Oberlin Blogs

The Alumni Interview

January 22, 2010

For some reason, I've never described my own Oberlin interview. This strikes me as peculiar, as I wrote this snazzy entry on things to do when you interview. But never about mine.

The Interns Prepare: Natalie and I, clinking coffee mugs and water bottles before a day of interviews.

On my college tour, I had a slew of unpleasant interviews. One alum wrote down what I said word for word, in a way creepily similar to Rita Skeeter. One student interviewer told me not to apply to her school; another only asked bizarre questions. One interviewer, an admissions officer, pulled up my file and started going through my academics, quizzing me about grades and classes.

But my worst was the weekend before my Oberlin interview. I'd had a terrible interview for Illustrious College*. My interviewer, a criminal lawyer, was deeply unpleasant. For an hour, he talked about the difficulties of his life, then quizzed me on the Iraq War.

He mispronounced my last name in three different ways: Indebam / Inderberg / Aydeenboom. In. Den. Baum. In, like Inn. Den, rhymes with hen. Baum, meaning tree, as in "O Tannenbaum" or L. Frank Baum.

It annoyed me a bit.

Worse, his office was boiling. Even before he started talking about Iraq, the sweat oozed off my forehead. Somehow, he was still wearing a blazer. I'd long-since slipped mine off, and was debating taking off my overshirt, but I didn't want to look tacky. Was the time for clothing removal over? Would he assume that I was making some cheap pass at him?

While we discussed elections, bombings, and his quest for admission to Illustrious College's Well-Renowned Law School, I wondered if I should subtly start talking about my interests. Should I mention to a lawyer that I did Mock Trial? Should I somehow tie this topic to academics and my great AP Government class? Should I ask pointed, hopeful questions about Illustrious College? Was I going to drown in my own sweat?

He asked me, "But what do you think about the relevance of the electoral process in third-world nations? I don't think it's possible. It's just not a part of their culture."

In the car ride home, I sank into the seat.
Aries: That was awful.
Mom: Did you say something stupid?
Aries: No, it just... I don't really want to go to Illustrious College now.
Mom: You can't judge a whole school on one person. They can't all be jerks.
Aries: But he was supposed to be a representative! And he was a self-centered [several very obscene expletives deleted] jerk!
Mom: He's also been out of school for a while. It's probably not the college, it's him.

Two days later, I was scheduled to interview for Oberlin. Given the last experience, I was worried. The interview was at the Friends Seminary, a Quaker school in NYC.

The Friends Seminary! 222 East 16th Street, for all you New York types.

The day was bitterly cold. On the way over, my mother and I stopped at two different pharmacies to warm up. To give context: my mother is from Norway*. They invented Vikings, Svalbard, and endless winter. Even my mother, with her Viking-blood, thought the New York City wind was a bit nippy.



Svalbard, one of the only places Norway colonized. Note the closeness to the North Pole.

Once I entered the Friends Seminary, every muscle relaxed. The space was warm and cozy, with canary yellow walls dotted with children's art. Big signs that said OBERLIN! led the way to a lounge, filled with anxious students, parents, and a few admissions folks.

Even after a few minutes to thaw, I still couldn't feel my feet. Gingerly, I asked one of the admissions folks, "How cold is it in Ohio?"

"Well," she said, "it's not worse than this."

"Oh," I sighed. "Svalbard," my toes whispered.

"Would you like some coffee?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied. Cream. Splenda. Stir.

When the official alum talked to someone else, I scoped out the waiting room. As I'd dressed for the cold, I hadn't really thought to dress shmancy. I was wearing a nice tee-shirt, but also my normal goth pants. And green military boots. Happily, most of the other applicants didn't look too fancy: nice and casual, without being very preppy.

Generally, the college waiting rooms unnerved me. Like an actor at a casting call, I would look around, wondering how good my competition was, continuously aware that said competition might become castmates. Must be friendly, but not too friendly.

But this time, I felt more relaxed. The boy next to me was reading Zadie Smith. The girl across from me was studying for AP Chem--I recognized the textbook.

"What unit are you on?" I asked.

She grinned ruefully, "Everything, technically. We're doing a practice AP on Tuesday."

"Shit," the boy said, looking up from his book. "That's awful."

We all started talking and didn't stop until we each got called for our respective interviews.



My interviewer was Peter, an alum who worked in the restaurant business. He smiled easily.

