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Harvard College Applicants and Alumni Navigate Virtual Admissions Interviews

Harvard College alumni are conducting admissions interviews remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Harvard College alumni are conducting admissions interviews remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. By Justin Y. Ye
By Vivi E. Lu and Dekyi T. Tsotsong, Crimson Staff Writers

As Harvard College conducts alumni interviews for applicants to the Class of 2025 virtually due to the pandemic, applicants and interviewers alike reported mixed feelings about the unconventional circumstance.

Though the number of applications to the College has significantly increased this admissions cycle, the number of interview volunteers – more than 10,000 alumni – has remained the same. While the College tells applicants who do not undergo interviews that they will not be disadvantaged during the admissions process, virtual interviews may allow more applicants an opportunity for an interview.

In previous years – depending on geographical location and alumni availability – alumni reached out to candidates to coordinate interviews. Interviews typically took place at a nearby public location, such as a coffee shop or park, explained Benjamin N. “Ben” Levy ’69, an interviewer in Massachusetts.

“I usually invite the interview to meet me in Harvard Square, and we talk in the COOP on the balcony there or the tables, or we go over to the Smith Center and sit down there at a table and have a conversation,” Levy said of his pre-pandemic interactions with applicants.

Lina S. Scroggins ’05, who interviews applicants from Arkansas, said she believes the virtual nature of alumni interviews allowed alums to connect with more students than in previous years.

“We could reach people that we wouldn’t otherwise have reached,” she said. “In the past, we may have struggled to conduct live interviews for everybody because of the number of interviewers that were available and the locations from which applicants came.”

Rachel Mobaraka, an applicant from Lancaster, Calif., said she believes she would not have had an alumni interview without the online format due to distance, calling the interview “a matter of convenience.”

“He’s in San Diego, and that’s about four hours away from me,” Mobaraka said. “He had messaged me on a Friday and then my interview was the next day at 10 a.m., so there was no way I could have gone to San Diego at that time.”

The move from in-person to a virtual platform has presented new challenges for some applicants, though, such as internet connection problems, difficulties reading the interviewers’ body language, and background noise, they said.

Marion Kokkinou – an international applicant from Nicosia, Cyprus – said though her online interview with an alum from Cyprus spared her the potential expense of traveling to Harvard for an interview with an admissions officer, she still experienced problems interviewing over Zoom.

“I have the fear of the connection getting cut,” Kokkinou said. “Also, at the time of the interview, there was some noise from the outside because they were doing construction work, so that was a problem.”

Even with those problems, some students said they preferred the online setting. Kathy K. Zhong, an applicant from Columbus, Ohio – whose interviewer called her from Boston – said the interview felt “just like any other conversation.”

“I would have preferred online honestly, because an in-person interview seems quite daunting,” Zhong said.

Zara Dhar, an applicant from Stevenson Ranch, Calif., said she hopes the College will continue using online interviews even once the pandemic ends.

“Maybe other people won’t have the resources to be able to drive themselves to an interview or get parents to commute, and then interviewers themselves might find it easier to host interviews when they’re not working out places to meet,” Dhar said.

Though Levy said he would be willing to conduct interviews over Zoom in the future, he said he looks forward to once again interacting with applicants in person.

“I wouldn’t mind pitching in if there were people from other parts of the country or, even other nations,” Levy said. “But for those who are applying locally, I’d much prefer to meet them in-person.”

The College will release admissions decisions for the Class of 2025 on April 6.

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at vivi.lu@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Dekyi T. Tsotsong can be reached at dekyi.tsotsong@thecrimson.com.

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