On those days I come straight from teaching my freshman seminar to give a thirty-minute lecture to the assembled applicants. They complete an on-site writing exercise in response. Then I spend an hour with four or five of them in a discussion session. If it's one of larger days -- with up to 60 applicants attending -- I go right into another discussion session with another four of five students.
What amounts to four hours of non-stop teaching usually wears me out. But it's also an exhilarating day. Who else in higher education gets to select their own students? The opportunity to demonstrate what we're all about, both by word and deed, then to welcome the best equipped, best fitting, and most promising students into our community is rare and precious indeed.
After interviewing applicants to Honors for nine years, and going through five of these Inform and Interview (I-Squared) days in the last 14 months, I've seen a lot of hopefuls. They fall into a few general types:
- The Budding Intellectual. Our hearts go out to these applicants in a special way. Their eyes light up and they can barely restrain their excitement when someone's talking about ideas. A student came up to me like a groupie after my lecture on Friday and gushed about how wonderful it all was -- and she wasn't grubbing for points, either (after years in the business, you can easily tell the difference). She was thrilled to be in a place where these kind of discussions take place. Sometimes you forget what high school is like for kids of this type -- but they remind you every time they thank you effusively for spending half an hour on substantive topics.
- The Resume Builder. These polished kids have always been at the top of everything. They want to get the most prestigious education because it would never occur to them to settle for second best. Often they're discomfited by being asked to talk about difficult ideas without clear resolutions. Academic activity without quantitative outcomes and obvious cash value sometimes confuses them. They can't figure out whether they want to do something like Honors or not -- it's the best, everyone says, but it seems a lot of trouble to go through just to stay on top.
- The Rebel. This student knows what he thinks already, and he can't wait to tell you. He's chomping at the bit to let you know how far he's come, and how much he's unlike the drones all around him. There's a place in our program for him, if he can shut up long enough to find out that there might be more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in his philosophy.
- The Lost Boy. There's always a few who don't yet know who they are or what they want. They don't feel good enough to jump in with the Intellectuals and the Rebels, and they're not as confident and poised as the Builders. They hang back until directly addressed. You can see the uncertainty on their faces and hear it in their voices. Do they really belong in this group, all seemingly so eager and accomplished?