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3 Answers to Uncomfortable College Interview Questions

Desperation has set in among colleges during this pandemic.

Many have gone test optional whether they wanted to or not. Most are facing a huge drop-off in visitors since the spring. And all are anticipating smaller applicant pools as a result. But that doesn't give colleges the right to overstep their bounds and ask students personal questions during interviews that are off-limits.

Take for example the fact that a well-known, selective university with a longstanding test optional policy currently has its admissions officers asking students during interviews to provide their Advanced Placement scores. As everyone should know, including this university, AP scores are never required for the admissions process. In fact, it is up to the student to decide if they want to share AP scores with a college, regardless of whether or not the college has a test optional policy. Yet, when the high school student is faced in an interview with an admissions officer, they can be thrown off by that questioning and oftentimes feel like they have to share that information. 
Similarly, I heard from a family this week that an admissions officer at another private university not only asked the student what his SAT or ACT scores were despite being a test optional college, but also asked him what other colleges he was considering. This is none of their business. The student decides whether to share their scores, not the test optional college. And asking a student where else they are applying is not only inappropriate, but violates the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Code of Ethics and Professional Practices, which states that "[c]ollege members will not ask candidates, their counselors, their schools, or others to divulge or rank order their college preferences."

For students who get asked these inappropriate and antithetical questions by admissions officers, college interviewers, or alumni interviewers, here is what to do:

  1. If asked about SAT, ACT, AP, or other scores in a pre-interview form or during the interview, the student can say: "I will be applying test optional." If the student changes their mind or is able to take a late test, that college will be thrilled to get those scores and the student can do that if they so choose.
  2. If the student is asked what other colleges they are applying to, they can politely state, "I haven't finalized my college list yet." And as you know, I am originally from New Jersey and tell it like it is. If you want my Jersey-response, I'll have to tell you what I really think should be said off-the-record!
  3. And if pressed further about whether the student is applying Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Decision prior to the application process, the student can respond by saying, "I am still deciding."
In the end, students need to report colleges who abuse their power and force them to answer questions that are inappropriate. Students can contact the Office of the President at the violating college, as NACAC no longer has power in enforcing its own code of ethics.

Related reading: Dear Colleges, Here's What the Class of 2021 is Up Against

In Yiddish, prust is a term for individuals who are vulgar or socially unrefined. These individuals use their power and wield it over vulnerable targets. Colleges need to remember that they are dealing with impressionable young people who are so nervous and want to be completely honest that they feel forced to answer questions that an adult knows are unethical to ask. Colleges shouldn't be asking questions that put students in a position in which they feel like they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. 
I encourage all Deans of Admission to take a hard look at the NACAC's Code of Ethics. Whether the code is enforceable or not, the Dean's staff needs to know what is and isn't acceptable in the unofficial, Code of Working with Young People. I don't care how stressed these colleges are, nothing gives them the right to be prust