Issue 11: UPenn (1/2), Using The Secrets of Screenwriting to Write Your College Essay

Exclusive Insider Interview: University of Pennsylvania, Admissions Interviewer

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.

Mercy at 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.
Mercy at 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.
Mercy at 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.
Mercy at 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.”

Mercy at SocratesPost: “In what ways are the people you interview similar?”
Mercy at SocratesPost: “Can you think of any specific examples of those interviewees who stood out positively or negatively?
Mercy at 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?

Stay tuned for the remainder of SocratesPost’s interview with Dave next week!

Dear Socrates Q&A

This week, we selected a question from Ahmed Clarkson, a subscriber and college applicant from Freetown, Sierra Leone:

“When will I be accepted into American colleges?”

Hey Ahmed! This is an important question, especially for international applicants like yourself. Though the answer may seem simple, it comes with a bit of nuance.

There are generally four main times during the year that you will hear about your acceptance, depending on when you applied. Each college will be different and each round of admissions will be different.

There are a few ways to figure this out. Read the application deadlines webpage of your selected colleges very clearly. American colleges make these deadlines and response times very clear for applicants so you know exactly when to submit all application materials for consideration. Though they usually don’t give you a specific date on which you will hear back, they will typically give you an approximate range.

Here’s an example of where you can find admissions decisions on school websites.

Colorado School of Mines — “before the holiday break in December”

When you hear back will also depend on the admission round you’ve selected. The most popular are Regular Decision, Early Decision, Early Action, Restricted Early Action, Early Decision II, and Rolling Admissions.

Continue to read our snapshot of when you’ll hear back about admissions decisions based on the most popular application rounds! →  

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The Skinny

The College Essay Guy conducted a webinar for aspiring independent educational consultants, teaching them how to guide their students through the college essay writing process — using the secrets of screenwriting.

We thought of it as an essay “hack” and got you The Skinny.

We selected this for our subscribers going through the essay writing process (or planning on undergoing it in the near future). There’s nothing more frustrating than staring at a blank piece of paper (or blank Word doc) for hours thinking there’s nothing special about yourself! We’ve been there and hope this gives you at least writing some ideas.

SocratesPost evaluated the hour-long lecture and grabbed the key points for you.

Our overall review:

Pros: A fresh angle with a step-by-step process to approach the daunting task of writing about oneself. Feels like an essay “hack.” Great examples.

Cons: Fast-paced, but still quite a few pockets of silence due to workshopping.

Continue to read the 3 best takeaways from The College Essay Guy’s webinar on using screenwriting secrets to hack your college essays →