Issue 8: Harvard University (2/2), Here’s How the Harvard Admissions Process Really Works

Exclusive Insider Interview: Harvard University, Alumni Admissions Interviewer

Last week, SocratesPost learned the ins and outs of interviewing with Harvard alumni interviewer, Jerilyn Teo, now a Senior Program Manager at Amazon. An interviewer in the Seattle area, she has met with countless Harvard hopefuls and submitted evaluations of them to the admissions committee. Jerilyn discussed the best interviews she encountered and what makes students truly stand out. To catch up from last issue, click here.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “What was the worst interview you remember? Or is every applicant pushed to the interview round amazing?”
Jerilyn at Harvard: “That’s a great question. I actually interview for my day job. Right now, I work at Amazon and I definitely have bad interviews from my day job but in college admissions interviewing, I would say that most, not all, candidates pushed to the interview round are impressive. If I had to think of the least impressive candidate that I’ve interviewed before it would be one that was over rehearsed or was trying to just impress me as a person as opposed to demonstrating to me why they feel they would be a good fit for Harvard, for the community or culture there or a program that they’re interested in. I think there’s a balance between confidence and being overconfident and I think being overconfident does not show that the candidates have self-awareness. There are some candidates who are very accomplished and in practice, on paper, but then when it comes to an interest in conversations, you can tell that they’re not as… let me put it this way: when we are interviewing candidates, ultimately one question I ask myself is “Is this someone I would like to hang out with if I was back in college? Is this is someone I would like to spend time getting to know?” I’ve definitely had interviews with candidates who truly the answer was unfortunately a no, because a lot of the responses that I was getting during the interview, you could tell that it was very self-serving. I’m a people development professional by day and I’m very much drawn to people who are interested in learning and development and all of that but if you meet someone who is very much focused on just themselves as opposed to the community around them, speaking about how their strength can help other people around them grow and how they can contribute to society and community, I think it’s clear to the interviewer when someone is taking all these courses and leadership positions because they want to get into Harvard as opposed to doing it because this is going to impact and help X community.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “What’s a question you like to ask candidates?”
Jerilyn at Harvard: “Absolutely. As interviewers, we don’t have visibility into their applications and we don’t have their resumes, but these days more people have LinkedIn profiles. So the question I like to ask is “what is one thing that you haven’t told the admissions committee on the application or through the interview or through other platforms that you would like us to know about?” Most times when I do ask the question, I do get pause. When people intentionally pause and think about a meaningful answer, I feel like they reflect maturity and, depending on what your answer is, it can be very telling about the kind of person that applicant is.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “That’s a really interesting question. What answers have you gotten previously that surprised you or really gave you clear insight into the person you were talking to?”
Mercy at SocratesPost: “What’s the secret to getting accepted to Harvard?”
Mercy at SocratesPost: “Your best piece of advice for applicants to Harvard?”

Dear Socrates Q&A

Our subscribers ask us college admissions questions. We select one to answer and publish each week. Subscribe to ask us a college admissions-related question!

This week, we selected a question from Chloe in Oregon:

“Where is the algorithm for fit between student and colleges? It seems difficult to ascertain what colleges are seeking in a student. They can’t all be outgoing community volunteer entrepreneurs with perfect SAT scores….where is the personality fit category revealed by colleges? Not all perfect score students want MIT.”

Astute observations, Chloe. You’re absolutely right that not all students are outgoing volunteer entrepreneurs with perfect academics. And even if they are, not all of them want to get into the most competitive and selective colleges like MIT.

You mention that colleges don’t do a good job of sharing what characteristic traits they’re looking for in students. I can see why you think that. When we attend college fairs, read college websites, or talk to admissions reps, we oftentimes hear the same things about academic qualifications, application requirements, and generic recruiting terms like “strong student,” “well-rounded individual,” “leaders,” or “unique qualities.” These keywords don’t tell us much about fit.

And that’s because the “fit” determination can only be defined by you — the applicant.

Colleges will do their best to communicate or sell you on what they have to offer during presentations, in brochures, and during campus tours. But they usually receive way more applications than they can accept and, therefore, do not need to develop a complex fit algorithm to admit students. As long as they have confidence the applicant will contribute something positive to the campus, or — at the very least — succeed academically, they don’t need to spend time investigating every last bit of the applicant’s personality, political views, religious views, etc.

They’re less concerned about whether or not that student will feel comfortable and cozy at the university than whether he’ll inspire his classmates and be someone they like.

As the applicant, however, you’re concerned about more than that. Do you fit into the campus culture? Do you fit into its political vibe? Do you fit into its intellectual character? And, of course, will you perform well in academics and social situations?

Continue to read SocratesPost’s ins and outs of “fit” and the 4 steps to making your own “fit algorithm” →

The Skinny

“Race plays a significant role in [Harvard] admissions decisions. Consider the example of an Asian American applicant who is male, is not disadvantaged,3 and has other characteristics that result in a 25% chance of admission. Simply changing the race of this applicant to white—and leaving all his other characteristics the same—would increase his chance of admission to 36%. Changing his race to Hispanic (and leaving all other characteristics the same) would increase his chance of admission to 77%. Changing his race to African American (again, leaving all other characteristics the same) would increase his chance of admission to 95%.”

Does this sound familiar?

Despite having the strongest academic and extracurricular profiles, Asian Americans experience the lowest acceptance rates among the top four races (White, Asian, Hispanic, and Black) represented among applicants to Harvard College.

The Students For Fair Admissions, a group of 20,000 members who believe race should not play a role in university admissions, sued Harvard for discriminating against Asian Americans.

The trial commenced in Boston on October 15, and throughout the course of the hearing, Harvard’s admissions and selection practices have been unveiled.

We’ve been keeping up with the trial and reading the docs so you don’t have to. Now, for the first time ever, applicants can know exactly how their files are graded by Harvard admissions.

Continue to read SocratesPost’s How To Rate Your College Application Like a Harvard Admissions Officer — From Confidential Admissions Records →