Q&A with PAIP Interviewer Shane Lipson and Freshman Maggie Schwierking

The Penn Alumni Interview Program is dedicated to offering an interview to every undergraduate applicant to the University of Pennsylvania. In doing so, Penn applicants can advocate for themselves by providing Penn Admissions with information they might not otherwise find in their application, as well as learn from alumni about the Penn experience. Shane Lipson, M&T’98 has been interviewing potential Penn and M&T students since he graduated. Last year, he interviewed Maggie Schwierking, a fellow Texan who has just finished her freshman year in the M&T Program. A few months ago, Maggie recently reached out to Shane to thank him for his time in helping her to ultimately select Penn and make the move to Philadelphia, as she is thriving in her first year at the University. The below Q&A discusses the PAIP process, as well as first-hand accounts of why the program is beneficial, and how it helps both Penn Admissions and prospective students.

Q: How does the PAIP Program work, overall, and for prospective M&T students?

Shane Lipson (SL): Anyone who applies to Penn is given the opportunity to participate in an

interview. It’s not mandatory, but it’s recommended because it gives prospective students the opportunity to share something about themselves and their lives that they can’t include on their college application. Penn matches interviews based on geography, programs applied for, and similar criteria that provide a good overlap between interviewer and candidate. Since I’m in El Paso, Texas, each year, I receive a list of prospective Penn students from this geographical area. I also sometimes interview M&T Program candidates, even if they are further away.

Maggie Schwierking (MS): From a student perspective, after I applied to Penn, Shane reached out to set up some time to interview me. During the interview, he spent time asking me questions, but he also gave me the opportunity to ask my own questions. It was my first real one-to-one glimpse into Penn and what the culture is like. After I was accepted, he reached out again with a congratulatory email, and we spent over an hour on the phone talking about M&T and talking about the pros and cons between the Program, and my other offers. It was so helpful to have help and another perspective in considering the different offers I had on the table. 

Q: How does PAIP help students and admissions during the application process?  

MS: When I applied to Penn, I applied to the M&T Program, but my fallback was Engineering. During our conversation, Shane talked about his time in the M&T Program, and what it meant to him, and how it helped shape his career. He also shared insights into the Program’s support system and alumni network. It was so helpful to hear all that information and everything he said about it has come true so far! 

SL: As an interviewer, I know nothing about the applicant’s grades, SAT scores, essays, etc. All I have is their name, phone number, email address, and the name of the high school they attended. It’s completely blind from the interviewer’s perspective. The point of this is to get at the personality types and learn more about the person behind the application.

From my perspective, there are two big advantages. The first is that it’s the opportunity for the candidate to communicate something about themselves that they can’t put into a paper application or convey in an essay. For example, I spoke with someone who emigrated to the country and was dealing with a big move and parents who were trying to sort out visa and immigration issues and that really was a window into a big life situation that person was trying to navigate. That’s just one example, and of course, there are many more, but it’s really the opportunity to share something about yourself that’s important for the reviewing committee to know when deciding about your application. The second is, it offers the opportunity to speak with someone who went to Penn and to learn about the university and its culture beyond what you read on the website, see in brochures, and hear during your visits. This is really a unique opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with an alumnus, and it’s not something all schools offer.

Q: Shane, how long have you been involved in the PAIP Program and why did you get involved?

SL: I graduated from Penn in 1998 and have been an interviewer ever since. I lived in New York City for 15 years, where I met my wife (who also went to Penn), and then we moved to El Paso, where I was born and raised. El Paso is not the “hotbed” of Penn graduates, so we don’t have a large alumni population here. As a result of that, we need our alumni that are in this area to be active – so both my wife and I have made a commitment to do that. She chairs the Penn El Paso Alumni Community, and I am an active member of the PAIP community.

Q: Maggie, how is freshman year going?

MS: It’s been a big transition. I’m the first in my family to leave Texas and I’m far from home, so I don’t get to see them that often. But my support system at home and the community inside the M&T program has made the transition easier. I have amazing professors and I have met so many people from different backgrounds. Within the M&T Program, I can go into the office and there are almost always upperclassmen hanging out and they are always willing to sit down and talk and offer advice. That has been helpful for me. I know that coming into Penn, everyone talks about Wharton and going into investment banking, consulting, etc. and I wasn’t sure what those jobs entailed. But a senior in the M&T office sat down with me and spent time explaining what those jobs entail and helped me figure out where my interests lie.

Q: Do PAIP interviewers stay in touch with students throughout their higher education journeys at Penn?

SL: Yes, we view ourselves as another line of support. Students are free to reach out to ask questions and advice at any time.

MS: It’s a nice perk to know that in addition to the people I have met inside of the Program and my support system at home, I have Shane as part of my network.