admissions office does not differentiate between the two when evaluating applications.
With the exception of Harvard, the other Ivy League schools do not have on-campus interview programs for all prospective applicants. Instead, they offer alumni interviews — some evaluative, some purely informational. In addition, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania allow only students whose parents or grandparents attended the school to interview on campus.
The move away from on-campus interviews may in part be due to a perception that they give an economic advantage to students whose families can afford to visit the campus, said Chuck Hughes, president of the admissions consulting firm Road to College.
But Hughes, a former Harvard admissions officer, said interviews are an invaluable way for schools to test students’ abilities to communicate effectively.
“I think that every school, if they have the budget and the resources, should do interviews,” Hughes said. “Life is about communication. It’s an important life skill that some college admissions offices don’t take enough into account.”
Experts also disagreed over the value of on-campus interviews to students.
Amy Sack, president of Admissions Accomplished, an admissions consulting firm based in Connecticut, said applicants should always choose on-campus interviews over alumni interviews — except when geography gets in the way.
“I always tell students that if given an option, you should do an on-campus interview,” Sack said. “It’s to the benefit of the student to interview with someone who may be making their admissions decision.”
But Erin Durkay, a college counselor at the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C., said in her experience, an on-campus interview at a highly selective university rarely influences the admissions decision either way.
“I would bet that a significant percentage [of students] interview on campus because they perceive it to be a boost to their applications,” she said. “But I doubt that it is. I don’t even think Yale admissions folks ever even say that it is a boost, but it’s one of those things that kids think is the ‘secret’ way to boost their candidacy.”
College applicants said talking with a current student as opposed to an alumnus gave them a better feel for the school. Chris Kucharczyk, a senior at New Canaan High School in Connecticut who interviewed at Yale over the summer, said he appreciated his student interviewer’s perspective on campus life.
“Sometimes with an alum, there’s a disconnect,” he said. “When you’re talking to a student, they can tell you what’s going on right now.”
The Yale admissions office conducts on-campus interviews from late June to late August and from mid-September to mid-November.