When it comes to getting to know someone, nothing compares to a face-to-face conversation. Penn has taken this idea to heart by aiming to offer alumni interviews to all undergraduate applicants by 2015.
This change will demystify a part of the admissions process. Last year, only 50 percent of applicants received an interview. Constraints in the number of alumni available and their geographical proximity to applicants have traditionally limited the number of applicants that receive an interview. But Penn has rarely provided an explanation for why one applicant is offered an interview over another. This lack of transparency has led to unhealthy speculation among prospective students. Applicants’ calculated guesses and attempts to understand the interview selection process have injected unnecessary anxiety into an already-stressful admissions process.
Offering interviews to all applicants will also increase the University’s commitment to personalizing the admissions process. Currently, alumni interviews “generally confirm what [the Office of Admissions] learn[s] from recommendations and other materials provided in the Common Application,” according Penn Admissions’ website. But interviews also benefit applicants and allow them to get a clearer picture of Penn through the eyes of our alumni.
Doubling the number of alumni interviews offered over the course of two years will be no easy task. But the introduction of Skype interviews will allow Penn to pair alumni with applicants from states like Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as countries that are underserved. Skype interviews, which can be conducted in the comfort of one’s home, may also persuade more alumni — especially recent graduates — to volunteer as interviewers.
As Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said, these conversations will ideally improve Penn’s yield rate. Penn’s yield — which measures the percentage of accepted students who matriculate — has remained stagnant for the past five years. More alumni interviews may change this by giving applicants a better sense of what Penn has to offer. Interviews, in which alumni share their personal experiences, will also enable applicants to make more informed decisions if they are accepted. This is especially crucial for students who are unable to visit campus.
There is no doubt that Penn is a world-class university that caters to a wide variety of students. But outside Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., the University is not as recognizable as some of its peer schools. Extending alumni interviews to all applicants will help to clarify Penn’s vision and attract students who truly wish to attend this institution.
Yet the alumni interview process is far from perfect. In the past, interviewers have expressed frustration that one talented candidate after another that they interview is not accepted or that their evaluations are not given significant weight in the admissions process. These are problems that the new Alumni Interview Program should strive to address as it works toward its goal.
The Office of Admissions and the Office of Alumni Relations should also aim to match interviewers with applicants based on the school they are applying to as well as academic and extracurricular interests. Alumni interviews connect applicants to the University in a very personal way. This is something Penn should strive to develop into a hallmark of its admissions process. As the program grows, the University should standardize certain interview questions and establish a more consistent way to evaluate students through these meetings. This would build on Penn’s commitment to taking a holistic view of each application.
Current undergraduates: you also have a role to play. Penn will be relying on you to achieve its goal of interviewing all applicants by 2015. So sign up as soon as you graduate.
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