For high school students applying to Penn, clicking the submit button on the Common App is only the beginning of a nerve-racking process. Next come mock interviews, memorization of authors and keeping up with current events — all in preparation for an interview with a Penn alumnus.
“Students are pretty nervous about the interviews,” said Laurie Weingarten, a 1986 Wharton alumna and director of One-Stop College Counseling. While applicants prepare answers for possible questions and do mock interviews, alumni volunteers also try to get the most out of the interview.
Roughly 7,000 to 10,000 alumni volunteer as interviewers every admission cycle, with each conducting four to five interviews on average — either face to face or virtually. Last admissions cycle, 86 percent of applicants were interviewed and the University hopes to offer an interview to every applicant by 2015.
Frankie Baughn, co-chair of the Camden County, N.J., Alumni Interview Program, is interested in sharing her experience as a minority student at Penn. In her recent interview with an applicant through QuestBridge — a nonprofit program that assists low-income students in achieving higher education — she had the opportunity to explain how going to Penn helped her with her future career.
Baughn is particularly committed to letting the applicants know about the resources on campus in an attempt to sell them on Penn.
“Penn is just another place to them,” she said. “Students in my area would apply just because it’s close to their home.”
Until recently, she had been keeping in touch with a student she had interviewed and introduced to Makuu, the University’s black cultural center. She would occasionally come to campus to grab a meal with her former interviewee.
Other alumni volunteers conduct interviews to give back to the University.
“I started interviewing for Penn because it was a way for me to stay in touch with the University,” said Maria Ho, chair of the Hudson County Alumni Interview Program in New Jersey.
Ho said her county has a diverse community, and thus interviewing is an interesting experience for her because many of the applicants’ out-of-school activities center on their families and church communities.
Before Weingarten started her college-counseling job, she also volunteered as an interviewer for 25 years.
“For some reason I became very interested in the admission process when I got to campus,” she said. She was a tour guide during her four years at Penn and continued her involvement through the Alumni Interview Program.
“The best interviewees told me something interesting or something ordinary but with a new twist,” Weingarten said. For instance, she remembered an applicant who dropped out of his high school program to look for his true interest, and another who participated in a debate format where the competitors had only two minutes to prepare.
However, not all interview experiences are as positive. One applicant came to the interview thinking he had applied to Penn State. Another didn’t show up because he was “very busy.”
Patrick Bredehoft, director of the Penn Alumni Interview Program, said the applicants and interviewers both learn from each other.
“Our alumni come back to us all the time and say that students have read more books than they have and recommended an amazing set of books,” he said.
“[Applicants] tell me things about the community that I never knew,” Weingarten added. She also learns more about the University by interviewing students who are applying to schools other than Wharton — her alma mater.
Ho said that some interviewees who are accepted and graduate from Penn circle back to the community as alumni. “Because they had a good experience being interviewed, it is part of the reason why they want to volunteer to be an interviewer,” she said.
“Everybody doesn’t have thousands of dollars to give back to the University, but you can through interviews,” Baughn said.
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