Issue 12: UPenn (2/2), The ABC’s of Merit Scholarships

Exclusive Insider Interview: University of Pennsylvania, Admissions Interviewer

How to pick out “packaged” candidates from a crowd of applicants. Unfairness in the college admissions process. Changes in the admissions landscape. Biggest surprises for college applicants. Best piece of advice for Penn hopefuls. Get answers from Dave Min, Penn Wharton alumni, Penn admissions interviewer, UCI law professor, and congressional candidate, in this week’s latest insider interview. This is a continuation of our interview from last week. To catch up on last week’s interview, click here.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “I feel like college admissions sometimes skews toward those who seem more mature at age 17 — the people who really know themselves and show passion at 17. Have you noticed any sort of unfairness in the college admissions process?”
Dave at Penn: “I mean, is there a racial component to some of this? Perhaps, because as Asian Americans, we tend to be shier. We’re finding ourselves, particularly if our parents were immigrants and that’s something I always try to keep in mind as well. They’re young and they will blossom. There’s often a sense that because everybody now knows you’re supposed to do the following things, you need to have extracurriculars and all. It’s not so much maturity, but it’s an authenticity thing. I remember talking to one guy who was very young, but it was just the passion which — I forgot if it was tennis or something — was lacking. You’re getting a sense of getting to know somebody beyond their listed accomplishments. And I believe that if you want to succeed in a college environment, you need to be excited about learning and you need to be excited about your pursuits. Too many people who go to college, particularly somewhere far from home, are just used to checking the boxes and I don’t think, pedagogically, that’s going to work.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “How do we encourage students to find what they love and actually enjoy learning rather than just check the boxes for admissions?”
Dave at Penn: “Yeah, I’ve got young kids and that’s the trillion dollar question. How do you get them excited? I know at the end of the day, grades and test scores are a big piece of this. And if you don’t have the requisite grades and test scores, you’re not even going to be in the conversation. To the extent that those interviews mean anything, it’s only when you sort of pass the [grades and test] bar. And some people are so far past the bar that the interview is not going to matter and some people are so far below the bar that the interview is not going to matter. It is that sort of small subset of people that are in that gray area where the interviews might make a difference. I say you need to focus on your studies and your test scores and that just means practice. That means work ethic.

And that’s easier said than done. I was not the hardest working kid myself. I was able to escape by my intelligence and I did not learn a good work ethic as a kid. So I’m cognizant of people that are too much like me at the same time. But as far as your extracurriculars, I say encourage your kid to find something he actually likes rather than force him to do things they don’t, because that matters. If you’re a master violinist, like you’re the lead first violin in a major orchestra, that’s got to mean something, right? Even if you don’t love it, that’s still a pretty damn impressive accomplishment that will stand out.

But at the same time if you’re just kind of indistinguishable as far as your extracurricular activities, we have grade inflation that we’re seeing, we also have extracurricular inflation where everybody seems to be doing like 25 different activities.”

Mercy at SocratesPost: “Right, everyone is doing the same 25 activities and they have the same title. If you’re not a secretary, you’re a president.”
Dave at Penn: “Exactly. So, the way you distinguish yourself is by going the extra mile. It’s the person that has the title but is able to articulate what they were doing. If you’re helping the homeless, tell me what exactly you’re doing. Don’t just tell me you went every Saturday because your parents told you to, right? If you’re passionate about it, go start up something. Go start an initiative to collect canned food. Start up some kind of annex to the charity you’re working for. Those are the people that go that extra mile because they’re passionate about it and I think you’re only going to do that if you’re really excited about it.
Mercy at SocratesPost: “How do you tell the difference between the students who were told by parents, counselors, or teachers to go start something versus students who just came up with it on their own, organically?
Mercy at SocratesPost: “Earlier, you said you submitted your application for Penn and had mailed in that application. That’s not how it works anymore. What have you noticed about the changing landscape on college admission? And what should parents and students be aware of now that wasn’t relevant to someone applying in the past?
Mercy at SocratesPost: “Do you think that will start with the private schools, or would it be a change amongst public schools, too?”
Mercy at SocratesPost: “What is something that you find students or parents are surprised to learn during the college app process that they just did not see coming?
Mercy at SocratesPost: “So, how does the incoming college freshman navigate that? And is it the responsibility of themselves or of their advisors, their parents? If they have a consultant, their consultant to help them be aware of that when they’re choosing?
Mercy at SocratesPost: “Yeah, basically. Thousands of high schoolers are dying for a chance to study at Penn or similar schools. What type of student do you think Penn is more suited for?
Mercy at SocratesPost: “Is that because of their GPA for grad school?
Mercy at SocratesPost: “To wrap up, what is your best piece of advice for high school applicants vying for a spot in their school of choice?
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Dear Socrates Q&A

This week, we selected a question from Henry Osigwe from Nigeria.

“I want to become a pilot. Which college should I attend?”

Hey Henry, if you only want to be a private pilot flying recreationally, you actually don’t need to go to college. But it sounds like you might be looking into piloting as a career, which means having a Bachelor’s degree would give you a leg up. Just having a degree, however, is not enough. You will need to get the requisite commercial license, medical certificate, logged flight hours, and FCC radio license, among others.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Airline pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree in any subject, along with a commercial pilot’s license and an ATP certificate from the FAA.”

We checked real-time job postings in today’s market and saw what they’re looking for. Here’s an example of a job description from SkyWest, a regional airline that serves North America.

Note that SkyWest’s education requirements (circled in yellow) say to even be considered, you’d need to “hold an aviation degree from an accredited school (or equivalent experience).” Because holding a Bachelor’s degree is not a requirement of this job, having one would help you stand out from a large pool of applicants.

Next, let’s take a look at UPS, a global carrier but not a passenger airline. We found this job posting just this week, so it’s as up-to-date as it can get.

Note that UPS’ preferred qualifications (circled in yellow) include a “Bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited college or university.”

You should be looking for universities or colleges that grant Bachelor’s degrees, particularly in subjects like aviation and aeronautics, as that will relate directly to your desired career as a pilot.

In the U.S., there is not just one institution that prepares students for a career as a pilot. In addition to identifying the schools with the program you’re looking for, you should also consider where you stack up academically against the average applicant, assess your ability to succeed and thrive in that college environment, and really evaluate the costs of attendance.

The truth of the matter is that there is no ONE college that will guarantee you a job in your chosen career. Furthermore, just because you want to do something, doesn’t mean the gatekeepers (admissions officers) think you’ll be a good fit!

Without knowing your academic profile, here are a few schools for you to look into — with a list of 3 follow-up steps to evaluate them. Continue to read which schools made the cut for an aspiring pilot and the 3 questions to answer as you’re applying! →  

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The Skinny

If you have ever wondered about getting college scholarships, this is The Skinny for you!

Former Tufts and Brandeis University admissions officer Jane S. Shropshire conducted a webinar to train college consultants on the ins and outs of merit scholarships. SocratesPost attended the hour-long session and got The Skinny for our readers curious about paying for college.

Here are some of the questions we got answers to:

  • How do merit scholarships differ from need-based aid?
  • Can I still get scholarships if I’m waitlisted?
  • What types of schools are most likely to give me scholarships?
  • Do I need to apply separately for the funding?
  • Should I apply Early Decision if I’m intent on going to a college that will award me a merit scholarship?
  • Can I take a gap year before starting college and use my scholarship after a year?
  • What are some examples of non-need based scholarships?

Continue to read SocratesPost’s summary of the ABC’s of Merit Scholarships and get answers to these questions! →