As hundreds of recently-admitted high school students buzz around campus, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the members of the Kite and Key Society are working hard to present Penn in its best light to what will become the University’s newest class of undergraduates.
Since Sunday, admitted students have stayed with current Penn students, attended receptions and info sessions and experienced real Penn classes — all part of the Admissions Office’s program.
But while the University expends resources cultivating a veritable brand for itself, students have questioned whether this brand is an accurate portrayal of how real students experience campus life.
“When you come to Penn, you’ll immediately get both a pre-major advisor and a peer advisor, so you’ll never be totally on your own for things like picking classes, which is great because, with the exception of a writing seminar, there are no classes you absolutely have to take,” Wharton junior and Kite and Key tour guide Matthew Herling said on a campus tour.
Herling jovially led prospective high school students and their parents around campus, exuding confidence and charisma that couldn’t even be dampened by the gloomy weather.
In the Engineering quad, he spoke about the school’s unique offering of a Bachelor of Applied Science degree — which has a greater emphasis on liberal arts than a simple Bachelor of Science degree — and the senior projects engineering students must complete.
As he climbed up on the base of the Benjamin Franklin statue outside College Hall, Herling told the group of excitable students about campus traditions and the supposed origins of The Button. “Legend has it that Ben Franklin, coming back from a party late one night, stumbled over here and collapsed into this chair. He didn’t realize how fat he had gotten, so when he sat down, a button popped off his coat and rolled across the walk until it landed, split in two, outside Van Pelt Library,” he said.
While Kite and Key is a separate, student-run organization, Herling said that they work closely with the Admissions Office to cultivate a single image of Penn. “We have a close relationship with them and they support us financially,” Herling said.
Specifically for Quaker Days, Herling said that Kite and Key has worked under the purview of the Admissions Office to create “more informal tours, generally on a volunteer basis.”
In terms of portraying Penn, Kite and Key President and College and Wharton junior Brad Hebert emphasized that they never instruct their tour guides to lie on campus tours, but do encourage them to put a positive spin on things.
“I never lie and I always admit if I don’t know something, but I do tend to paint things in a positive light,” Herling said. “As a tour guide, you are the face of Penn,” Herling said. “We avoid saying anything that would tarnish our reputation.”
But while Kite and Key’s mission of branding Penn to prospective students largely begins when they visit campus, for the Admissions Office, the process begins much earlier.
“There’s a recruitment phase that takes place over the course of several years for many students,” Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said. “That could happen because a student has visited our campus and said, you know, notice me, or it could happen through test scores or something like that.”
One of the highlights of tours is a stop at the Quadrangle, where Herling talked about the University’s “really unique College House system, which separates itself from a dorm by having faculty members live among the students,” he said. He joked with his audience about how some students “decide they want to try being adults” and move off campus, where they live off the “Chipotle diet.”
After giving his group a very simplified explanation of the housing system, Herling stopped in Huntsman Hall, where he discussed the specific requirements of a Wharton degree and the “hands-on experience you get through really innovative classes, like Management 100.”
With his tour group circled around him in Huntsman, Herling turned to student life on campus.
When a concerned mother asked about date rape and sexual assault on campus, he admitted that he didn’t know all of the specifics of the , but pointed to successful student-run programs like the Vagina Monologues to illustrate the campus’ commitment to the cause.
As the tour concluded, Herling discussed activities and resources available to students. “What makes Penn Penn really is its student groups. This is not the place for you if you want to just go to class and come home and watch Netflix,” he said.
After the tour, Daniel Villar, a high school junior from Bethesda, Md., spoke highly of his experience. “This seems like a really nice school,” he said. “This is only my third college visit, but I would say there’s probably a 90 percent chance I will apply.”
For Herling, who has been involved with Kite and Key since his second semester of freshman year, being a tour guide has been a rewarding experience. “I’ve had a really positive experience at Penn, so this has been a really good way to give back,” he said. “It’s really awesome to be able to show students why it’s so great.”
After decisions to accept students have been made, Furda said his job of selling Penn is largely done. “At Quaker Days, now is the time to really step back, set all of the recruitment to the side and really let the students decide what environment would be best for them.”
But while those prospective students will experience real undergraduate classes and dorms, some current students have said that there were some things that surprised them once they actually matriculated.
“I came to Penn because it presents itself as being really good at a lot of different things. The liberal arts aspect of the education appealed to me,” College sophomore Mark Toubman said.
“One thing I felt really let down by when I got here was the student groups,” he said. “You sit in these info sessions and they laud about all the hundreds of student groups on campus and it’s really exciting, but the truth is that so many clubs make you apply for positions.”
“As a new freshman, coming into Penn and then being told you aren’t good enough for certain groups — it’s a very disappointing process,” he added.
For College freshman Mitchell Chan, the most unexpected thing about Penn was how stressful the “work and play balance is to maintain.”
“I visited campus as a high school student, and my impression was that the campus was big and confusing, but that the people were really friendly and helpful,” Chan said. “But I got here, and everything is so fast-paced. My life is busy, unpredictable and tiring.”
“I guess I took the a little too seriously,” Chan said.
Toubman also commented on how campus life can be at Penn. “I feel like a right of passage to being a Penn student is seriously questioning your happiness here,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of upperclassmen, and the number of students who have seriously looked at transfer applications is actually shocking.”
Ultimately, though, Toubman and Chan both acknowledged that Penn has given them many positive experiences.
“I mean, it’s not perfect. Penn throws you into the real world with real world problems and some people aren’t equipped to handle them, but it does get better,” Toubman said. “Things like learning how to pick the right classes can make a huge difference.”
“If I had to go back and do it all again, I probably would pick Penn a second time,” Chan said.
“There’s no perfect college, right?” Toubman said.
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