Saturday, February 9, 2008

Making the cut

I was exhausted Friday, as I always am after one of our on-campus recruiting days. Last year the Honors College instituted a new interview procedure to go along with our revamped application. Now students are selected to be interviewed according to a combination of standardized test scores, high school record, two essays (one in response to an included text on critical thinking), and recommendations. Those who make the cut are invited to come to campus for a full day of orientation and academic evaluation.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
In large measure, that's who appears at our interview days -- along with the occasional student who is clearly disinterested, who applied and showed up only because her parents insisted. Did you fit into one of these categories, at age 18? Or were you a type of student that I normally don't get to choose from?


katie j. said...

Hmmm...I'm not sure. I'm not usually a mold breaker, so I bet I was one of them.

Whatever I was, I was probably obnoxious.

Paul C. said...

Depending on the class, I was either a Budding Intellectual or a Lost Boy. If I was really passionate about something, it was the former, otherwise the latter. More recently I've become more of a Lost Boy, unless I'm squarely in my comfort zone. Which is probably why you don't see me posting much on the Movie Nerd group.

Eric Grubbs said...

Like Paul, depending on the subject, I was either a Budding Intellectual or a Lost Boy. Film and sociology? BI. Government? LB.

Plus, in my film and TV classes (especially the criticism courses), I was that dude who asked a lot of questions and often participated.

Doc Thelma said...

You tell me.

spiffy enigmatic style said...

I switched between Lost Boy and Resume Builder, depending upon my ambitions and self-esteem, with moments of Budding Intellectual. I read your post early this morning, and it's been bothering me all day. Is it fair to typecast young students like that? As a teacher, how do you reach to out students without casting them into stereotypes?

Meeshell said...

I'm thinking that I was definitely Budding Intellectual slash annoying groupie. In fact, I remember this exact day you are speaking of, the summer after my senior year of high school. At the Honors day, Norb spoke and excited my mother to tears. Then the students were separated and a group of students and I sat with you for about 30 minutes. You must've said something about Blade Runner, because I came bumbling up to you afterward excited to talk to you. That was even the first day that I met Lily, but I thought she was a twit. See how life has changed.

Timothy said...

Remember how I came into the program late and only had an interview with you, n parents involved? I was a real go-getter, wasn't I? I hope I'd fall into the Budding Intellectual category, but I think I was a Lost Boy too. And I didn't even get to suck anyone's blood.

Jenn said...

I think I was a Budding Intellectual. I certainly was excited about all those ideas and tried my hardest to wrestle with them all...I may have come off as quiet, but secretly I was bubbling with the coolness of it all.

I still get giddy about ideas. They are just so darn cool!

Eric B. said...

Interesting to read your catagories, I can think back to my freshman year and think of several people for each catagory. I was either the budding intellectual or the lost boy.

Steph said...

I'm playing catch up again. I'd say i was a 4 with sparks of a 1.

I'm kind of glad my interview was only half an hour. That sounds like quite a process.

the secret knitter said...

Hmm, I suppose I was (and continue to be) a Budding Intellectual in a Lost Boy's skin. I think I knew/know who I was/am, but I never felt an overwhelming desire to be front and center, strange as that might seem career-wise.