While undergraduates are busy biting hats on Hey Day, jumping in bouncy castles during Fling, or banding together to scream the night before the first economics midterm, graduate students live in a different world.
As of fall 2014, there are 11,035 full-time graduate or professional students, a larger number than that of full-time undergraduates, which is 10,406. After pursuing their professional and academic interests, many come back as graduate students to experience the other side of Penn.
Robin Acker, a Nursing graduate student, returned to Penn after graduating from Penn’s undergraduate Nursing program in 2012 to get further training.
“I didn’t plan on getting my master’s so quickly, but as I started working I realized that it’s definitely something I’d be interested in doing,” she said.
On top of Penn Nursing being the top nursing graduate school in the nation, Acker said the financial assistance that the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania provides was another factor in choosing Penn.
“[The hospital] provides a certain amount of tuition reimbursement every year,” she said.
As a part-time student and a full-time worker, her days are filled with three 12-hour shifts, two 12-hour clinical shifts and eight hours of class every week. Even so, she still finds time for Penn Band, a student club that she has been highly involved with since her undergraduate years.
Acker lives in South Philadelphia, and while this makes her stay away from the campus more than she did as an undergraduate, she said it doesn’t necessarily make her feel like she’s missing out on social aspects of Penn life.
Jamie-Ann Acero, another Nursing graduate student, is also continuing her education at Penn after graduating from the undergraduate Nursing program in 2011. She said that familiarity was key in choosing Penn for her graduate degree.
“If I applied to Penn, I already knew the system, knew the professors and knew the instructors. Also my recommendations were from Penn,” she said.
Acero added that extracurricular activities and social life are big differences between the undergraduate and graduate experience. “Extracurricular activities may consume your time more [as an undergraduate] than studying would,” she said.
As an undergraduate, she was involved in Sparks Dance Company, Chi Omega sorority and the Penn Philippine Association.
Like Acker, Acero is also currently a part-time student and works full-time, and “it’s a lot to juggle.”
“People who are full-time graduate students tend to have better experience with being social within their degree,” she said.
While Acero said she values her Penn experience both as an undergraduate and graduate student, the two are difficult to compare because she is at a different level.
“Now I make better decisions and have a different kind of fun, not like raging or drinking beers in Smokes,” she said.
Acero also said the classroom environment is also a little different. There is a wider age range of graduate students, from those who continued right after undergraduate school to others who are in their 40s or 50s.
“Staying within [Penn’s] system is very gratifying and it widened my scope of knowledge and practice,” she said.
On the other side of the campus, George Donnelly, a 2010 College graduate, is pursuing his J.D. at Penn Law School.
“I really enjoyed living in Philadelphia, and that was a major factor for me,” he said.
Donnelly has been enrolled as a student at Penn for nine years. He started as an undergraduate, then took a teacher’s certificate class in the Graduate School of Education and is now at Penn Law.
“Everything else being equal, I wanted to stay in Philadelphia and in Penn,” he said.
Apart from Penn’s overarching emphasis on practical learning, Donnelly said undergraduate and graduate life are completely different.
“I see College Green like once a month when it’s only three blocks from where I study. I feel more part of a smaller law community but don’t feel as connected to the larger University,” he said. “I think the physical space is a huge part of the difference.”
While Penn Law students may not venture into the main part of the campus too often, they still meet graduate students from other schools through the classroom or in an extracurricular environment. Donnelly said many Penn Law students take interdisciplinary courses in Wharton or in the Perelman School of Medicine, which give them opportunities to meet other people.
Erica Holland, a Penn Law student and a 2011 College graduate, said the majority of activities take place within the law school building and within Penn Law students. “It’s just one place. There is a smaller amount of people, your classes are really small, you kind of know who everyone is,” she said.
She added that being a Penn Law student made her more mindful of the relationships she has with her fellow students.
“These are your future colleagues, opponents in court. These are your future bosses,” Holland said, adding that Penn Law students are generally active in extracurricular activities, but many are pre-professional.
Penn Law has a minimum of 70 hours of pro bono legal work, and many students find these opportunities through student clubs, such as visiting jails and teaching the prisoners about their rights and laws.
Although Penn Law students are primarily focused on gaining professional experiences, Holland said there are many other recreational events both within and across schools.
There is an infamous “five percent” party, which marks passing five percent of the three years at the law school. Later on, there is a “95 percent” party, a party after 95 percent of the law school’s three years have passed.
Being of a legal age to drink, social scenes for graduate schools involve various venues within the city. Every Thursday is Bar Review — pun intended — where law students venture to different bars. Holland added that many law school students live in center city and thus many gatherings are held away from the campus.
She said another major recreational event coming up for Penn Law students is the Wharton vs. Law Fight Night, where members of Penn Law’s and Wharton graduate’s boxing clubs have boxing matches.
While getting hyped up for cross-school events may sound similar to University-wide undergraduate events, Holland said there is still a wider diversity of people one can meet in graduate schools.
“Your classmates can be former police officers, former teachers, people in media and entertainment, veterans,” she said.
The specific school and program each graduate student is enrolled in, and their status as either part-time or full-time students make their Penn experience distinct, but everyone agreed that they enjoy being graduate students at Penn.
“As a grad student, it’s what you make of it,” Acero said.
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