While the Admissions Office continues to work towards its goal of interviewing 100 percent of applicants, the effectiveness of the program remains unclear.
In 2012, only 51 percent of applicants received an alumni interview during the admissions process. Last year, 86 percent of applicants were reached, and this year — which the Admissions Office named its deadline for interviewing every applicant — the numbers are expected to reach an all-time high, though finalized data is not yet available.
The alumni interviewers themselves are generally supportive of the program, although their feedback can be subjective. Lisa Haywood Meiselman, a 1991 College graduate and 1997 MBA recipient, became an interviewer to reconnect with her alma mater.
“I just wasn’t that connected to the school anymore, and I wanted a way to stay connected and contribute something,” she said. “This was my way of giving back.”
Although interviewers are required to take educational steps before interviewing applicants, each approaches the interview uniquely. For the most part, Meiselman avoids submitting negative reports of students. “It’s so hard to be negative because you’re sitting across from a live person, and they’re so hopeful,” she said.
Like Meiselman, 1998 College and Wharton graduate Alison Berkowitz Prout became an interviewer to reconnect with Penn.
Prout said that she uses the interview to discover something about the applicants that could not be learned from simply reading their files. “I always try to pull out of them something that wouldn’t otherwise be in the application,” she said.
Prout also believes that interviews provide alumni with a “nice and readily available way to offer their time to Penn,” she said, adding that she does not freely praise applicants. “I don’t only write positive or glowing reviews when I do it,” she said.
Despite the positivity expressed by the Admissions Office and interviewers themselves, many students have mixed feelings about the alumni interview experience.
College sophomore Alex Cirone recalls a negative interview experience with a Penn alumnus who challenged her over the demographics of her high school. Cirone, who is white, attended Hunter College High School in New York City. At the beginning of her interview, the interviewer handed her a New York Times article which listed Hunter’s student population as being 47 percent Asian.
“He asked if I thought it was unfair that Asian kids got to go to these schools,” Cirone said, adding that she was taken aback by the interviewer’s comment. “And then he showed me the ratio of black and Hispanic kids, and he was like, ‘How do you propose to fix this problem of having so few black and Hispanic kids?’”
Cirone also explained that her interviewer expressed frustration after she told him that she was a recruited athlete. “He said ‘Well then, you’re wasting my time because I don’t need to interview you,’” she said.
Although interviews do not play a significant role in admissions decisions, Director of the Alumni Interview Program Patrick Bredehoft emphasized their importance. “We see the role of the interview in terms of what the admissions office gets to learn about the applicant as spice to the soup,” he said, citing interviews as the “one place in the application that’s totally unfiltered.”
Alumni interviews also help to sell Penn to prospective students. “The single best advertisement we can have about Penn comes from our alumni,” Bredehoft said.
Even early decision applicants, who have already demonstrated their commitment to Penn, participate in alumni interviews. “There’s nothing wrong with stoking a fire that’s already burning,” Bredehoft added.
Although not every Penn student has a positive interview experience, Penn does not systematically collect feedback on alumni interviews. Currently, students who would like to report about the quality of their experiences must directly contact the admissions office.
Other students, however, found their interview experiences to be generally positive. College freshman Caitlin Howell said that her interview ran 45 minutes over schedule and only ended when her interviewer remembered that there was another applicant waiting.
Regular decision applicant for the Class of 2019 Branden Bateman enjoyed his interview as well. “It didn’t feel like it was an interview, but just chatting with a friend,” he said.
However, applicants have experienced issues with their interviewer not having answers to some questions about Penn. Regular decision applicant for the Class of 2019 Bryce Fender said that when he asked his interviewer whether he could pursue a dual degree even though he had only applied to Wharton, his interviewer did not have an answer.
Interviews also provide essential information about what to expect at Penn. Fender said the most interesting part of his interview was his interviewer’s reassurance of the social scene at Penn. “He told me that I’d have a hell of a good time at Penn and that the parties were great,” he said.
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