Polygence blog / Education and College Admissions

How To Ace the UPenn Alumni Interview

8 minute read

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The University of Pennsylvania, or UPenn, is widely recognized as one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S., with standout programs such as the Wharton School of Business. As a result, UPenn is on the lists of many high-achieving high school students who are looking to apply. An additional wrinkle in the UPenn application process is an alumni interview, where a prospective student will meet with a UPenn alumni and have a conversation. As UPenn mentions on their website, “Each year Penn attempts to connect as many applicants as possible with alumni, depending on volunteer availability. We foster these connections to provide an opportunity for you to learn about Penn through an alum’s experience, and for us to learn more about you as an individual.” I did my own alumni interview with UPenn several years ago and it was honestly a pleasant experience (more on that later)!

In this article, we’ll go over what you can expect from the interview, and best practices for how to prepare and approach the interview.

The Purpose of the UPenn Interview

The purpose of the interview is two-fold. The goals are for you to learn more about the university from the perspective of an alumni and also for the school to learn a little more about you. The interview is in no way a test of knowledge or intelligence. In fact, UPenn’s own website refers to their alumni interviews as “alumni conversations,” which should tell you a lot about the low-pressure nature of the interview. 

For you as a student, this is a great opportunity to bring some of your passions and experiences to life. The admissions committee already has your experiences and resume on file at this point, so during the interview you can really articulate what gets you excited about the school and what personal interests you have. Keep in mind however that your alumni interviewer will not have access to any part of your application.

Moreover, not all applicants will get an interview invitation. This is purely based on whether there are alumni volunteers available in your area, so don’t worry at all if you didn’t get an invitation, as it won’t hurt your application whatsoever. If you do get an invitation however, it’s strongly encouraged for you to set up a conversation with your alum. 

Finally, know that the interview is a very small piece of the application. I distinctly remember my UPenn interviewer telling me that he had no influence in getting me into the school or rejecting me. All he could really do was provide admissions with better color on who I was and what I was interested in. So it’s important to understand that the interview isn’t going to make or break your application, although it certainly could help, especially if you prepare in the right way.

Setting Up the UPenn Interview

UPenn has stated that the alumni interviews for the 2023-2024 application period will all be virtual. In the past, alumni interviews have been in-person, but this should allow for more flexibility in meeting with your alumni interviewer!

Typically, an alumni will contact you for an interview through email or the phone number you listed on your application. If you are, respond as promptly as you can to start the process. Here’s an example template of an email you can send to reply to your interviewer.

Hi Mr / Ms (name of interviewer),

It’s nice to meet you and thank you so much for reaching out. 

It would be great to meet virtually and have a conversation about UPenn. I’m very interested in the school and would love to learn more about [XYZ things]. I would be available to chat [insert general days of week or times of day that you’re available].

Please feel free to contact me at this email (email) or on my mobile phone (number). 

I look forward to meeting you soon! 

Best,

[Your name]

Notice how in this template we refer to the meeting between you and the alumni as a conversation and not an interview, just to stay consistent with UPenn’s own messaging.

If you and your alumni interviewer find a time to meet, offer to send a calendar invite with a Zoom link (or another video conferencing platform). This will just show your initiative and that you take the conversation seriously. 

In future years, UPenn may revert to doing in-person interviews again. If that’s the case, the only thing that needs to change in the above email template is suggesting a nearby physical place to meet. Try to meet somewhere where you’ll be comfortable and it’s not too loud. In the past I’ve done alumni interviews at a local Panera Bread and the cafe section of a Barnes and Noble.

How to Approach the UPenn Alumni Interview

There are several things that you can do to prepare for your alumni conversation. First, try to come up with a list of questions that you genuinely want to ask to learn more about the school. You have the opportunity to talk with someone who’s been to UPenn for four years or more! They have a lot of insights and perspectives that they can share, but you can only learn by asking questions. Here are some examples of questions you could ask:

  • What was your major, and how did your academic experience contribute to your career path? 

  • Are there any specific professors or courses that had a significant impact on your education? 

  • How did your college experience prepare you for your current career? 

  • Were you involved in any clubs or extracurricular activities during your time at the college? How did participating in these activities shape your overall college experience?

  • How did you manage to balance academic commitments with personal interests or passions? 

  • What do you think makes UPenn unique and differentiated as a university?

  • What’s something that surprised you about your experience at UPenn?

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You can undoubtedly come up with more questions and ones that are more specific, but when coming up with your questions just think about what you’d really like to know about the school and what’s most important to you. Also since the conversation is virtual, you can have your list of questions right next to you for reference.

Further, it helps to spend some time reflecting upon yourself and what you’re passionate about. Interviewers may ask about your interest in UPenn, why you applied, and what’s important to you. It doesn’t hurt to brush up a little on your knowledge of the school and revisit the reasons for why you applied in the first place. Also come prepared to talk about what you like to do with your free time and what interests you most in school or your career. Remember, the interviewer doesn’t have access to your application file - this is truly just a conversation between two people who just met. 

Preparing for the Virtual Interview Experience

As we’ve all found through the pandemic, meeting and interviewing virtually has its own nuances and things to keep in mind. In terms of attire, UPenn suggests that “Dress as you would for a school photograph or a presentation in class. Be comfortable and let your personal style show through so you can focus on the conversation, not what you’re wearing.”

If interviews go back to in-person for future application cycles, dress attire is probably more important. Try to wear business casual if possible. 

For having the best experience on Zoom, test out whatever Zoom link you and your interviewer are using beforehand to make sure that it works. Also be sure that you’re somewhere with a stable internet connection and in a room with good lighting so that your interviewer can see your face. Getting little details like these right can make a significant difference!

My UPenn Interview Experience

For my UPenn interview, we had a lot of alumni in my area so there was actually an entire site where alumni would meet with students one by one. The UPenn interview wasn’t my first college alumni interview but I still felt very nervous. I had to wait quite a long time in the lobby since the interviewers were behind schedule, and as each minute passed by I became more anxious. 

However, immediately when I met my interviewer I saw that there was nothing to worry about.  Our conversation ended up being very casual, where he asked me a few questions about what I was interested in studying or doing for a career, and we talked a lot about my interest in tennis and how my interviewer actually grew up in the same area as a famous pro tennis player. It truly felt like an informal chat rather than an interview or test. This could obviously be very specific to my interviewer, but in general keep in mind that your interviewer is not out to get you.

I do wish however that I spent more time before the interview preparing intelligent questions for the interviewer. In my mind, I arrogantly assumed that I knew pretty much everything there was to know about UPenn. But there’s so much more to a school than just the info on their website and there are aspects that only an alumni can shed light on.

After the UPenn Alumni Interview

It’s always good practice to express gratitude to your interviewer for taking the time to speak with you. Send a follow-up email two days after the interview at the latest, reference something memorable from your discussion, and reiterate your interest in UPenn.

For an example email template, take a look at the template we provided in our other article Acing the Alumni Interview: The Ultimate Guide.

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