The Wisdom and War of College Interviews

By Jared Griffin 2021-02-05


Under the soft light of her desk, Padma sits with her pen between her teeth, flipping thoughtlessly through her ancient Greek history textbook. There’s an exam coming up, but she just can’t seem to focus her bleary eyes on the Acropolis. Her mind is far too preoccupied. Tomorrow, she has an interview with an alumnus from one of her top colleges . . .

 Oh, Saraswati, what shall I do? Goddess of knowledge, art, and so much more, I need your guidance!

 “Well, well, well, you called?”

 Padma stared with her eyes wider than the teacups that rested on her desk. There, before her, stood a statuesque, ethereal figure brandishing spear and shield.

 “Expecting someone else?” She smiled. “It’s alright. Happens quite often. Saraswati happened to be rather busy. Since you were technically praying to my temple, I decided to step in for a favor. You know, I, too, am a Goddess of Wisdom.”

 Padma cocked her head to the side. Before she could open her mouth, Athena began once again.

 “—Yes, I know what you must be thinking. Goddesses don’t normally talk like this, but hey, I know a lot of things. That’s kind of my schtick. We could discuss that some other time, but right now, you need my gyan for interviews.”

 “Uhh, yes, ma’am—Your Highness?” Padma finally managed to stammer. “How might I go about making the best possible impression?”

 “Once again, not much time, so let me give you the deal:

 #1. Remember that elite colleges exist to find the most talented young minds this side of the old Lyceum. If you want to show that you rank among the finest, prove it! Understand your Human Brand, a wonderful concept I learned from a book. We perceive individuals, like companies, based on our value judgments of two factors: Warmth and Competence. You need to show that you’re a genuine applicant with a deep sense of Eros (love) for the school, but also that you’ve done your research and will be an amazing student who takes full advantage of the opportunity (we call that “informed enthusiasm,” from entheos, to be possessed with the spirit of the gods within).

 #2. Remember that I’m also the Goddess of War. The struggle to survive this onslaught of interviews requires strategy. “Battles are won in the general’s tent,” Sun-Tzu once wrote (my favorite human tome, of course). Use your head. Each university is unique, so tailor your approach accordingly. Show that you’ve internalized their mission, their ethos (or dharma)—the opportunities they offer that appeal specifically to you and no other scholar.

 #3. Don’t forget: my temple at the Acropolis (Greek: ἄκρον (akron, "highest point, extremity") and πόλις (polis, "city")) is also devoted to my cousin, Nike, Goddess of Victory (her father even shares my epithet, Pallas—though some claim it’s my brother, Ares). You can do this, but it’ll require a competitive spirit. Seek to stand out from your opponents by showing off your curiosity toward the most unusual, intriguing details, such as your interests in that quirky campus history rabbit hole, or the vast depths Hindu mythology. Be you, and have fun! It’s a conversation!”

 With that, she vanished, like an owl into the darkness.

 Thank you, Pallas Athena, Padma said to herself, now smiling with the peace of a lotus throne.