For the first time, after about 12 interviews, this was actually a conversation. For the first twenty minutes, we talked about cooking. And dining. And music. And why people do foolish things. He was a fascinating guy--completely self-effacing, funny, and snarky. Strangely enough, he actually seemed to think that I was interesting too.

We joked about building a time machine... to create time. Just more and more of it. In little sugar packets you could drop into tea or coffee, so your day would stretch out more and more, until all the time-sugar was gone. Also, a music-language scrambler, so that all pop music would sound like Cirque du Soleil soundtracks.

Though I still minded my p's and q's, I didn't feel like he was judging me. He didn't take notes. He didn't ask for my GPA. We were just chatting. Even though we sat in tiny plastic desk-chairs, made for 7 year olds, I felt incredibly at ease. When Peter described Oberlin, it sounded like a painter talking about his favorite work. While it wasn't the most precise photo, the spirit was there exactly.

He even pronounced my last name correctly.

"Was that everything you wanted it to be?" he said, mostly seriously.

"Yeah," I said. "I didn't realize I had a say."

When I got back to the waiting room, I high-fived my mom, who was talking to Chemistry Girl's father. When we left, it felt a lot warmer out.


Notes:

* As mushy as this is, my parents were huge forces in my college search. If my Mom loathed a school, I probably didn't want to go. If my Dad was hopeful, then I was hopeful. As Mom's an immigrant, the whole process was literally foreign to her. Dad never finished college, so picking a good school seemed even more important. We all learned about the crazy process together.

Also, I'm an only child. If I didn't succeed, who would?

* Illustrious College is a liberal arts college located in Genosha. Its graduates win Watson, Fulbright, and Rhodes Scholarships, they have an excellent politics department and a history of winning armed conflicts. Sadly, I was waitlisted at Genosha.




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I never interviewed for Oberlin as a prospie...sometimes I wish I had. I hope that other people feel similarly about interviewing with me!

Posted by: Patrick on January 23, 2010 1:52 PM

I had alumni interview for Oberlin that I'll never forget. I drove into the middle of nowhere in a beautiful wooded section of coastal Maine. I added an hour to mapquest's length, accounting for the inevitability of my getting lost, and yet I still managed to show up about 30 minutes late. The interviewer was an elderly gentleman whose name I still remember--it's the same as a famous jazz guitarist's--but won't share.

He was crazy and batty and kind of scary, and his stories about Oberlin--"My parents said it was either Oberlin or Harvard, and since both of my brothers went to Harvard I figured I ought to try someplace else"--seemed like they probably weren't going to be especially applicable nowadays. (I think he might have referenced Wilder as an all-boy's dormitory.)

It was an adventure and to this day I am uncertain if it put me off of the idea of attending Oberlin or endeared me to it.

Posted by: Will on January 23, 2010 2:25 PM

My alumni interview was during a ridiculous weekend of cooking competitions on Oahu, where I met with a lawyer whose graduation speaker was Martin Luther King, Jr. He bought me breakfast and I remember none of the interview at all.

Posted by: Ma'ayan on January 23, 2010 4:33 PM

Aries, was your interviewer Peter Klein, by any chance? If so, small world: he was a classmate of mine, and lived next door to me in Barrows our freshman year.

Posted by: David on January 24, 2010 10:48 PM

@David
Yes! Woah, that's crazy. He was so wonderful. He helped me decide to go here.

Posted by: Aries on January 25, 2010 3:17 AM

Only children forever!

Posted by: Kate on January 31, 2010 2:25 PM

My interview was slightly strange for me. We had a nice little chat about vague subjects that I hardly remember, but I always had the nagging feeling that they set me up with someone of my own ethnicity just to make me feel, I dunno - more comfortable? I suppose that in some way that thought reflects on myself more than the college's decisions.

Posted by: Peter on February 8, 2010 10:38 PM

@Peter
Hm. As an interviewer, I know they never set that up intentionally. The only thing I know about an interviewee is their name and where they go to high school. There's no effort to pair by ethnicity, gender or interests. All luck of the draw.

(I'm thinking of a week where I interviewed entirely midwestern boys interested in sciences and international students.)

Posted by: Aries on February 9, 2010 8:49 AM

I talked about Star Wars: Episode III almost the entire interview and kept in good touch with my admissions officer throughout Oberlin. It still shocks me that Star Wars got me into college.

Posted by: Kate on March 22, 2010 1:30 PM

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