As Penn has transformed through the last few decades, so has its admissions process. Alumnae from the classes of 1975, 1985 and 1995 shared their application stories, and revealed how much things have changed.
When 1975 College of Women graduate Lisa Aldisert applied to Penn in the fall of 1970, the Common Application did not exist — and neither did the computer. Because she had to type her application on a typewriter, avoiding mistakes was crucial.
“You had to be extra careful, because you didn’t want it to be covered with white-out,” she said. “The physical handling of the application was just a little different than it is today.”
Penn was still divided by gender at the time. Although men and women took the same classes, all women were separately enrolled in the College for Women.
“There was a separate administrative component to being female,” she said. She estimates that only about 20 percent of the class was comprised of women.
Aldisert added that the culture of women in the workplace was only just beginning, and that taking classes alongside men prepared her for the business world.
Ten years later, 1985 Wharton graduate Corinne Keller visited campus before applying in the fall of 1980. Initially, she was intimidated by Penn’s social scene.
“I went to Spring Fling, but wasn’t very favorably impressed — it was a little too crazy for me,” she said.
But when Penn offered her better financial aid than any of the other schools she was considering, she decided to attend.
Now, as Keller’s son begins to look at colleges, she is reminded of how much the process has changed. Since 1980, college applications have been complicated by greater numbers of applicants vying for the same number of spots, increasingly early preparation for college and the rise of technology.
“I don’t remember this torturous process,” she said. “In a lot of ways it’s made it so difficult and so stressful for the families of the kids applying.”
After another 10 years had passed, 1995 College graduate Jordana Horn applied to Penn in 1990. At first, her expectations of Penn were far from positive — but after visiting, she changed her mind.
“I went to Penn as a sophomore [in high school] fairly sure that I would hate it because it was something that my mother loved, and then I fell in love with it anyway,” she said.
Even as recently as 20 years ago, Horn said that the application process was different than it is today.
“It was comparatively low-key,” she said.
Now, as she raises her children, she is dismayed at the early emphasis placed on preparing young children for later success in higher education.
“People are trying to hone in on someone’s unique talent or skill at ridiculously low ages,” she said. “I think it really detracts from the experience of just being a kid.”
Horn believes that her application experience was relatively calm — but her own children will not have the same luxury, she said.
“I think I was more laid back,” she said. “I don’t think that you necessarily can be that way anymore.”
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