Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

In a 2020-2021 admissions cycle characterized by increased applications, test-optional admissions and virtual outreach and recruitment, yet another aspect of the application process has changed: alumni interviews, which are entirely online this year.

Each year, around 5,000 alumni volunteer to interview applicants to Yale College. The interviews are run through the Alumni Schools Committee, which is composed of regional organizations of alumni volunteers. Typically, local ASC groups conduct in-person interviews with applicants in their area. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all interviews are being conducted online. ASC representatives said the online process has allowed Yale to interview a more diverse group of applicants, albeit a smaller one. According to Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan, the transition to virtual interviewing has been smoother than expected.

“Interviews enable applicants to share important elements of their stories that don’t always fit in a written application and help admissions officers get a more complete view of an applicant,” Quinlan wrote in an email to the News. “Our thoughtful and enthusiastic alumni volunteers do Yale a great service — both by sharing their insights about candidates with the admissions committee, and also by sharing their own Yale experiences with applicants.”

Interviews are an evaluative aspect of Yale’s admissions process, but even in a typical year, Yale is not able to interview all applicants. According to Associate Director of Admissions Dara Norwood, who heads the ASC, Yale interviewed a smaller percentage of applicants this year due to decreased alumni interest during the pandemic and increased application numbers. Norwood declined to specify the percentage decrease.

In December, Yale reported the largest early applicant pool in its history, and announced in January that it would push back its regular decision release date by a week due to increased applications.

Norwood told the News because of the increased demand for interviews and the decreased number of alumni who volunteered to conduct them, Yale is prioritizing interviewing students about whom they felt more information was needed to make an admissions decision.

“It has always been our goal to try and interview as many students as possible,” Norwood said. “For this year, we tried to get to a manageable amount of students who we felt like the interview was going to really make an impact … I just think that going through such a weird and hard year, and still trying to get this information, our alumni have been so amazing in stepping up and trying to help us get this done.”

Interviews are usually organized on a regional level, with the director of each local ASC group making assignments for their area. 

Norwood said that one of the benefits of this year’s entirely virtual process was that large ASC groups could distribute alumni capacity so that students living in areas without a group could still receive interviews.

Grant Bronsdon ’16, who is the director of an ASC in the state of Washington, told the News that the switch to virtual interviews has made the logistics of assigning interviews much easier. In a typical year, Bronsdon assigns interviews based on geographic location, but he did not have to take that into consideration this year. He added that virtual interviews allowed alumni in the Seattle area to connect with students in more rural areas, who might not have been able to be interviewed in a regular year.

“This has allowed us to reach a broader and more diverse group of students,” Bronsdon said. “[These interviews] might be the first time that an applicant has ever interacted with a Yale graduate. I think virtual interviewing is less intimidating, and feels like a more standard Zoom call, so it does a good job of automatically setting a more even playing field than in-person interviews.”

Bronsdon added that some alumni seem to favor the more intimate feel of in-person interviews, while others have preferred the convenience of the virtual interviews.

According to Norwood, the transition to virtual interviews was made easier by the existence of Yale’s senior interview program. Each year, Yale hires a small group of seniors to conduct on-campus interviews during the late spring through summer; in the past five years, the seniors have also conducted interviews online. Although the senior interview program was suspended for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, techniques from past years of virtual interviews are being used in this year’s alumni interviews.

Norwood told the News that although some alumni were initially skeptical of the efficacy of an online interview, many have reported to her that it was much easier, and allowed them to conduct more interviews. Quinlan told the News that the switch to online interviews has not diminished the quality of the interviewers’ reports.

“Although our alumni volunteers span the entire globe and more than six decades, they have all seamlessly transitioned to virtual interviewing this year,” Quinlan wrote in an email to the News. “The process has been smoother and less cumbersome than we initially imagined, and I’ve been very impressed with our interviewers’ flexibility … Fortunately, we find the interview reports that come from virtual interviews are just as thorough and insightful as those from in-person interviews.”

Yale College will release admissions decisions for the regular application cycle on April 6.

Amelia Davidson | amelia.davidson@yale.edu

Amelia Davidson was the University Editor for the Yale Daily News. Before that, she covered admissions, financial aid and alumni as a staff reporter. Originally from the Washington D.C. area, she is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in American studies.