No loners, please: This Penn interviewer dishes on the bad applicants he’s interviewed

UC Irvine law professor and admissions committee member David Min spoke with SocratesPost about interviewing candidates on behalf of his alma mater UPenn, an Ivy League university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dave has a widely varied career, including a run for Congress in 2016. Dave graduated from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and School of Arts and Sciences before earning his J.D. from Harvard Law School. As a nationally recognized expert on financial markets regulation, he specializes in capital markets, law and policy of banking, and real estate finance. Today, he shares what UPenn looks for in prospective students.

Exclusive Insider Interview: University of Pennsylvania, Admissions Interviewer

SocratesPost: “Dave, can you tell us a little about yourself?”

Dave at Penn: “Sure, so I was a Penn Wharton graduate from ’98-’99. I was supposed to graduate ’98, but I did a dual degree. I took an extra semester to finish up and I walked in with the ’99 class. Initially I was just in the college of Arts and Sciences and then decided that I kind of wanted to check out the business school, so I applied. They have a separate admissions process to Wharton and did that, went to Harvard Law, and I guess you could say I either had a long career or a diverse career — I can’t stick at a job for more than five or six years. I started at the Securities and Exchange Commission out of law school. I went on to work for a big law firm in Washington D.C. and then I decided to go back into government but this time in Public Policy. Then came the Center for American Progress for a few years before going into academia. I’ve been at UC Irvine for… this is my 7th year now and that’s the twenty years of life history career after college. That’s where I am, so I’m teaching these days. I’ve actually been part of the admissions committee at UC Irvine’s Law school. I have some familiarity with our process and that as well I got involved in Penn’s interviews in my first few years here at UCI and interviewed probably up to about twenty people during that time.

SocratesPost: “Okay. Anything else you’d like to add?”

Dave at Penn: “And I ran for Congress and lost. We ran the race and just didn’t quite make it. But that’s a separate story, I suppose.

SocratesPost: “Is that something you would like to try again?”

Dave at Penn: “That’s a question that everyone keeps asking me, so the good news is everybody wants me to run again. We have to decide, I’ve got young kids so whether or not I should do that is something my wife and I have to talk about.

SocratesPost: “Okay, so you are familiar with Penn and of course UCI because you’re on the admissions committee. What characteristic traits, accomplishments or profiles tend to impress you most amongst the prospective students you interview or encounter at Penn?

Dave at Penn: “Most of the kids I interviewed were from University High School or Woodbridge High School in Irvine, which are very competitive schools, which means I’m probably getting like a pretty high degree of a student. But everybody that I interviewed had tremendous accomplishments, right? High GPA, lots of extracurriculars. Given that right now, everybody knows that you’re supposed to do extracurriculars, if you’re not an athlete, you’re supposed to take part in different pursuits and hobbies to show you’re well-rounded and not just about grades and test scores.

I think we see that from basically everybody, and so I guess the question is how you stand out. I’m trying to get a sense of people’s personalities. What they’ll be like in school. Would they be good additions to the school? And I think that’s one of the criteria that we were actually specifically asked to think about: how will they fit in both in the academic life and the social life of UPenn. So you kind of make that determination to what extent is this kid someone who’s really just checking the boxes of doing a lot of extracurriculars versus someone who’s actually interesting, engaged, intellectually curious. I ran across quite a few people who listed all these activities and then when you ask them a little bit to be more specific, it was clear that they were just checking the boxes there. I think that’s pretty standard and the way I thought about it was almost all the people that I interviewed were pretty similar. The ones that I would try to distinguish were the ones that stood out positively or negatively for some reason.”

SocratesPost: “In what ways are the people you interview similar?”

SocratesPost: “Can you think of any specific examples of those interviewees who stood out positively or negatively?

SocratesPost: “Sure, that’s notable actually because Penn isn’t really the type of place where they encourage you to be solitary. They encourage you to be collaborative and contribute to your class. What were some of the positive interview experiences like?

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