While 1999 Wharton graduate and alumni interviewer Andrew Ross has interviewed more than 50 prospective students over the past decade, he has faced a dilemma: hardly any of the students he has spoken with have been accepted to Penn.
Over the years, Ross has become increasingly frustrated with this lack of success.
Ross is not alone in his concerns. Other alumni interviewers and students have called into question the importance of an alumni interview in Penn’s admissions process.
According to the Office of Admissions, the alumni interview is completely optional and about 6,500 Penn alumni will interview only half of all applicants per year based largely on geographic location and the number of volunteer interviewers.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said that since the alumni interviewers are tied to Penn — and not the applicant — they provide a “level of insight that’s not mediated in any way.”
The interview write-up submitted by the alumni interviewer is the first document Furda reads during selection committee sessions in March, as it is the newest, most up-to-date document in the applicant’s file.
The most effective interview report, according to Furda, is one that confirms the other aspects of a student’s application. An interview can either marginally help or hurt the applicant, he said.
However, Furda said until all prospective students are offered interviews, the Office of Admissions cannot give the interview significant weight.
“No one piece of an application, except the transcript or testing at far extremes, is going to completely make or break a student,” he said.
Regional alumni interview coordinator and 1957 College graduate Marianne Henneman said her regional committee has had a problem with retention of alumni interviewers over the years.
“It’s very discouraging because we all get attached and invested in the people we interview,” she said. “We know that not everyone is going to get in, but if you interview for five years and none get in, you get discouraged.”
Henneman, though, said her commitment to interviewing applicants does not hinge solely on the number of interviewees accepted. She said interviewing is her way of giving back to the institution.
“I believe that when someone gives you help, you should extend a hand back if you can. It’s respect and gratitude,” she said. “Here’s my way of giving back to Penn.”
Furda added that “if an alum is going into this to have the track record of having kids get in, they shouldn’t do this. Even if they’re batting the average, we’re not going to admit 88 percent of the kids they interview.”
Though Ross continues to interview for Penn, he believes the system needs improvement.
“Alumni interviewing would be more useful if we interviewed after there was some weeding down of applicants,” he wrote in an email. “Then, we could spend more time with those fewer ‘qualified candidates’ to give Penn more value. For a school that teaches how to operate efficient, state-of-the-art organizations, it should hold itself to the same standards.”
Furda said that while this is an option, he prefers not to screen applicants largely based on numbers. This, he explained, is largely due to the fact that Office of Admissions is more comfortable with the “randomness” of interviews.
College freshman Fiona Glisson said she felt that her interview helped her in the application process.
“I was nervous for the interview, but I think it was 40 percent evaluative and 60 percent informative” she said. “I found the schools where I had positive interviews I got into, whereas the schools where my interviews didn’t go well, I got rejected.”
Jeffrey Durso-Finley — director of college counseling at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J. — said he wishes colleges would not use alumni interviews as part of the admissions process.
He said he advises his students to treat the interview as an opportunity for them to learn more about the college, and not as an evaluation.
“Colleges essentially do alumni interviews to keep alumni connected to the college and make them feel like they’re part of the admissions process. When it’s all said and done, the write-ups make almost no difference,” he said. “It’s an awful lot of time and awful lot of effort and it gets the kids all worked up if they don’t get one.”
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