From a Recent Andover Admitted of PrepMaster
I was hungry on the morning I walked into Phillips Academy Andover’s Admissions Office. Not just hungry— I was at a level of hunger in which you have to wonder if the person next to you could hear your stomach grumbling. That was simply not acceptable, as I was there for an interview. Andover’s Admissions Office was quite beautiful, but the most beautiful thing I could see was a tray full of what seemed to me more precious than gold. Slices piled upon slices on lemon pound cake. Even better? A hot chocolate station was right next to the tray.
Taking my cold fingers out of my coat pockets, I hurried through the process of telling the nice admissions officer my name and the grade I was applying to— 9th, as a repeat. I was told to wait for a few minutes before the interviewer came down to greet me and my mom. They did not need to tell me twice. With as much dignity as I could muster, I speed-walked to the snacks station and helped myself to an exquisite-looking slice of lemon pound cake. It tasted better than it looked—- and I would have thought it impossible to be so. I was savoring the warm cup of hot chocolate along with my last bite of the cake when a man walked up to me. I swallowed with great effort and followed him up to his office, my stomach finally satiated with the deliciousness of my quick breakfast.
The interview started off pleasant. The interviewer asked me about my time at Fay, the school I was attending at the time. I replied exactly as I did for the nine other schools I had applied to. The standard, people-pleasing answer. He went down the standard line of questioning— favorite projects, subjects I don’t like, one time I asked for help, et cetera. Then, after flipping through my file, he asked in a casual tone: “Why would you repeat ninth grade?”
I had not been prepared for this question at all. What did he mean? Obviously, I wanted to have the full Andover experience! I wanted to build up a nice narrative for college! What was I supposed to say? “I,” I started. I cleared my throat. “I wanted to have a full Andover experience.” I winced at how unsure I sounded. His reply was terse: “Are you implying that students who enter into 10th grade do not have a full Andover experience?” I hesitated to answer, dropping a few filler words to buy myself some time to prepare an answer for such a sharp question.
My interviewer, apparently, was not a particularly patient person. He leaned forward and dropped the last bomb:
“And moreover, if so, could you say that to their faces?”
My brain, previously roaring with potential replies, froze. Refused to think. I knew precious seconds were passing by, but no amount of impromptu debate exercises of theater improv activities could have prepared me for such bluntness. I said the first thing that came to my mind.
“That’s not what I meant,” I blurted out. The interviewer leaned back into his chair, a small frown on his face. “I have been a transfer student my whole life. A year here, a year there— even Fay, I entered into 8th grade, not 7th. I just want to enter with my friends at the same time for once, for a change.” I knew the excuse wasn’t solid. It could easily be broken down with a prod or two.
The interviewer, however, softened his expression. He started gently explaining the benefits of entering into tenth grade instead of repeating ninth. I was of age. I had good grades. I went to Fay, a junior boarding school, so I was extra prepared. I could take a gap year later. I didn’t play any varsity sports, so sports wouldn’t be an issue for me. He made good points.
I came out of the interview on the verge of tears. My hand was trembling so much that my mom had to carry the brochures to the car. I would not have been able to carry a single feather without dropping it on our way to the parking lot. I bit my lips to stop myself from crying on our way to the next school. I barely remember the rest of that day. I thought I had totally flunked the interview. There was no chance for me to go to Andover. The lemon pound cake must have been a parting present— “It was nice to see you. Hope to never see you again” kind of thing.
Weeks later, I emailed my interviewer, informing him of my decision to change my application from ninth grade to tenth. He said he was glad that I took my time to think over such an important decision.
And even later, my computer screen was full of pixelated confetti, fluttering down to the bottom of the screen. I had been accepted into the tenth-grade class at Andover.
The lemon pound cake turned out to be a hello from Andover, not a farewell.
As I embark on a new journey to be a student at Phillips Academy, I have a few words for the students who dream of attending top boarding schools like Andover. If the story above was not enough to convince you that interviews are not as scary as they seem, please continue reading!
Interviewers are not evil. They do not want to trick you or get you flustered. They want to know that you are an interesting person, so give interesting answers. Be respectful to your interviewers because they have a say in whether or not your name makes it to the final list. At Phillips Exeter Academy, I accidentally “nerded out” about the political response of Ronald Reagan to South Africa’s Apartheid policies. It was a response to a question asking me about my favorite project that I did recently. I most likely spent much more than five minutes gushing about how the United States did not have a proper stance on Apartheid because of its economic ties to South Africa. When I was done, I was so embarrassed. I apologized to the interviewer for “nerding out.” He laughed and told me that “nerdy was cool at Exeter.” After I was accepted into Exeter, I received a card from the interviewer. He described the interview as “fun” and “interesting.” I thought I had messed the interview up, and expected a hostile response from the interviewer— but instead got what I wanted. The interviewer enjoyed the interview because I was passionate. I knew what I liked and I could explain it to someone else. Show that you are human! It’s alright!